Tag Archives: Inverchapel

Archival packaging, old and new, or: Of silk ribbons and cotton tape

When material from the archive of Archibald Clark Kerr, Baron Inverchapel – or indeed from any of the Bodleian’s modern archives – is ordered to the Special Collections reading rooms, it will most likely arrive in a greyish blue box, the papers neatly housed in blueish grey folders of the same colour. Sheets of acid-free, calcium carbonate buffered paper to separate leaves, ‘Melinex’ polyester pockets for photographs, folder titles written in 2B pencil, acrylic adhesive labels, a brass paperclip here and there – everything screams (or rather whispers… it’s a library after all) ‘archival packaging’.
BS 4971, the 2017 British Standard for the conservation and care of archive and library collections, is the Holy Grail, and no packaging material not complying with its strict rules shall ever come near our precious documents.

Material from the Edgar Wind Papers in full archival packaging armour. Blue-grey or grey-blue, the colour of the envelopes and boxes is heavily contested.

However, when archives first arrive at the Bodleian, the packaging is quite different: all kinds of boxes, cartons, baskets and trunks are used for transfer, and the papers are likely to still be in the order and condition their creator or collector stored them in – including a wide array of folders, envelopes, pockets, sheet protectors, paperclips, pins, staples, ribbons, cords and rubber bands once used to organize and protect them.

In case of the the Inverchapel Archive, almost all of the correspondence came in bundles. Hundreds, if not thousands, of letters, still folded up inside their original envelopes, sorted in little piles and tied together with pieces of string, cord or ribbon – like these exchanged between Archibald Kerr Clark Esq., then a young attaché at the British Embassy in Berlin, and Mrs. Kerr Clark, his mother in London:

All bundled up: Letters from the Archive of Archibald Clark Kerr, Baron Inverchapel, c.1908. Why are they addressed to Archibald Kerr Clark – find out here.

Whilst it was very helpful to identify runs of correspondence, and match letters with their envelopes, this organisation system had two big downsides: the letters would be difficult to access if researchers had to remove them from their envelopes first, and all the early 20th century silk, cotton, wool, hemp, jute… ribbons and cords are not very likely to be compliant with 21st century BS4971 specifications.

Consequently, quite a lot of time on the Inverchapel cataloguing project was actually spent on pre-cataloguing archival processing tasks: removing all those strings, and the rusty pins and paperclips holding together sheets of paper inside the envelopes, unfolding pages, encasing photographs in Melinex, and not least placing the flattened papers safely in archive standard folders.
After processing more than 80 correspondence boxes, the amount of ribbons, cords and strings removed from the archive was rather impressive:

A rich bounty: Ribbons, cords and strings removed from the Inverchapel material. …We should have tied them all together and measured the result – in ells, obviously!

A lot of pink. But apart from his colour preferences some of those textile fasteners also reveal some of the archive owner’s shopping habits, as these ties, probably re-used from delivery parcels, show:

Fruits and tartan: Some of the strings close up

  • Searcy, Tansley &  Co. Ltd., London – most likely a food delivery. One could speculate if H.M. Ambassador, Lord Inverchapel, had a sneaky takeaway…
  • ALEXANDER MACINTYRE & CO – TWEED AND HOSIERY MERCHANTS – INVERARY AND STRONE. ARGYLL. – Proud of his Scottish heritage, and owner of the Inverchapel Estate near Lock Eck, Clark Kerr would have known where to buy his tweeds!
  • BOOTS THE CHEMISTS – how people carried home their soap and aspirin before plastic bags were invented.
  • G. ADAM & CO., FRUITERERS TO HIS MAJESTY, 42, NEW BOND STREET, W., TELEPHONE 2128 MAYFAIR – only the best apples and pears!

Like those shop ties, most strings and ribbons used for tying up the letter bundles seem to have been repurposed, or, like the many pink cotton bands, were haberdashery leftovers. On closer examination, the big pile of old textile fasteners reveals a remarkable variety of materials and colours:

The closest an ambassador’s archive can get to a rainbow?

But however pretty and colourful those tapes and ribbons may be, they still face the fate and final destination of all* old fasteners which could potentially be harmful to our precious archives – the bin.

Where ties are needed to hold bundles together, there is now archive standard unbleached cotton tape in place. Admittedly, this is less exciting than its colourful historic cousins. But it goes very well with the blueish grey/ greyish blue of our acid-free, calcium carbonate buffered boxes and folders, and most importantly: it complies with BS 4971.

