“Medieval Binding Structures” Trial Project (1989-1990)

October 3, 2016 in Reports, Uncategorized

Trial Project at the Parker Library

for the Census of

Medieval Binding Structures to A.D. 1550
Preserved in the British Isles

Plus Continuing Links

At early stages, members of the Research Team both at the Parker Library (from 1989–1994) and in its 5-year Leverhulme Trust Research Project (1 October 1989 – 30 September 1994) participated in the discussions and some in-house research which, among other contributions, explored the ground for a survey of medieval binding structures in the British Isles.

That aim, directed by Jennifer M. Sheppard of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, became a large-scale project for identifying and recording the corpus of Medieval Binding Structures to A.D. 1550 Preserved in the British Isles.  Among the results of that aim was the publication of her detailed study of The Buildwas books:  Book production, acquisition and use at an English Cistercian monastery, 1165-c.1400.  (Oxford:  Oxford Bibliographical Society, Bodleian Library, 1997).  A list of her published works, including reports about this project, can be found here: Sheppard, Jennifer Mary.

Some milestones along the journey, recorded in publications by Jennifer M. Sheppard:

  • “Some Twelfth-Century Monastic Bindings and the Question of Localization”, in Making the Medieval Book: Techniques of Production. Proceedings of the Fourth Conference of the Seminar in the History of the Book to 1500, Oxford, July 1992, edited by Linda L. Brownrigg (1995), pages 181–98
  • ‘Describing Medieval Binding Structures:  Experiences of a Census-Taker’, Rare Books Newsletter, 57 (Winter 1997), 57–70.
  • ‘Census of Western Medieval Bookbinding Structures to 1500 in British and Irish Libraries’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, 13:1 (2009), pages 29–30

A worthy project, and we are glad to have witnessed stages in its creation.

As part of the work now of recording the early history of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence for our website, we enter the Archives, survey their range, and report some of their materials.  Thus we may assess the Group’s activities both for its own research projects and in support of others’.  Always glad to celebrate the work of manuscript studies, from wherever the dedication may emerge.

[Published on 3 October 2016 by Mildred Budny]

Admiration for, and Interest in, that Survey

From the beginning, when we learned of Jenny Sheppard’s interest in the project, we wished to support that aim however possible.  That connection or association goes farther back into the history of manuscript studies and participation in the workshops or seminars of other organisations in Southern England (London and Oxford especially) well before the formation of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence or even the centring, for a while, upon the manuscript materials at Corpus Christi  College, Cambridge.  (That would qualify as a “Prequel”.)  For this Report, we focus upon the work then.

We also wonder at the absence now (September 2016) of much trace readily upon the World Wide Web of much of anything concerning all that work and effort.  A couple of years ago, when searching online for information and updates about that project, I  [This is your Reporter reporting] found several links both from that time and from its results.  It seemed so easy. [That was Then!]

Now, finally able to prepare the report for the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and its website [Look, please, I have to do part-time work and complete all the adminstrative work for the Research Group, so it can’t all come so readily as you and I might like], I resume the process of recording more of our history, from the Analogue to the Digital Ages.

Slow, but you who laugh and dismiss, please remember, when or if you manage to grow old, there were some before you who held a refined sense about how we Stand in the Now.  And who continue to pay dearly for the chance to continue to contribute in some or any way.  If, as more years go by, and you come, perhaps, to see what those who came before you might have had to encounter, endure, and, perhaps, overcome, in order to pursue some goals that seemed worth seeking, and if you might come to revise your disdain, contempt, or, at best, disinterest, then, please, let us know.  Heh, heh.

To sum it up:  You Had To Be There.  Anyway, this report tells a little of How It Was.  Some interesting manuscript structures included.


