I recently had access to some ancient parish records dating back to the 1600s, bound in a large vellum-bound book, and before the book had to be returned, I was able to scan a selection of the pages. Not only are they interesting from a historical point of view, but they are beautiful objects in themselves; the earlier generations thought that official documents should be beautiful as well as informative, and they went to great trouble to pen the most elegant copper-plate script, complete with flourishes and embellishments. What a shame that these days, such documents are written in often very poor handwriting, or typed; nobody has the time any more to take a pride in a mundane job and elevate it to the status of a work of art.
Leafing through the book, it was interesting to see how the style of handwriting changed over the years, and even the signature of a single individual would develop ever more elaborately as the years progressed.
These documents are great treasures – irreplaceable, beautiful, and fascinating as they trace the births, marriages and deaths of ordinary citizens throughout the centuries. Handling this book, I could imagine the clergymen who penned the lists of names, and the style of clothing they would have worn, and the sort of lives they and their parishioners would have led – a very far cry from our lives today.
These pages would make wonderful backgrounds and design elements in my art projects – I am just embarking on the whole new world of digital scrapbooking, and they have great potential!
Here are some samples of the pages.
This one is the first page in the book, and dates from 1678.
It is interesting how the black ink has gradually seeped through the paper over the centuries, so that a ghosting effect from the other side is visible.
This one is dated 1692.
In 1736 you can see a true copper-plate script developing.
Into the 19th century, here is one from 1813, the final entry in this volume, which is volume 3 – it is not known what has happened to the earlier volumes. Presumably subsequent volumes have been lodged in the county record office, which is where this book is destined.
I also scanned some of the endpapers, and the front and back covers of the book.
The marks on this page are the ink bleeding through from the writing on the reverse.
This is part of the front cover. The cover is made of vellum, and is wonderfully distressed.
This is the top part of the book, showing some of the binding:
and finally, this is part of the back cover.
I wish I could share with you the wonderful feel of this book; its weight, the stiffness of the paper, which crackles as you turn the pages, its textures – the paper is slightly striated as it would have been pressed probably between sheets of linen when it was made. The vellum cover is smooth, like silk, and the whole book has an aroma of antiquity. I really felt that I was holding history in my hands. What a privilege.