Conservation Projects

The conservation of four handmade booklets by Robert Clennell


In 2006, the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust awarded £649 (50% of the total cost) to conserve four booklets produced by Robert Clennell, an early nineteenth-century asylum patient. The booklets form part of the private papers of Medical Superintendents of the Royal Edinburgh Asylum. Such patient writings, together with artwork and photographs, were used to illustrate what was perceived as the mental pathology of the diseased brain and are now a very scarce historical source for understanding mental illness from the patients’ point of view.


The National Manuscripts Conservation Trust



The booklets are constructed of varying numbers of folded sheets of European wove paper almost entirely covered with written text in iron gall ink with coloured borders and initial letters in watercolour wash. Three have been sewn along the spine to hold the folded sheets in booklet format. They exhibited extensive surface dirt, tears and creasing to edges and the centre fold, damage to the original sewing and localised surface abrasions. As a result, future use of these items, without prior conservation treatment, posed significant risk of transfer of dirt and exacerbation of the physical damage noted.



Treatment was undertaken by Helen Creasy of The Scottish Conservation Studio during March 2006 and included careful surface cleaning using a chemical sponge and tear repair using wheat starch paste and a medium weight Japanese paper. Where the original sewing had been damaged, this was not repaired as this meant that an order had to be imposed on loose sheets that could compromise the integrity of the item. The four booklets were re-housed to provide suitable long-term protection and to facilitate easy identification and access. Photographic and written documentation of the treatment was also produced.



The conservation treatment has been carried out to a high standard and has successfully brought the booklets to a condition at which they can be accessed and displayed. In addition, the remedial treatments have been sensitively undertaken to ensure that the booklets are conserved without compromising their character or historical value.



LHSA acknowledges the support of the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust.

Clennell booklet, front page, before treatment. Clennell booklet, front page detail, before treatment Clennell booklet, front cover, after treatment.