Hello, I’m Amy, I’m a history student at the University of Exeter, Penryn and I’m currently completing a work placement at Hayle Heritage Centre. I was born and raised in Hayle so volunteering here is fascinating to me.
Hayle Heritage Centre has recently taken over custody of the Hayle Community Archive collections, with the archival holdings (formerly stored in the old Ellis Brewery Office on Sea Lane, Copperhouse) now at home at 24 Foundry Square. While sorting through the material, we came across two Sufferance books from the early 19th Century.
After being amazed at how old these books were and how well they had held up, we began to ask ourselves; what actually is a sufferance book? So, I started to research whatever a sufferance could be, and I came across an old customs file talking about “sufferance wharves”. These sufferance wharves were places where boats would dock and hold their wares before a duty or tax would be paid; this would then be transcribed in a sufferance book. This means that we had found two books that include records of everything that came into and out of Hayle harbour in the years 1811-1821.
From looking at the books, and our research online, we have concluded that there were three main workers; a coastwaiter, a comptroller and a collector. A coastwaiter oversaw all the incomings and outgoings. A comptroller oversaw the finance aspect, and the duty that needed to be paid by the boats. Finally, a collector collected the duties owed before the ship could continue.
The information stored in these two books is incredible. At first glance, the two books looked almost identical but when looking further, we discovered that one book transcribed all of the imports such as tobacco, rum and snuff, whereas the second book transcribed the exports from the harbour: mostly copper ore but even a steam engine left on a boat! Every page we turned we found more and more information that gave us an insight into life in the 1800s: written letters to higherups confirming that someone was unable to fulfil his duties due to illness in the period after Christmas, notes explaining how an entry was put into the wrong book by mistake, and my favourite – a note, from who we assume was an apprentice (because of the handwriting) scribbling out the wrong terminology and writing “I mean shipped” in capitals underneath it. These little notes and letters really brought the books to life for me and showed an insight into the lives of the people that lived and worked on Hayle harbour over 200 years ago.
Unfortunately, these books were discovered in poor condition with extensive mould damage. So, in order to prevent ongoing deterioration, the plan we came up with was to dust off any dirt or debris that we could see with a soft hake brush, and then use Museum Vac® to clean up anything we couldn’t see with the naked eye. We then planned to wrap the books in Tyvek® to stop any further deterioration.
When cleaning a book as old as this, certain steps need to be taken. First, you’ve got to make sure that every item you are going to use either in cleaning, labelling, or storing is acid-free. This is to make sure that no acid can transfer onto the document and cause further damage. Secondly, a card box needs to be set up to stop the mould and dust from going all over the place. The third step is the start the cleaning process, with a soft brush start in the middle, brushing gently and slowly away from you. After this has cleaned most of the dirt, dust, and mould off the pages, you then can move on to using the Museum Vac®. A Museum Vac® is a very low suction vacuum, perfect for old documents such as our books. The final step is to wrap the book like a Christmas present in Tyvek®, and tie it with some acid free cotton, with a description of the book on the tag (or an accession number, though these haven’t yet been assigned). After the cleaning is complete, we then store the books in a documented location, so we are able to find them again easily.