Playing it safe: Unbleached cotton tape for archival use.


*Almost all. Some end up in our Bodleian Conservation colleagues’ ‘interesting pin collection’, where they get a new life in documenting the history of stationary and
help to determine the age of undated documents.


New catalogue: Archive of Archibald Clark Kerr, Lord Inverchapel

The online catalogue of the Archive of Archibald Clark Kerr, Lord Inverchapel, is now available.

Archibald John Kerr Clark was born 17 March 1882 near Sydney, Australia, the son of John Kerr Clark (1838-1910), a sheep station owner originally from Lanarkshire, Scotland, and his wife Kate Louisa (1846-1926), daughter of Sir John Robertson, prime minister of New South Wales. In 1889, the family moved to England, though John Kerr Clark later returned to Australia.
Kerr Clark was educated at Bath College, and in France, Germany, Spain and Italy, where he studied languages. In March 1906 he passed the entrance examination for the diplomatic service and started working at the Foreign Office in London.  After adopting Kerr as an additional surname in 1911, he became known as Archibald (or Archie, to his friends and colleagues) Clark Kerr.

Archibald John Clark Kerr, 1st Baron Inverchapel by Bassano Ltd, half-plate glass negative, 19 January 1938. NPG x155214
© National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

His first posting as a young diplomat took him to Berlin (1908-1910), and after postings to Buenos Aires (1910-1911), Washington (1911-1914), Tehran (1914-1916) and Tangier (1919-1922), he became deputy to High Commissioner Lord Allenby in Egypt (1922-1925).
He served as Minister of the United Kingdom to Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador from 1925 to 1928, to Chile from 1928 to 1931, and to Sweden from 1931 to 1934, before he was appointed Ambassador and posted to Iraq in 1935.
Clark Kerr was British Ambassador to China from 1938 to 1942, during the Second Sino-Japanese War. As Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1942 to 1946, he was key to shaping the Anglo-Russian relations during the Second World War – most famously, by convincing Churchill to return to talks with Stalin during their meeting in Moscow in August 1942.

A senior British Diplomat, he attended many of the Allied wartime conferences, including the ‘Big Three’ conferences in Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam. He worked with the  Allied Commission to Romania in 1945/46, and in Spring 1946 was sent on a special mission to Java as a mediator in the tensions between the Dutch government and the Indonesian nationalists.
From 1946 Clark Kerr, now elevated to Peerage as Baron Inverchapel, served as British Ambassador in Washington. In March 1948, he retired from the diplomatic service, but was almost immediately appointed to the new committee on European unity, for which he worked until 1949. He died at Greenock 5 July 1951, and was buried at the Inverchapel Estate near Loch Eck in Scotland.

Archibald Clark Kerr entering the Cecilienhof Palace on the third day of the Potsdam Conference, July 1945. (On the left Sir Alexander Cadogan, Under Secretary at the British Foreign Office).
National Archives and Records Administration, Office of Presidential Libraries, Harry S. Truman Library (Public Domain)

Clark Kerr’s archive comprises his personal papers and correspondence, alongside material relating to his career as a diplomat, from the 1900s to the 1940s. Family papers and correspondence, dating back to the 1850s, document the family history, his parents’ lives in Australia, and Clark Kerr’s connections to family members, especially his close relationships to his mother and to his sister Muriel.
Often, the private and the public overlap: for example, in the many letters exchanged between Clark Kerr and his mother. They corresponded at least twice a week, sometimes daily, and together with personal and family news, they exchanged newspaper clippings and extensively commented on society, culture, politics and international relations in the 1900s, 1910s and early 1920s.
Similarly, Clark Kerr’s correspondence with colleagues and friends, such as Harold Nicolson, Vita Sackville-West, Eustace Percy, Alice Drummond-Hay, Robert Boothby and  Gerald Villiers, and with British and foreign aristocrats, such as the German Kaiser’s sister, Sophie Duchess of Sparta (later Queen Consort of Constantine I of Greece) and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Consort of Georg VI and Queen Mother), paints a vivid picture not only of personal contacts and relationships, but also of the times and social circles the correspondents were living in.

Also available is the online catalogue of the working papers of Clark Kerr’s biographer Donald Gillies, who published Radical Diplomat: The Life of Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, Lord Inverchapel, 1882-1951 in 1998.