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Conserving Univ's Buttery Books

The project to conserve Univ’s four early Buttery Books was carried out by Victoria Stevens and Celia Withycombe of the Oxford Conservation Consortium, in consultation with Univ’s Archivist, Robin Darwall-Smith.

The three of us found four books in a very sad state. Their covers had long gone (Fig. 1); their spines were badly twisted (Fig. 2); several page corners were torn or folded over (Fig. 3); and some pages had even come adrift (Fig. 4), so that we had to work out carefully what order to put them in.

Repairing something like the Buttery Books required much patience and preparation. Even before work started, we had to think carefully about how we should conserve the books.

Once work started, tears on pages had to be repaired (Fig. 5), and, where some pages had come loose, we had to work out their original order. Then the spines on the books had to be straightened, so that each book had to be left under weights for days on end while they were straightened out (Fig. 6).

We were also not quite sure what binding the books would originally have had. Eventually we chose boards covered in acid-free paper with the spine bound in leather. Sourcing leather for binding is very difficult these days, and it took Celia and Victoria much searching to find just the right sort. Goatskin was used for this purpose.

Fig. 7 shows Celia and Victoria putting the finishing touches to the rebinding of one of the volumes, carefully pasting the endpapers into place.

At the end of last year the project finally came to an end, as the last Buttery Book was returned to Univ. All four books are now back in the Univ archives (Fig. 8). They look splendid after their refurbishment, and are all ready for future researchers to come and use them.