Monday, 28 November 2011

Conservation at the Cathedral Library and Book of the Week, 28th November 2011

Last Friday saw the return of one of the Library’s copies of John Foxe’s ‘Acts and Monuments’ (popularly known as ‘Foxe’s Book of Martyrs’), earlier taken away for repair.  It was decided that the book, which was discovered in a cupboard in something of a parlous state, should be restored and re-shelved.  Bookbinder Glenn Bartley was drafted in to replace the missing front board, put in new endpapers and headbands, strengthen the spine and give it a new title label in gold leaf.  This book raised an interesting issue about the ‘authenticity’ of modern repairs, because while Glenn deliberately ‘aged’ the tooled title label to match the rest of the spine, he opted not to distress the front cover in order to match the back.  Personally I think the book looks great, and it is terrific that it can be seen, used and enjoyed again rather than languishing in a cupboard!  Below you can see the new cover, detail from the repaired spine, and Glenn's handiwork on the title label.

Glenn also brought along ten new boxes for our manuscripts.  It is important for the preservation of medieval books that they are stored in these bespoke boxes, made from acid-free board, which also help protect the contents from dust and buy us time in the event of fire and flood.  The Library runs an ‘Adopt-a-Book’ scheme, so if someone sponsors a manuscript a new box can be made.  Lately the Library has been able to press ahead with two conservation projects, thanks to the generosity of a charitable trust and the Friends of the Cathedral.  Their donations have enabled Oxford University conservators to carry out minor repairs to a selection of Worcester manuscripts and start the process of conserving a series of medieval and post-medieval monastic registers.

Naturally our Book of Week is the newly-repaired edition of Foxe’s ‘Acts and Monuments’ printed in 1684.  John Foxe (1516/7-1587) was a Protestant scholar and minister, acknowledged as one of England’s first literary celebrities.  His reputation is chiefly down to his ‘Book of Martyrs’, a history of the Church from the time of John Wycliffe (the first person to translate the Bible into English in the last quarter of the fourteenth century) to the reign of Elizabeth I, and a record of the many Protestant ‘martyrs’ persecuted or put to death under both Henry VIII and Mary I.  The first edition was published in 1563.  The second edition was in preparation as early as 1566 owing to the success of its predecessor.  This appeared in 1570, and was followed by a third edition in 1576 and a fourth in 1583.  The real martyr to ‘Acts and Monuments’ was Foxe himself; having spent over twenty years of his life devoted to the book and its various editions, he neglected his own health and eventually died in 1587.

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