On the 4th of July 2021, water ingress from a burst drainpipe above the reception of our Science building on Inverleith Row made its way into the RBGE Archives affecting some of our collections. We have emergency plans in place for situations like this and staff were on site immediately to begin a salvage operation. As there was no standing water in the Archives, and because much of the damage appeared to be to the boxes on wet shelves that would only get worse if left, the decision was taken to remove wet items so they could immediately begin to dry.

photograph showing rows of boxes on shelves, many are very wet and starting to buckle, and water droplets are dripping from the shelf edges.
Examples of some wet boxes on shelves in the RBGE Archives, 4th July 2021.

The next day, the material was sorted into three categories- dry; wet box with dry contents; and wet box with wet contents. Most of the second category material was able to be dried on site but the third, some 46 boxes, had to be sent to a specialist company, Harwell Ltd, so that it could be frozen, dried box by box and sanitised before being returned. The remaining archives were sent to off-site storage whilst the room was dried and cleaned, meaning that after lockdown closure, the archives had to remain closed for a further period until the collections could be returned.

The vast majority of the RBGE Archives are returned and we are now open to the public again, Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment.

photograph showing a folder that has water stains and examples of blue ink running across the cover alongside letters that were inside the folder but are undamaged by the water.
The contents of these very water stained and ink damaged folders were all absolutely fine.

Currently the worst affected archive material, now back on site, is being surveyed and repackaged. So far, as with the material we were able to dry on site, we can see that the boxes the items were in have prevented a lot of damage. We can easily replace stained boxes and folders and are doing that now, but we cannot replace their contents, so it was a relief to see that our recent drive to get collections into boxes was successful and something we’ll need to ensure we continue and keep improving.

It’s not easy to box everything though, so as the archives return, more ‘vulnerable’ items such as registers and photo albums are being placed in cabinets and cases to offer them protection that way. We hope they’ll never be in need of that protection again, but if the last two years have taught us anything it’s to expect the unexpected.

photograph showing an ink line drawing of trees and paths through grass that has been damaged by water, making it wrinkly.
Dawyck panorama on permatrace by David Mason ARIAS

Here are some examples of the worst affected material identified so far; an original drawing by David Mason ARIAS, potentially for a Dawyck guidebook, and a Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society medal certificate awarded to Logan curator Martin Colledge in 1985. The certificate is an example of a box not helping- this one filled with water, drenching the contents and it may be that the item being in a frame is what prevented worse damage.

Photograph showing a certificate from the Royal Caledonia Horticultural Society with blue writing and images of a line of fruit and vegetables below a sun. The paper has been stained by water leaving brown marks and wrinkles.
Martin Colledge’s certificate, stained and wrinkled but still able to tell his story.

Although unsightly, and a little cockled, the items are still legible and usable, and now can tell another story, that of the 2021 flood.