Conservation of Drogheda Merchant Ledgers
Supported by the Heritage Council under the Community Heritage Grant Scheme 2021, County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society kindly received funding for three significant ledgers to obtain professional conservation treatment.
The three merchant ledgers were found in Piltown House, Drogheda, once home of businessman, Thomas Brodigan, of the Brodigan family who were major Drogheda merchants from the eighteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society arranged for deposit of the volumes in the County Archives.
Details of business transactions at the Brodigans’ grocery and tobacco shop in West Street can be found in two of the ledgers dating to 1788-92 and 1802-09. There are many names of customers documented from County Louth and as far as Counties Dublin, Kilkenny and Tyrone. Merchandise such as jam sugar, tea, tobacco, spirits, and spices are recorded. The ledgers provide an insight into the lives of people who lived in Drogheda during a period that saw a strong growth in Drogheda’s economy.
A third ledger gives information on imports and exports of various ships that docked in Drogheda from 1723-31 as well as the outfitting of two ships for long-haul voyages: one to Barbados in 1726 and the other to America in 1729. Goods such as linen, wool, tallow and butter were exported while sugar, tobacco and glass were among the imports. Many of the transactions include two members of the Godfrey family from Drogheda, Thomas and John, the latter being a mayor of Drogheda in 1725.
The volumes were in poor condition with problems such as a weak spine, weak and broken sewing, covers torn or detaching and surface dirt. They were assessed by a professional conservator who advised on the conservation work required. The volumes are all made from rag paper pages and their covers are made from either reversed calf leather, parchment, or cloth. It was found that one volume contained rope fibre boards made from disused ships rigging and this was re-used in the cover.
Prior to treatment, the ledgers were not fully accessible as this would only undermine them further. The treatment provided included dry-cleaning, washing end sections, reconditioning, and repairing the covers, paper repairs, parchment repairs, and consolidating the sewing. The volumes were then placed in custom-made archival phase-boxes for storage. The total treatment time took twenty-nine and a half hours.
Treatment stabilises the items and helps secure their permanent preservation. It also opens access up to users who can consult the ledgers under supervision in the research room of the County Archives. Anyone interested in viewing or researching the ledgers can contact Louth County Archives by emailing email@example.com or by telephoning 042-9324358.
For National Heritage Week 2021, Louth County Archives will host an archival exhibition display of the three merchant ledgers on Friday 20th August from 10am – 1pm. Admission is free and visitors should follow HSE and Government health guidelines in relation to Covid-19. See www.heritageweek.ie.
To view images of the conservation treatment, click here.