Thursday, 21 June 2012

Giants in the Room

When Gregory the Great sent Augustine to Christianise the inhabitants of this dank isle in 597 ("Thank you Holy Father. What exactly did I do to annoy you so much?") he settled at Canterbury as being a nice spot. I imagine him choosing it rather as I choose a place to lay out the picnic rug - largely random, but with some logic (like less molehills).

Seven years later the diocese of Rochester was founded, a fact of which they are very proud, and I was there this week to look at the Textus Roffensis, one of the earliest extant books of law, and the one which apparently sets out the concept of financial compensation for injury rather than corporal retribution. A fact for which ambulance-chasing lawyers the world over must be very thankful.

In the meeting I was sitting next to an elderly conservator, who spoke slowly and with some difficulty, and occasionally seemed to veer somewhat off-topic. At the end of the meeting I knew more about limp vellum binding and alum-tawed hide than I thought likely to be useful, but not much about the conservator.

Talking to Claire Breay and Alixe Bovey afterwards and then googling him, I discovered Chris Clarkson is the godfather of modern conservation.

Summoned dramatically to Florence in 1966 he rescued thousands of books from the devastation of the flood, working in a temporary conservation studio in the power station.

From there he was recruited by the Library of Congress to set up their first conservation studio with a budget of $6m "And in 1971", as Christopher told me  "$6m meant something". He went on to work in many places, eventually coming back to the UK and now consults for a select group that includes my friends of the Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage.

It's often my privilege to sit in meetings with learned and erudite people, many of whom wear their learning and reputations on their sleeves. It's a delight then, to stumble into someone who has genuinely changed the face of a profession and who's main concern was making sure his sat-nav could get him out of the Rochester one-way system.

2 comments:

Kind of Technology said...
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vinay bhardwaj said...
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