In the archives we have this somewhat intimidating collection of College records:
Intimidating because it’s mostly 15th-century Latin, and it’s in this temporary-looking heavy straw-board folder
from the early 20th century which is itself falling apart, and you worry the pages will get out of place. Yet everything says it’s important: the vellum is so fine and soft that it drapes like fabric (nice to handle but it means you have to pay careful attention when turning pages), the wide margins bespeak a luxurious undertaking, and it’s one of the College’s oldest of its own documents. The first thing recorded in this volume is a detailed inventory of the College’s valuables in 1453-7.
Or at least we did have this intimidating object, until it was conserved over the winter by the Conservation Consortium and restored to what must be a very close approximation of its former glory.
During this process the Consortium carefully diagrammed all the quires, showing where blank pages had been cut out for use elsewhere:
Then they flattened, under controlled humidification, and cleaned the pages,
stabilising those that had the worst historic damage using Japanese paper. This is a soft tissue paper, often handmade, of consistent quality and free from impurities such as iron particles which can lead to paper degradation, rust spots, or ‘foxing’. It is transparent so that it can be glued over tears in existing pages while still allowing the text to be read, and allows for easily reversible interventions.
Based on evidence found within the book
and drawing from other historical contemporary book structures they recreated a late medieval-style binding. Boards were hand-carved from quarter cut planks of seasoned oak. The bookblock was carefully sewn to achieve a flat, well-supported opening,
finishing it off with a quarto style alum-tawed (white) leather binding.
Book conservator Claude Grewal-Sultze even went to the Bodleian Library to learn lessons from the conservation project on the Winchester Bible.
The result looks fabulous and now it’s hard to keep your hands off it – the smooth oak end-boards present a friendly, inviting surface.
You still have to be careful turning the soft pages of course. The document even appears smaller and lighter than it had done. Archivists will be surprised to hear that even after conservation and in its new protective box (made of archive-quality mid-weight cardboard), it fits in its old location.
The total cost of the renovation was £5000. This has been paid for by a generous donor, to whom we are very grateful.
The volume contains more than just the inventory advertised on the cover, though it’s a magnificent inventory, befitting the holdings of a royal institution. We hope to publish a commentary on it in due course. The volume contents are:
1453-7 inventory (folios 3-12), high points of Henry VI’s charters for King’s (folios 13-26), Library books (folios 58r-65v), a list of members of the foundation (folios 70-77), and pledges (folio 81). There are blank pages between the sections, showing a consciousness that King’s was here to stay – further information would be added in due course.
Due to the specially designed binding, the volume can be opened flat without causing damage.
The 1453-7 inventory was published by G. Williams (‘Ecclesiastical Vestments, Books, and Furniture, in the Collegiate Church of King’s College, Cambridge, in the Fifteenth Century’, three articles in The Ecclesiologist, 20 (1859), 304-15; 21 (1860), 1-7; and 24 (1863), 99-102). Williams left out additions to the inventory subsequent to the original scribe’s activity. These additions were transcribed by MR James and W St John Hope in a copy of Williams’s article (call mark Coll 2/23).
In 2018, various sections of this volume featured in an article Peter Jones wrote (‘Commemoration at a Royal College’, pages 106-122 from Commemoration in Medieval Cambridge, ed. John S. Lee and Christian Steer, in the series ‘The History of the University of Cambridge: Texts and Studies’ published by Boydell Press for Cambridge University Library).
Many of the objects listed here can be found in inventories made 50 or more years later (call mark KCA/22).
The 1554 inventory in that book is interesting because in the intervening years the vestments had been turned into costumes – see our online exhibition about Queen Elizabeth’s 1564 visit.
Although not as elegantly presented as KCA/684, KCA/22 is still a spaciously designed book with a variety of flourished capitals and a use of display scripts. The inventories in KCA/22 were transcribed by MR James (Provost of King’s) and W St John Hope (antiquarian), and those transcriptions can be found in the archives under call marks Coll 2/23 and KCA/687. The same donation is covering the cost of conserving KCA/22. Part of the conservation will include replacement of the stiff parchment cover which has shrunk, making the pages’ leading edges vulnerable.
Peter Jones, Fellow Librarian
Patricia McGuire, Archivist