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Storing the records

The preservation of Parliamentary records has posed quite a few problems for archivists. Over the centuries, storage rooms were damp and humid, and various records had suffered quite severely from rot, mildew and mould.

Some were damaged in the great fire of 1834 and were reduced to masses of blackened parchment, while others had holes at their folds, torn edges and broken seals. To make matters worse, all the windows in the Victoria Tower were blown out during the Second World War, and flimsy matchboards were all that stood between the documents and the weather.

Repairing documents

In the 1950s, a conservation unit was set up to clean, flatten and repair various documents. New parchment was grafted to replace what had been worn away or torn; skins were re-sewn to each other where the original thread had deteriorated; and others were pasted onto linen and covered with silk gauze. Many ragged and dirty plans were cleaned, mounted, bound in booklets and encased in portfolios.

Preservation of Acts

The preservation of the original Acts, in particular, posed some difficulties. During the 16th century, these came into the House of Lords on skins of all sizes, rather than on rolls, and were preserved on a filace.

During the 19th century, these skins were forced into a roll format after folding, which had done considerable damage to some of them. To preserve the early Acts it was decided in the 1950s to abandon the roll form, to flatten and repair the parchments, and file them loosely in a new series of oblong boxes.

Today, the conservation unit in the Parliamentary Archives numbers six staff, on contract from the British Library. And since 2004, conditions in the Victoria Tower have met the British Standard for Archival Storage BS5454.

Did you know?

After the Second World War, every room was fumigated with formaldehyde (this involved spraying a total of 180,000 cubic feet) to prevent mould.