Physical Evidence

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This, so far, is what we know about the Great Parchment Book:
The book is made of 165 folios and is stored in 19 boxes.

There are also a lot of fragments which, at this stage, are impossible to place in any of the pages which survived the fire in 1786.

The light brown ink line which runs vertically along the left and right margin of the written area.

The light brown ink line which runs vertically along the left and right margin of the written area.

The pages are about A4 size (295×210 mm). On a closer look at the surface of the pages, calf skin may have been used to make the parchment. It was very difficult to find the traces of the hair follicles since most of the pages have a thick layer of gelatine on the surface.
There are no traces of either the binding format or of the sewing structure. Although the fire and the water have damaged most of the document’s surface, the worst damages are found on the spine fold of the pages.
Writing area: the page is ruled with a different ink than the one used for writing: a light brown line runs vertically on the sides of the written area.

Light lines are present horizontally as a ruling guide

Light lines are present horizontally as a ruling guide

Detail of the ink used for writing

Detail of the ink used for writing

A different ink, possibly a lead pen, was used for ruling the horizontal lines. It is really difficult to detect the latter and it even looks as though just some lines were ruled, not all of them.
The media used to write is a metallogallic ink.
The Great Parchment Book is written in Secretary Hand. This was a script which began to be used in England in the sixteenth century and continued until the late seventeenth century. Scripts evolve continuously and this is a fairly late example of Secretary Hand, when the script was already starting to incorporate more rounded, Roman, characters. This makes the script of the Great Parchment Book much more accessible and readable than pure, early Secretary Hand.
Looking through the pages it seems that different hands have written the text.

The next thing to do is to assess the condition of the parchment sheets. We will attempt to cover this in our next posts.

5 thoughts on “Physical Evidence

  1. I guess, it is better to keep it as it is without any interference. The only thing that could be done is to keep it inside an archival box covered with a good buffering material under a suitable environmental control, Am I right my dear teacher Irene Zanella?

    • We would never attempt a conservation treatment on an item unless it was absolutely necessary. The GPB as it is now is not accessible to readers or a traditional digitisation system. In other words, the item is left to naturally deteriorate without having the chance to gain any information about its content. Luckily, not all of the surface is so badly damaged though.
      We will concentrate on the areas that were not so extensively affected by fire and water. We will try to flatten the shrunken parchment and folded areas enough to allow the digitisation of the page. We will limit as much as possible our intervention to only the areas that can withstand some moisture.
      We obviously will avoid the parts of parchment where the deterioration is in a such advanced stage where, at present, no conservation treatment available will improve its poor state.
      The type of digitization process that this document will undergo doesn’t require a complete flat surface but only enough to be able to recognise the letters. This digitisation process will “virtually” flatten the pages and enable us to read the content. With this achievement, we would then be able to restrict the access to the book and so limit future handling of it, which could also cause further damage.

  2. Oh what a wonderful find, and Project. Thank you LMA for prioritising this work. I am a genealogist with family lines in County Londonderry, so I look forward to reading the eventual transcriptions. THANK YOU so much for commencing this excellent work.

  3. What a fascinating project. I look forward to seeing the continuing challenges and progress and finding out what this may reveal about the history of Derry

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