Front cover of the assembled booklet with the Profile of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and the full set of 5 Annual Reports to the Leverhulme Trust, which funded the 5-year major Research ProjectThe Reports in Our Annual Reports (1989–1994)

Some of our work associated with this much larger aim of Jenny’s is recorded in the Annual Reports to the Leverhulme Trust for the major Research Project on “The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts” at the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.  About those Reports, see our Publications. The First Report, like the collaboration itself, draws upon discussions, collaboration, and research during the 2-year Pilot Project at the Parker Library, beginning with the arrival of the full-time Senior Research Associate on 1 October 1987).  That Senior Research Associate is now our Director, who submits this Report (2016).  You are Here.

The Series of Reports

1. The First Annual Report (1989–1990) describes the “pilot study” at the Parker Library for Jenny’s Medieval Binding Structures thus:

The Library has served as the centre for the pilot study for the Project to Survey Medieval Binding Structures to A.D. 1550 preserved in the British Isles, which was set up in 1989.  Prof. Page, Dr Budny and Mr Hadgraft are all members of the Steering Committee of the Project, directed by Dr J.M. Sheppard (Cambridge).  This project feeds back into our Research Project, as we collaborate in developing the study of binding history.

2. The update in the Second Annual Report (1990–1991) reports (with the background more-or-less exactly as above) that

This year we participated in setting up and evaluating the trial census in selected libraries throughout the country, and in preparing the booklet which defines the terms and methods of the project, intended to accompany the full census [scheduled to “start in 1992”].

3. Repeating some of the same background information, the Third Annual Report (1991–1992) observes that

This year we participated in its divers tasks:  evaluating the trial census carried out last year in selected libraries throughout the country; developing the census form and accompanying booklet for the full census; and planning the application for long-term funding.  This work feeds directly into our research work, as we collaborate in developing the study of binding history and apply its results to particular cases.

Catalogue Front Cover Volume II: Plates

Catalogue Front Cover Volume II: Plates

4. The Fourth Annual Report (1992–1993) repeats the background information of the First and Second Reports, with this addition:

Dr Budny’s forthcoming catalogue reports the evidence for lost bindings (including those for MSS 69, 144, 197B, 286 and 389), through such signs as the traces of clasps or mounts; stitching patterns; added endleaves; former pastedowns; and offsets of wood-grain, paste, leather turn-ins and thongs on those pastedowns.  Through archaeological investigation of this kind, our ongoing research on books at Corpus, as well as books owned or handled by Matthew Parker in other collections, continues to expand knowledge of Parker’s habits in rebinding books.  This work has yielded valuable advances in understanding the history of many Anglo-Saxon and related manuscripts at Corpus and elsewhere, including MSS 12, 41, 162, 193 and 198.

5. The Fifth Annual Report (1993–1994) leaves it here, after the customary background information:

Dr Sheppard contributed an account of binding structures for the combined exhibition catalogue on St. Edmundsbury and Cambridge produced by the Research Group in April (see below under ‘Exhibitions’ and ‘Publications’).

Some of our publications report the evidence for lost bindings, through such signs as the traces of clasps or mounts; stitching patterns; added endleaves; former pastedowns; and offsets of wood-grain, paste, leather turn-ins and thongs on those pastedowns.  Our archaeological investigation of books at Corpus, as well as books owned or handled by Matthew Parker now in other collections, continues to expand knowledge of both medieval binding structures and Parker’s habits in rebinding books. This work has yielded valuable advances in understanding the history of many Anglo-Saxon and related manuscripts at Corpus and elsewhere.

A few cases found places in the publications which the Research Project was able, despite various interruptions, disruptions, and obstructions, to accomplish.  The Report cites these:

Dr Budny’s forthcoming catalogue provides an account of the history of binding practices at Corpus; and reports the evidence for lost bindings detectable in individual manuscripts, for example in MSS 69, 144, 197B, 286 and 389. Her paper on ‘Physical Evidence and Manuscript Conservation’ (see below under ‘Publications’) reports on the traces of vanished bindings in some of these and other manuscripts, notably MSS 23, 139, 197B and 286.


