It seemed a daunting prospect at first….a room crammed with 108 heavy boxes containing well over 2,100 books that needed turning into a proper book store.
This was one of those projects that the busy National Trust staff at Cragside had been wanting to tackle for years – but they just didn’t have the time to dedicate to it, amongst all their other pressing responsibilities.
That’s exactly the sort of situation where Hog & Fitch can help. Our brief was to move the books out so the shelving in the store could be adapted, check them then return them to the store and shelve them and record their locations.
Just moving them was harder than it sounds, as there was hardly any storage on the same floor so nearly all the books had to be carefully carried in their crates down a narrow twisting staircase into a work area a couple of floors below. We had to take care not to keep the crates as steady as possible, while avoiding bashing the historic walls.
Thank goodness for such a dedicated team of Cragside volunteers who worked with us cheerfully and tirelessly and shared their knowledge of the building and the collection. Together we moved the crates, carried out spot checks for problems (no point in carrying a hidden pest infestation or mould problem back up to the shiny new store) and checked the crate contents against the database to ease the re-shelving process.
We were also making a survey of sizes to check that the proposed shelving would indeed take all the books – so we had ‘folio’, ‘quarto’ and ‘octavo’ on the brain for quite a few days and nights.
And we had to do all this with as little handling of the books as possible to reduce the chance of physical damage – using paper templates to judge size, for example, instead of lifting every book out and measuring it. Physical damage from handling is the worst enemy of our book friends; the more we love them and use them, the greater they are at risk.
Once the shelves were adapted to provide proper support for the books, they all needed lining and padding on the ends to protect the books from abrasion or accidental knocks.
Then it was back up the stairs with the first batch of crates..this time with some welcome help from Nick Rogers FC. There was only space for a few at a time and getting them stacked in the correct order for reshelving required brain as well as muscle power. Sometimes Hog & Fitch felt as though we were trapped in a maze of crates!
Re-shelving and locations documentation was challenging but deeply satisfying. Again, we benefited from the skills and enthusiasm of the Cragside volunteer team. The books had been stored in their crates longer than anyone at Cragside would have wished so this was a bit of a milestone and we were all excited by the progress.
Getting them out onto shelves means that they could now be properly assessed by the conservation and curatorial teams. The house team will be able to monitor their condition far more easily now – with a much greater chance of spotting problems early so they can be dealt with. And, who knows, maybe some of our favourites will find their way out onto display for visitors?
We love Cragside so we’ll certainly be back to have a look.
Main header image: some of the books waiting to be reshelved after spending a lengthy period in crates
Images from top: final checks in the completed book store; the space before work started, filled with crates of books; NT Cragside volunteer team carefully moving crates out of the store down some awkward stairs and taking a breather to review progress (2 images); crates moved ready for checking then putting the final crate in place with a sigh of relief! (2 images); the store emptied of crates and ready for adaptation of shelves to support books; checking crates against documentation, assessing size for new shelving and making spot checks for physical damage, pests and mould after a prolonged period of storage (5 images); shelves adapted with ends and central supports for books; protecting shelving and fitting pads for ends of shelves as the first books move into the new store; as crate contents are shelved, more can be brought upstairs but careful documentation is essential to avoid confusion (2 images); continuing with the seemingly endless task of making acid free supports, checking titles as books are shelved and checking shelf lists; volunteer re-shelving team taking a well-deserved break; trimming shelf linings in a rather awkward space (no more visits to the Cragside cafe for Margaret); applying final shelf numbers; making use of space on top of shelves for flat folios; final checks that all books are safe and well supported; phew - one bookstore completed and two happy Hog & Fitch staff!
This is what Felicity Wheeler, Cragside's House Steward (collections) said:
'Angela and Margaret from Hog & Fitch were organised, thorough and professional. Our Book Store has been brought up to national standards and we can now easily view all the books, ensuring their correct future care. We would certainly be happy to have them work here again.'
All images by Hog & Fitch, reproduced with permission of National Trust