Preservation news: some eighteenth century minute books

Years of use take their toll on books and manuscripts. Even with the most careful handling, moving documents from shelf to trolley, transporting them from the strongroom to the readers’ table or simply opening and closing volumes all put a strain on bindings. Paper and parchment may develop small tears, dog-eared corners or creases. And those small areas of damage just get worse over time.

London YM Minutes 1786-1790

London Yearly Meeting Minutes 1786-1790

Conservation work is necessary to ensure that items in the collection can be preserved for future use. It’s a slow, painstaking business, requiring the experience and skill of qualified conservators, who know how much to intervene, what materials (papers, glues) can safely be used to prevent further damage, and the importance of preserving what can be preserved. Thanks to donors to our BeFriend a Book appeal and other special funding sources, we’re lucky enough to be able to use the services of expert conservators, whose conservation work has allowed us to keep some of the Library’s treasures available to readers.

A prime candidate for conservation is the series of bound minute books of London Yearly Meeting, dating from 1672 onwards. With BeFriend a Book funds we have been able to conserve most of the eighteenth century minute books from the series. The latest to be conserved are the minute books for the years 1778–1781 and 1786–1790. The volumes have been taken down into loose folios, repaired and rebound in half goatskin, with raised bands.

Devonshire sufferings reported to London Yearly Meeting 1789

Devonshire sufferings, including losses caused by a “Riot for not illuminating Houses in Exeter”, reported to London Yearly Meeting in 1789 (London Yearly Meeting Minutes 1786-1790, p. 427)

The business recorded in the minute books includes reports and totals of money forfeited by members of each quarterly meeting around the country for “sufferings” – tithes in kind, tithes by warrant or without warrant, money confiscated for church rates or similar, and “sufferings on account of the militia” (payments for refusing to serve in the militia). Friends also reported the cost of damages to their property by rioters incensed at Friends’ refusal to light up their houses and shut up their shops on public occasions. At a time when grand national celebrations were widely marked by great shows of light (at considerable expense), and public holidays, Quakers continued to observe their testimony against observing “times and seasons”, even though it might mean ill will and broken windows. An example of the costs incurred was reported by Devonshire Quarterly Meeting in 1789  – “By a Riot for not illuminating Houses in Exeter, £20.5.8 [i.e. £20 5s 8d]” (London Yearly Meeting Minutes, p. 427). Answers to the queries from each meeting were also recorded, along with other Yearly Meeting business, and the written and printed epistles to meetings.

Lincolnshire QM answers to queries 1788

Lincolnshire Quarterly Meeting answers to queries 1788 (London Yearly Meeting Minutes 1786-1790, p. 332-3)

The small Quaker colony in Dunkirk is also mentioned in the Yearly Meeting minutes for these years. William Rotch and other Quaker whalers from Nantucket had moved there in 1786: it was a turbulent time to settle in France. You can read more about the short-lived settlement in Kenneth L. Carroll’s article, “An American Quaker colony in France, 1787-1812” (Historic Nantucket, Vol. 24, No. 2, October, 1976, p. 16–29) and Henry J. Cadbury’s “The Dunkirk colony in 1797” (Proceedings of the Nantucket Historical Association, 50th and 51st annual meetings, 1944–1945, p. 44–47).

Thanks to all our BeFriend a Book supporters for making the conservation of these volumes possible. To read more about how we’re preserving the Library’s collections for the future, keep watching the blog, or enter your details in the “Follow us” box at the top right of this page to receive updates by email.

If you’d like to find out more about the BeFriend a Book appeal, or to donate, please visit the BeFriend a Book webpage or write to BeFriend a Book (Library), Freepost, Friends House, 173 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ.

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