The Trial/Pilot Project at the Parker Library

The Research Group Archives preserve the on-shoot records, entered in pencil (of course; we were in the Library and working with Original Manuscripts) on A4-sized pages and dated 1 June 1990, for the photographic work by Mildred Budny, assisted by Timothy Graham, for the 35mm colour negatives, to be printed for distribution, “for Medieval Binding Structures trial project at CCCC”.  The notes record the requested work to prepare photographs of selected features of Corpus Christi College MSS 86, 87, 89, 212 and Archives XVII.4 & XVII.5 (the “East Field Terrier”).

Features under consideration included the front and back covers, inside covers, spine, fore-edge, tabs, endbands, pastedowns, and lifted pastedowns.  The selected cases aimed to exhibit a wide range of features — that is, within a single then-accessible collection and with a then-willing staff equipped with a willing photographer which the outside project was not expected to pay for — which the larger survey might encounter, and to provide specific cases for considering a reflective consensus for an appropriate terminology to employ, and to illustrate, for census-takers in many locations.

 Glimpses of Lost Bindings during Conservation of Corpus Manuscripts

For Example, MSS 20, 23, 139, 197B, and 383

The Research Project at the Parker Library, in both phases (both the Pilot Project and the Leverhulme Trust Research Project, lasting altogether from 1987 to 1994), was designed to co-ordinate scholarly expertise and conservation work.  Because the Senior Research Associate for both Projects — now the Director of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence — contributed her photographic equipment, time, and expertise to the research tasks, it was natural that some of the manuscripts undergoing conservation received photographic coverage to a greater extent than encompassed by the conservators, who operated according to other dictates.

Thus, for example, the photographic record during conservation of the Insular Gospel fragment of MS 197 Part B and its stitching patterns was accomplished by Nicholas Pickwoad at his conservation studio already, for the most part, before the Research Project began.  The plan was earnestly to incorporate those photographs, and Nicholas’s detailed expert study of the stitching patterns, into a monograph study of the manuscript.  The efforts and the outcome of those plans are reported elsewhere on this website, at last, as we emerge into a position to report our history more fully.  Silence, inertia, and inability through years of illness have something to do with the length of time.  That was then.  This is now.

At the start of the Pilot Project, at Mildred Budny’s request, MS 23 was returned to the Library from Nicholas’s conservation studio in Norfolk in its disbound state, so that photographic coverage could be performed. Some of those black-and-white photographs accompanied the Application to the Leverhulme Trust for the Research Project on “The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts”.  Hindsight soon showed that she should have taken photographs of the full manuscript, front, back, and sideways, to record its state before the changes which the conservation next produced.  That is another story.

James Marrow at the "Identity & AuthenticitySome skilled book-collectors (for example, our Honorary Trustee, James H. Marrow) tell me that it is the books or manuscripts that they did not buy that they regret.  To say that, Oh, I Know the Feeling, is to say that (until I write the best-seller and can start again to buy books) it is Corpus MS 23 that I think about mostly, with the wistful wish that I had had the foresight, the money, and the knowledge that Everything In A Manuscript Should Be Photographed, and From More Than One Angle And At More Than One Time.

But that set of combined wishes and regrets is to enter into a world of the Ideal, and we must live Here And Now, if not solely Hand-To-Mouth.  I prefer to remain resourcefully within the Realm of the Possible, and the Resourcefulness for that quest does rouse suspicion or envy or anger, as the Memoirs will report (unless you make it worthwhile not to, Hint, Hint).

It may be useful to be thankful, if not satisfied, that at least I had the chance and the forethought to photograph as much as I did.  Digression Over.  (Although that said, or that written, the Digression may indeed have been Relevant.)

Similarly, some of this photographic work of recording evidence revealed in conservation was performed even for manuscripts not targeted specifically by the Leverhulme Trust Research Project. A notable example is the luxurious manuscript of the Apocalypse and other texts given to Saint Augustine’s Abbey by Juliana de Leybourn, Countess of Huntingdon (died 1367): Corpus MS 20. Those photographs have never seen the light of day, but the time for them may come.

Some Research Project Manuscripts “proper” received not only such extensive photography (fuller, you bet, now that I had Learned The Lesson) but also Seminars or Workshops in their own right (or write) designed specifically to consider this, as well as other, evidence which the conservation and our scholarly examinations had revealed.

