Parchment

Counterpart lease of 19 and 20 Lambs Conduit Passage, 20 January 1685/6

Our oldest lease dating from January 1685.

Lease of [16, or possibly 14] Lambs Conduit Passage, 3 July 1778

There are several examples of corrections in this lease made by scraping the parchment and then writing over the scraped spaces. In this lease from 1778 there are at least 5 corrections ('Thirty,' 'yielding,' 'decayed,' 'Doors floors,' and 'Thirty' again) made in this manner in the top third of this lease.

All of our older leases, those that were created in the 19th century or prior, were written on parchment. Parchment is animal skin, stretched very tight over a frame, scraped clean and thin and then air dried. The finest parchment was called vellum and was made from the skin of a calf. Parchment is surprisingly durable and maintains its integrity over a long time. Our oldest lease dates from 1685 and though it is somewhat discoloured it is still legible.

The parchment for our leases came with the words "This Indenture" elaborately inscribed, most likely stamped, by the stationer that produced the parchment. This is followed by the contract, hand-written by a clerk or solicitor. If an error was made in the contract then the incorrect word or error must be carefully scraped off and the correction inscribed in its place. This is apparent on a number of our leases. A signature of a party to the contract is often seen at the bottom and on some occasions, a seal. At the top left, below the stationer's stamp, is a blue stamp, showing that stamp duty for the lease has been paid.

"Stamp Duty is a tax payable on documents which transfer certain kinds of property, and on some other legal documents. ‘Property’ means all items capable of being owned, not just land or houses, but not all transfers of property are dutiable."1
Counterpart lease of 19 and 20 Lambs Conduit Passage, 20 January 1685/6

This lease is a good example of being able to see the texture of the skin from which it is made. This is especially apparent at the edges.

When viewing a document made of parchment it is clear that is of animal origin. On close examination you can see the texture of the skin and if the parchment is kept in too dry an environment it can become brittle and scaley, not unlike our own skin under those conditions.

To best care for parchment documents they should be kept in a room in which you can control the temperature and humidity or at least minimise the changes in either. The ink may fade if they are subjected to too much UV light and so the leases are rarely on display. Parchment can be especially attractive to rodents and so the storage space must be kept scrupulously clean to discourage vermin and insects.


1.The Inland Revenue Stamp Taxes Office