Westminster Archives

Yesterday the MA visited the Conservation studio at the Houses of Parliament. There are two collection care managers – Lara Artemis who looks after the archival material, and Caroline Babbington who looks after Works of Art. They, along with specialists that look after the building and the interiors (incorporating soft furnishing and other furniture) run the conservation of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

After Parliament burnt down in 1834 a competition was held to find the designers of the new building, won by Barry and Pugin, and the interior of parliament is decorated in a bold Victorian manner, with a lot of gold and bright colours.

From a preventitive conservation point of view, it’s a difficult place to manage. As it’s a working building with 7000 members of staff and 1000 visitors each day, and not a museum – personal comfort is more important than the object’s.

In the archive conservation studios – paper and books in separate studios, there are 4 conservators, who perform reactive and proactive conservation (taking up 40% and 60% of their time respectively.) The archives are stored in the Victoria Tower located at the southern end of Parliament, storing 12 floors of Parliamentary history (Governmental history is kept at TNA) including the Acts room, filled with parchment rolls of acts from Tax laws to divorce settlements from the 1400s until acts were written down in bindings.

Acts of Parliament

As we couldn’t take photos inside Westminster, I’ve had to search for images, thanks to -JvL- for the one above.

During the war, the acts were shipped out to secret locations over the country and many returned with mould damage, this was treated with Santobrite pesticide, so readers now are advised to wear gloves and a mask as a precaution against the toxicity of the pesticide.

The visit was interesting, but I can’t see myself working in such a huge institution, too much bureaucracy.

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