We had planned, and I had gullibly prepared the photography for, facsimiles and monograph studies of these as well as other manuscripts.  It had seemed that we had the resources, as in publisher and distributor  (but we were duped), although not, or not yet, the full funding or institutional support, to assemble the materials and the expertise for such publications.  Politics and other challenges intervened.  Wait for the Memoirs.

Detail of opened book with schematic text. Photography © Mildred BudnyMeanwhile, we focus upon the research, the manuscript evidence, and the subjects of study.  And we are working on reclaiming some of the research results.

Does this make you think about some recycled medieval manuscript materials?  Yep, we are lining up to join our place in the history of reclaimed materials that might, after rejections, turn out to have some use after all.  For the moment, I’m calling that enterprise “Salvation Limited”.  (The “Unlimited” part is already spoken for.)

The Reports now for our Seminars or Workshops on some of the designated manuscripts provide more information about them, the collaborative study, and the evidence for their former binding structures.

Some of our early Seminars and Workshops in the Series on “The Evidence of Manuscripts” , held mostly at the Parker Library, tackled these cases:

Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 139
Parker Library, 28 September 1990

Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 383

Parker Library, 16 November 1991

Parts of the many results of our research discoveries for Corpus MS 139 were published here, soon after the Leverhulme Trust Research Project was completed:

By that time, it had become too clear (see the Report now with Hindsight for the 1990 Workshop on the manuscript) that the expected monograph had no publisher or distributor and that a still-available way to publish some of our results resided in the updated publication of an earlier conference to which I had contributed a presentation.  And so I packed that essay with as much information and illustrations from that manuscript’s study — not included in the original paper; it had not entered our landscape, nor should it have — as the editors and the scope of the publication could permit.

This composite 12th-century manuscript, which includes the unique medieval copy of the Historia Regum attributed to Symeon of Durham, received detailed examination during conservation, with analysis of the sequence of stitching patterns of former bindings and the traces of a former, medieval binding impressed upon the endleaves. The examination included the preparation of a full set of technical drawings to represent the stitching patterns in each quire. A sample of those drawings, from Quires XIX, XX, XII, and XXII, was published in ‘Physical Evidence’, Figure 1 (on page 39). At the same time, a set of technical drawings was prepared to highlight the binding traces on the endleaves and to reconstruct the shape and binding mechanism of that binding, now lost.

Those drawings are reproduced as Figures 2-3 on page 41 in the same publication. Now we prepare to reproduce them more accessibly on our website, along with more of the drawings for which that publication did not have room. Watch this space: “Workshop Report” for Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 139.

Gold stamp on blue cloth of the logo of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence. Detail from the front cover of Volume II of 'The Illustrated Catalogue'Some of these manuscripts and other manuscripts received detailed coverage, sometimes with an account of their former bindings or traces thereof, in the Illustrated Catalogue of Insular, Anglo-Saxon, and Early Anglo-Norman Manuscript Art at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

  • MSS 23, 69, 197B, 286, and more (listed above)

See our Promotional Offer.

Similar reconstructions appear in the integrated study of a 9th-century Anglo-Saxon Bible Fragment, British Library Royal MS 1 E VI (1987). Such evidence, archaeological and other, has long been regarded as significant as a subject in the work of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence, and we continue to welcome and to admire work on the genres of medieval bindings in many fields.


Detail of an initial M on the verso of the leaf. Photography by Mildred BudnyTo round off our Report about the Trial Project for Jennifer Sheppard’s larger project, which has given the opportunity to think again about some fascinating manuscript materials, we express thanks for the opportunity to participate in stages of the planning and formation of the project to identify and to survey Medieval Binding Structures to 1550 A.D. in Libraries in the British Isles.  We congratulate Jenny Sheppard, and admire the results.


Some of our blogposts on Manuscript Studies report discoveries of medieval binding structures as revealed in, or through, manuscript materials rescued from various locations in Western Europe.  Enjoy the menu presented in the Contents List!