Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Preserving Archives

Wreck of Sea

Thanks to money given to NorAH in memory of the late David Stannard, a former trustee of the charity, the Norfolk Record Office has been able to conserve a document which relates to the right of wreck enjoyed by the Lord of the Manor of Eccles next Sea.

What is the Document?

It is a lease for the Manor of Eccles, dated 2 August 1685. It tells us that the Manor was leased by Edward Lomb of Sparham to Thomas Teasdell of Hempstead. Manors are defined by The National Archives as landed estates originating in the Middle Ages. They were administered by and for their lords, with dependent tenants living on the land. The lease is from a bundle of papers relating to the right of wreck belonging to the lord of the Manor of Eccles.

Why was the Lease in need of Conservation?

The rental is made of paper, which is less robust than parchment. The paper had become incredibly fragile and torn. Any handling was likely to cause the permanent loss of unique information.

Conserving the Lease

The lease was separated into its component pages and had its surface cleaned. After ensuring the stability of ink in water, the lease was put in a humidification dome to help flatten it. The lease was then washed and given an alkaline buffer to counteract any future acidification. Finally, tears in the paper were repaired. This was done by sticking long-fibred Japanese paper on to the lease with wheat starch. This allows the document to remain legible, whilst strengthening the original paper to mitigate against damage in the future. All conservation work is recorded in order to preserve the document’s evidential value.

The lease presented an additional challenge. The component sheets of the lease were attached to each other with a parchment tab. Originally, a wax seal was placed on the tab and the uppermost sheet as a form of authentication. Fortunately, the seal had decayed so much that it was possible to remove the tab
without cutting it, and without affecting the evidential value of the document.

Wreck of the Sea

Most of the text is formulaic but describes what was being leased as follows:

All that the lordship and Manor of Eccles juxta Mare [Eccles on Sea], the white rents, fines, amercements and profits of court, wreck of sea, and all other royalties to the said lordship or Manor belonging.

The right of wreck differs from one manor to the next. Fortunately, from the same bundle as the lease, there is an English translation of an inquisition made in the thirty-third year of the reign of Edward I (1304-1305) which defines the right of wreck as it relates to the Manor of Eccles.

In summary, if any goods, chattels, or merchandise came to land from sea without the help of the Lord of the Manor or his servants or resting upon the land one day and one night, the Lord of the Manor is allowed goods to the value of 20 shillings 14 pence. If the Lord of the Manor, or his men or tenants of Eccles, immediately after eminent danger or after shipwreck, save goods from the sea, they are due one third part of everything saved.

Are there more Archives needing Conservation Work?

Unsurprisingly, the answer is yes. There is an almost endless list of Norfolk’s archives that are too fragile for public handling. By becoming a Supporter of Norfolk Archives you will be increasing the amount of money can give towards projects which aim to make Norfolk’s archives more publicly accessible.