A Gothic endband from Chichester Cathedral Library – Part 2: A reconstruction attempt

By Lena Krämer, MA Conservation Studies: Books and Library Materials

In the first part of this post (Part 1: An Unusual Feature), I described an unusual endband type I discovered in a Gothic binding in Chichester Cathedral Library. What I first mistook as the thread of a saddle stitch turned out to be a series of strips of alum tawed skin, threaded through the covering material underneath the primary endbands (Figures 1-5).

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Figure 1: primary endband
Figure 2: covering material over the endband
Figure 3: alum tawed strips visible underneath the primary endband (arrow)
Figure 4: alum tawed strips visible on the spine (arrow)
Figure 5: Diagram of the components visible at the endcaps: (a) back-cornered textblock edge, (b) covering material, (c) alum tawed skin strips, (d) primary endband

Szirmai’s The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding unfortunately did not mention any endband types similar to that of the Chichester Cathedral Library's binding, but it detailed common types to which it could be compared. Based on the diagrams and descriptions in the book, I made models to help me explore the possibilities for the assembly of this endband.

Figure 6: Saddle stitch endband model sewn with thread (spine view)
Figure 7: Saddle stitch endband model sewn with thread (front view)
Figure 8: Saddle stitch endband model sewn with leather strip (spine view)
Figure 9: Saddle stitch endband model sewn with leather strip (front view)
Figure 10: Diagram of a saddle stitch endband

Having dismissed the possibility of the endband being saddle stitched, I turned my attention to braided endbands, as they seemed an obvious explanation for the little strips of skin remaining in the pink Gothic binding.

For braided endbands, a long strip of skin is passed through the covering material and underneath the endband core, and then is braided around the primary endband with either one or both ends (Figure 11). I made endband models of two methods and both worked reasonably well, even with the strips being a similar thickness to the strips in the pink binding. During the braiding process, the strip could be manipulated to always face in the same direction, and only one strip would have to pass through each hole, as was the case with the original. This seemed a promising possibility, and yet there was still the problem of the excess covering material. Where did it go? If it was trimmed off, this would be visible on the spine, but the Gothic binding showed no evidence for this. If it passed around the primary endband before braiding, however, the end would have been secured in place by the braid. It is possible that both the braiding and the covering material would have been lost due to abrasion, leaving nothing but the wound primary endbands intact. Nevertheless, it seems odd that with the amount of abrasion on both endbands, responsible for the loss of almost all original material, the strips of skin would not have been pulled out from their tunnels. Was there another possibility?

Figure 11: Diagram of a braided endband
Figure 12: Endband model braided with two ends (top view)
Figure 13: Endband model braided with two ends (spine view)
Figure 14: Endband model braided with one end (top view)
Figure 15: Endband model braided with one end (spine view)

I still had one final idea, which I decided to try out on a model. Using scrap paper, I sewed up a textblock, back-cornered the spine edges, and completed it with wound primary endbands comparable to the ones in the pink Gothic binding (Figure 16). I found a scrap piece of leather and held it to the spine, with plenty of excess leather at head and tail. I marked how far the leather wrapped around the primary endbands and marked the positions of the tie-downs along this line (Figure 17). Then, I pierced holes through the spine with an awl, going in between the tie-downs, underneath the primary endbands, and through the spine leather (Figure 18). I then cut the excess leather from the edge to those marks, forming a comb-like flap ending in thin strips (Figure 19). Because the position of the strips of leather and the holes through the spine corresponded to the spaces between the tie-downs, they were perfectly aligned (Figure 20). This enabled me to thread the individual strips through their corresponding holes with surprising ease (Figure 21). Once pulled tight, I trimmed off the excess at the spine (Figure 25). The resulting endband was a tight roll of covering material wrapped around the primary endband (Figure 24). The positioning of the strips was identical to that of the original pink Gothic binding.

Figure 16: Textblock with primary endband
Figure 17: Marking the position of the tie-downs on the spine material
Figure 18: Piercing holes between the tie-downs underneath the primary endband
Figure 19: Cutting the excess material into a comb-like structure along the marks of the tie-downs
Figure 20: Threading the strips through the corresponding holes on the spine
Figure 21: All strips in place

Figure 22: Model of the endband with the strips laced through (top view)
Figure 23: Model of the endband with the strips laced through (spine view)
Figure 24: Model of the endband with some strips trimmed off
Figure 25: Diagram of the completed endband

To test whether the damage on this form of endband would be comparable to the damage of the Chichester Cathedral Library book, I abraded the top of the endband with sandpaper (Figure 26). The slips of leather remained in place, and the material on top gave way to expose the primary endband - just like the material on the pink Gothic binding.

Figure 26: Endband model with abraded corner
Figure 27: Abrasion damage on the original Gothic binding
Figure 28: Diagram of the abrasion damage of both the model and the original binding

As it was only a test piece, my endband model was entirely non-adhesive, and therefore moved a lot when abraded. In the original, there still remain traces of what appears to have been adhesive all the way around the primary endbands. This would have held the covering material firmly in place, even when it was abraded, so that the strips would not have been pulled out of their tunnels from the movement. The adhesive residue is also an indication that the secondary endband consisted of one continuous layer of material, as no extra material would have been added between it and the primary endband.

Furthermore, the covering material and the stiff adhesive could have offered protection to the primary endband. Since the textblock was back-cornered, the primary endband sat in a recess, protected from mechanical forces. The covering material around it, however, would have protruded over the edge of the textblock and been subject to abrasion. Why the abrasion occurred on both endbands is unknown, but it is possible that both boards were detached, as there are extensive historic repairs to the joints. The textblock would then have been in direct contact with the shelf, and the covering material around the primary endbands abraded every time the book was moved - creating the same type of damage as the sandpaper passed over the top of the endband model until all soft material was gone. The endband model therefore shows a significant level of consistency with the evidence remaining on the original binding, and the positioning of the components appears to be identical.

While the model visually resembles the remaining evidence of the original, the material covering the primary endbands has been lost, and so cannot be examined to confirm or challenge the accuracy of the model. It seems odd that one element of the Gothic binding would diverge so much from standard practices, when all other characteristics are entirely traditional and recognisably Gothic. To the extent of my (admittedly limited) knowledge, no other bindings exist that structurally resemble my model, and so it is possible that the similarity to the Chichester Cathedral binding is purely accidental.

My tutors have also expressed doubts about the process my model suggests, as it seems unnecessarily complicated and time consuming. Nevertheless, I was surprised at the ease with which the model came together despite the seemingly overcomplicated process, and considering the resemblance to the evidence on the original binding, I suggest we at least consider it a possibility in the absence of further explanations. I am curious to do further research and experimentation to explore this mysterious feature, and perhaps creating a full historic binding model can open up the possibilities of alternative structures.

All diagrams were created by the author. All photographic images were taken by the author, with kind permission from Chichester Cathedral Library.


Szirmai, J. A. (2016). The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding. New York: Routledge.