House Detectives - We Followed the Clues

House Detectives - Following the Clues

A small group of us visited HALS in December and left much better informed and very impressed with the range of resources that are available.

Daphne Knott was our very knowledgeable guide, who started by taking us into the storage area in the basement where she showed us some documents damaged by fire & water, which were stiff and virtually illegible.  Fortunately there are many well preserved documents in the collection, and we were thrilled to be shown the oldest, which relates to land and is dated 1060, written in Latin and Anglo Saxon and issued by Edward the Confessor.

There are 5 miles of shelving, with books and a wide range of records, with many documents stored in sturdy cardboard boxes to keep them in good condition.  This area is kept at a cool temperature to ensure better preservation.

The next part of our tour was the conservation department, where Jeff Cargill demonstrated some of the skills he uses to maintain the collection.  He emphasised that he is conserving, not restoring, and showed us documents and maps using a light box.  He showed us how ink can damage paper, and passed round samples of parchment and vellum so that we could feel and see the difference.

Our final visit was to an area where Susan Flood had got out a range of documents relating to Welwyn Garden City.  There were books, maps and a fascinating Minute Book of the early days of the Garden City, with meetings attended by Frederic Osborn, Louis de Soissons, Theodore Chambers and Ebenezer Howard, with the early minutes in beautiful handwriting.

The visit was a revelation, and we were all fascinated and impressed with the range of resources and the knowledge of the staff who care for them and make them available for us to use.  Thanks to all concerned, and to Virginia Simpson for organising our visit.

Jan Kitchin

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