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The Wollaton Antiphonal Conservation Project

The Wollaton Antiphonal (MS 250) is a magnificent service book, unusual in the quality of its decoration and in its size (412 leaves, 575 x 366mm).

Dating from the first half of the 15th century, it was made for Sir Thomas Chaworth of Wiverton Hall, Nottinghamshire, and contains many heraldic images relating to the Chaworth family. Within a few years of Chaworth’s death in 1459 it was bought for the use of Wollaton Parish Church by the executors of William Husse, rector of Wollaton, who died in 1460. From the Reformation it was kept in the Library of Wollaton Hall. It was re-bound in the early 19th century. In 1924 Lord Middleton returned the volume to St Leonard's parish church. Since 1974 the Antiphonal has been in the care of the University of Nottingham.

In 1999 planning began on a project to conserve the Antiphonal. The need was acute - so delicate was its condition that no access had been permitted for some years. In addition to the natural deterioration of a volume over almost six centuries, whole sections had suffered damage from damp. Efforts made in the early 20th century stopped further loss but left large areas of discoloured brown adhesive on the surface of the treated leaves. Although many of the miniatures looked to be in good condition, there was evidence of vulnerable pigments throughout the volume.

Specialist conservators reviewed the volume and identified the work needed on cleaning, parchment repairs, pigment consolidation and re-binding. Dr Nicholas Hadgraft, the late distinguished conservator, and Cheryl Porter, an authority on pigments, proposed a project plan and work began in 2001, with generous support from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, The Pilgrim Trust and other funders. The project was interrupted following Dr Hadgraft’s tragic death in 2004.

Cheryl Porter and Robert Pearce

Cheryl Porter’s involvement continued, enabling the completion of most of the pigment elements. Since Manuscripts and Special Collections moved to new premises at King’s Meadow, parchment repair has been undertaken by the University’s conservator, Robert Pearce in the new Conservation workshop.

Although the project is not yet complete, the majority of leaves have been conserved and are now stored in separate fascicules, pending rebinding. The project team is continuing to work with Wollaton Parish Church Council to bring the project to its conclusion and to ensure that this magnificent volume is again accessible. While disbound, the opportunity is being taken to create high-quality digital images of the leaves. Meantime, in exceptional cases researchers are permitted access to the repaired leaves.  

The Antiphonal’s history of association with Wollaton Hall links it with the manuscripts known as the Wollaton Library Collection. It was one of the works researched in the AHRC project ‘The Wollaton Medieval Manuscripts: Texts, Owners and Readers’. In that context, the Antiphonal featured in an exhibition at the University in 2010.

 

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Manuscripts and Special Collections

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