Posted: 2013-05-26 11:34, Edited: 2013-05-26 10:34
Here is a fascinating extract from a wartime memoir, '' A Village in Piccadilly '', by Mrs. Robert Williams (published in 1942). An intriguing view of book restoration services in London as a consequence of the bombing raids on the capital during the days and nights of WW2.....
Zaehnsdorf's building had suffered considerably from the blast during the air raids. One cold January morning Mr. Zaehnsdorf's telephone rang, and the librarian of the stricken Guildhall announced that two thousand priceless volumes had been saved from the fire, but were soaked by the fireman's hoses. There were books on London that existed in no other library. A van collected these precious volumes, which were then opened out on benches, tables, and all over the floors, being subjected to a gentle circulating heat from coke fires for nearly two months. From time to time, if there were any signs of the leaves of a book warping, they would be placed under a press for 24 hours, and then laid out to dry again. These were the light casualties...
Some books were partly burned, others were torn to ribbons. These urgent cases came from all over London. The vellum charter of London University, three sheets with a seal at the bottom, had been flayed by chunks of cement hurled by the explosion, through the steel walls of the deed-box in which it was kept. Just as a surgeon puts new skin on an injured face, experts grafted new vellum on the torn charter, carefully drawing it on a facsimile of the original text.
One book from the university was found to have a small sea-shell embedded in a hole an inch deep. How had this fragile shell been hurled through the boards of the binding to land unbroken inside ?. This was one of the great unexplainable mysteries of high explosives. From London University also came several volumes of the famous De Morgan collection of very early mathematical books of the 16th and 17th centuries, blasted and cut, and one of Gerard's, '' Herbal '',(1597) into which copious quantities of dust had been forced by such velocity that it had to be removed from the pages by a special rubber.
The charter and by-laws of the Loriners' Company were in a strong-room in the cellars of Carpenters' Hall when that building was destroyed by fire. Due to the dangerous condition of the walls, six months had to lapse before anyone was permitted to search the ruins and remove the contents of the safe. However, by this time the historic documents within were soaked and covered with mildew. This called for the most delicate of operations. After the sheets of vellum had been dried they were sprayed with a mixture of paradichlor and orthodichlor benzine in solution...(COSSH did not exist in those days) from an ordinary garden spray container, which entirely killed the mildew. The wax seals thankfully withstood the effects of the damp.
This was by no means the worst of such cases. Sir Banister Fletcher's original drawings for his, ''History of Architecture '', publication were dripping wet, with the sheets stuck fast together, when they were finally retrieved from the Chancery Lane Safe Deposit, three months after the dreadful fire. The drawings in a thoroughly sodden state smelt so awful the workmen were tempted to use their gas masks while handling them. The drawings were eventually repaired so skilfully that future generations would never realize how near they had come to total destruction.
The above image is courtesy of the Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Regimental Collection held by Beds & Luton Archive Service.