Updated: Jul 8
In May this year, the Archives took delivery of over 200 architectural plans and drawings of the Holy Name Church in Manchester. The project to conserve and digitise these historically important records was part of a wider project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, to carry out essential repairs on the Grade 1 listed building. In this blog post, we will explain how this came about and what the work entailed.
In 2016, a set of architectural plans were discovered in a cupboard in the sacristy corridor where they were at risk of water damage. The plans were removed and housed temporarily in a vestment chest in the church’s organ loft to keep them secure and away from damp and further damage. It was decided that these plans would add an interesting dimension to the Holy Name repair and restoration project, the idea being that they could be digitised in order to make them accessible to a wide audience and ensure their long-term preservation. In order to digitise them, some remedial work needed to be carried out to stabilise the plans first.
Many of the plans had been stored tightly rolled or had been badly creased. Many were brittle at the edges, while others had been repaired with sticky tape in the past which had dried, flaked off and left a yellow residue. Some had significant tears or losses, while a small proportion had become completely fragmented.
All the plans are original, and mostly date back to the construction of the church or the planning stages in the 1860s. Many bear the architect, Joseph Hansom’s, signature, stamp, or the stamp of his partner. They are an invaluable resource and important part of the church’s history. They depict elevations of the church, architectural details, sketches for decorative elements, and designs for the windows and the high altar. A small quantity of the items are textual, such as a letter written by Joseph Hansom in March 1867.
The plans are on a mixture of media in a range of sizes, mostly paper with others on brittle tracing paper, and a few on drafting cloth. Most have been executed in pencil, ink, wash, or a combination of these.
Preparation for the project started in October 2017. The plans were rolled in tissue for protection and packaged in large plastic boxes in situ, ready to be transported to the conservation studio where the first stage of the project could begin: the survey. This was a crucial part of the work as it allowed the conservators to understand the formats and physical condition of the collection, so that they could provide treatment recommendations, estimated times and costs for remediating the damaged documents and re-housing them. Thankfully, the survey concluded that the majority were in good condition, needing only surface cleaning and some minor tear repair or flattening of creases.
The second stage of the project, which began at the end of 2018, was to restore, digitise and re-house the plans in proper archival packaging. Although most were in good or fair condition, repairs were needed in some cases. The aim for a conservator is rarely to fully restore an item to its original condition, but to stabilise items in their current condition. Thus items were cleaned and items that had been folded, crumpled or rolled were humidified and pressed to facilitate further treatment and digitisation. The fragmented pieces were reassembled where possible, sticky tape was removed, and tears in tracings were repaired. Once cleaned and repaired as necessary the plans were digitised using an overhead camera to produce high-resolution images. They were then each housed in inert plastic sleeves and stored in groups of ten in archival folders to aid handling, and to help to ensure the items remain dirt and dust free and provide protection during storage.
Once the work was complete, the plans were transferred to the Jesuit Archives and rehomed in special plan chests large enough to accommodate them without rolling or folding. The digitised images were also published online so that they can be accessed by anyone in the world, via the Jesuits in Britain Flickr.
What’s next for the Holy Name plans? Thanks to the initial survey that the conservators carried out, we have a useful set of data on the physical characteristics of each individual plan, including media, size and format, but currently this information is in a spreadsheet only accessible to archive staff. The next stage will therefore be a volunteer project to catalogue the collection. This will bring together the data from the survey and descriptive information. This will be entered into our cataloguing database and will eventually be available online for people to search, which will widen access to the descriptions and to the plans themselves. In time we will catalogue the rest of the material we hold relating to the Holy Name, with the aim of creating a complete finding aid for all our holdings relating to the church, in order to make the collection discoverable to the public.
If you are interested in the Holy Name architectural plans conservation project or the work of the archives in general, please contact us.