NRS Conservator Jacqueline Thorburn is one of the team responsible for conserving items held within the NRS archives.
Here, she tells us about a fascinating artefact of Victorian Scotland that she has worked on – a small book containing details and photographs of inmates of Inverarary Jail…
Front cover and title page, before treatment
This little volume came to NRS directly from Inveraray Jail Museum (NRS: AD5/32).
It appeared on my desk prior to me working on the material for the exhibition ‘Rogues Gallery’, which was held at General Register House, in partnership with Edinburgh City Council. Although this album was not displayed in that exhibition, whilst working on the pieces I found myself spotting familiar faces.
This album was commercially produced to house carte de vistes. Covered in maroon book-cloth with an embossed morocco grain, its pages were constructed from thick card stock with thin facings of cream paper and gilt edges. Each had a window made to house a single photograph. It was all intended to look far more splendid than it actually was. Sadly, the inferior quality of its materials meant that it had deteriorated over time and the red plastic ‘Dymo’ label adhered to its front cover gave it a distinctly workaday, industrial feel.
Charles E. Lyons and Eliza Thorpe – “The Highland Hotel Robbers” – before treatment
Containing 30 prints, an inscription indicates that it was compiled between 1884 and 1887 by John Campbell MacLullich, the Procurator Fiscal of Argyllshire. This was his personal ‘selection’ of prisoners who had passed through the jail. His notes refer not only to their crimes, but also their physical characteristics, perhaps illustrating an interest in physiognomy – a now-discredited “science” based on determining people’s character by the shape of their features.
Patrick Welsh, first page – before treatment
The album was stuffed full of prints, mainly albumen and a few silver gelatin images. Repeated removal of these had caused damage, pages had broken and pieces had been lost. Pressure sensitive tape had been used throughout to mend breaks. This had deteriorated and resulted in staining. Heavy 20th century ‘repairs’ made with book-cloth suggested that the back board had been detached at some stage These ‘repairs’ had further stressed the binding, making it very difficult to open. The spine was partially detached.
The main aim of my treatment was to stabilize and retain as much of the original album as possible, but I also had to bear in mind the needs of the materials that made up the album and the reality of its continued use.
I removed the prints and the red ‘Dymo’ label, then cleaned the exterior and interior of the volume. The pressure sensitive tape was removed, as were the book-cloth ‘repairs’. This enabled the pages to open fully. The old ‘repairs’ seem to have been carried out to save a back board that had fallen off. Some of the original ‘page boards’ from the back of the volume were probably also lost at this time. Certainly the “police notes” referred to in inscriptions as being at “the back of the book” were no longer present.
Page boards with facings removed; Facing from Charles E. Lyon – “The Highland Hotel Robber” – during treatment.
The facing papers on the page board were discoloured and stained. I removed them using controlled amounts of moisture and a thin, flexible blade, the inks having been fixed. They were then washed to reduce the soluble discolouration. I lined each with paper and loose pieces were reinserted. Finally they were given a surface facing of thin Japanese tissue and trimmed with a scalpel.
The page boards with their reattached facings
The decision was made to retain the original page boards even though they were poor quality, as they were integral to the volume and the structure was in good repair with the pages opening well and the spine fully flexible.
The repaired facings were re-adhered onto the cores using a thick/dry Wheat starch paste to minimise staining. This operation was done one facing at a time to ensure that the core boards dried fully and no warping occurred. When all of the facings were back in place, the text block was wrapped in archival polyester to protect it during the further treatment.
The reattached title page; the first page – Patrick Welsh, during treatment
The title page was re-adhered to the spine. The original brown cloth was used on its joint.
Charles Townsley, before and after treatment
The prints and their mounts were cleaned using soft brushes and lightly moistened cotton swabs. Losses and tears were repaired and some were lined with a thin sheet of Photon paper,
The photographs were then reinserted into their original positions, to preserve the integrity and presentation of the volume.
Patrick Welsh, first page – after treatment
Charles E. Lyon and Eliza Thorpe, after treatment
The spine was then reinforced in a position which allowed the book to open without fear of the spine being broken once again. New false end-bands were chosen to match the originals and the remnants of the spine were cleaned and attached to a suitable leather before being applied to the new hollow back. A single page of Photon paper was attached to both the front and back of the volume and new endpapers were tipped on. The spine area was reinforced with maroon book-cloth, this would ensure that all the original page boards and cloth joints were firmly but flexibly held in position. This also held the old boards in place.
Amongst the familiar faces seen in this volume who were to reoccur in other albums displayed in the exhibition were the notorious couple, the American “Captain” Charles Edward Lyons and his English ‘wife’ Eliza Thorpe, referred to by the press as: “the Highland Hotel robbers”. They had been the scourge of the country until they were caught in 1883 and passed through Inveraray jail on their way to trial at the High Court in Edinburgh. Their accomplice, Joseph Dowling, is also to be found within the album
National Records of Scotland
Further information on how some of the people referred to within this volume spent their time in lockdown can be found using our research guide.