Caring for the Architectural Drawings Collection

Caring for Historic Royal Palaces’ Architectural Drawings Collection is a varied job and no small task, given that the collection contains over 30,000 drawings! These include everything from designs for alterations to the palaces to plans of the drainage systems. If you haven’t already, you might like to read this week’s other blogs which describe some of the highlights from the collection, looking at the history of the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and Kensington, Kew and Banqueting House. In this post, we’ll look at how we store this delicate but priceless historic collection, which is kept carefully hidden in the bowels of Tower of London.

‘A True and Exact Draught of the Tower Liberties’, 1597. This is the earliest measured plan of the Tower and is full of meticulous detail. There is a list down the right side of the plate, with notes on the Liberty’s territory and boundaries.
The White Tower. North-south cross section, 1729. The section shows the basement before the insertion of the brick vault, and the timber structures inserted into the entrance and first floor for storage.

Storage

Storing the collection properly is one of the best ways of ensuring that the drawings do not get damaged, misplaced or ruined. The archive is held in a climate-controlled store at the Tower of London. Most of the drawings are kept in acid-free folders which are stored in large plan chests. Some drawings that are too big to fit in the drawers without damaging them are rolled for storage.

As well as controlling the temperature and relative humidity levels to create optimum conditions for the long-term preservation of the collection, HRP’s conservators also monitor pest activity, light levels and any signs of mould in the store to ensure that the collection is safe from harm.

Cataloguing

Cataloguing involves describing the collection to help with discovery and management of the drawings. Most cataloguing of the drawings collection is done by our brilliant volunteers. We are lucky at HRP that the drawings collection has been catalogued in detail at item-level (meaning that each individual drawing has been described).

Volunteer Judith measures an architectural drawing

For every drawing, we record things like the drawing’s title, the date it was made, the name of its creator, its size and scale, and each drawing is given a unique reference code. This makes them easier to find and helps users to understand the purpose of each drawing. Although the full catalogue is not currently available to the public, some details can be found on Discovery via The National Archives.

Access

The whole point of archiving is to help people make use of historical records. At HRP, a range of people use the architectural drawings collection for different reasons. For example, curators use the drawings to find out about the palaces’ history; surveyors and maintenance staff look to the drawings for information about the structure of the buildings; and designers use the drawings as a source of inspiration for creating new products.

Digitisation is a useful way of increasing access to the collections. Creating digital copies of drawings allows them to be shared, downloaded, copied, examined and transported with no risk to the original item. Around 3,500 of HRP’s drawings have been digitised, and several are available to view on HRP’s Image Library.

So, whether it’s re-housing a 19th-century design for the restoration of the Beauchamp Tower or digitising a modern survey of the grace and favour apartments at Hampton Court, there’s more to archiving at HRP than meets the eye!

This film about the 19th century re-medievalisation of the Tower of London demonstrates how our architectural drawings can reveal the history of the palaces:

Tom Drysdale
Curatorial Archivist

Discover some highlights from the Architectural Drawings Collections on our blog series looking at items from the archives related to the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and Kensington, Kew and Banqueting House.

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