The aim of this project, following a successful application to the National Heritage Lottery Fund, was the conservation and improved packaging of Wiltshire and Swindon Archives’ collection of some 100,000 wills and their accompanying probate papers prior to digitisation.
The quality of the original packaging was totally inadequate. The wills, mainly folio sheets, had been folded and tightly packed into unsuitable 19th century, lined wooden boxes with an average of 200 wills per box. As well as being archivally unsound, the boxes were also breaking up, making them dangerous to handle.
A collection of wills in their original packing
Conservators conducted a survey to roughly ascertain how many documents would require conservation and to determine the most suitable storage format, taking into consideration that after digitisation only limited access to the original material would be required. It was estimated that between three and four thousand individual papers would require full conservation treatment prior to filming. Those with only minor damage, that could still be safely handled, were not considered for treatment.
A will before and after treatment
For the re-packaging and storage of the wills, individual enclosures were the desired format. However, the cost and increased shelf space required rendered this option prohibitive. It was therefore decided that the wills would be opened out to their original folio format, then, fifty at a time, put into 650 micron acid-free boxboard enclosures. These folders were then placed in groups of eight into substantial archive boxes.
Wills re-packed after treatment
For more information about the Wiltshire Wills Project click here.