A conservator checking a pest trap

When the Kitchens at Kew were uncovered, we were thrilled to find that some of the original furniture remained; pieces that had been commissioned when the Kitchens were built at the beginning of the 18th century.

Object conservation

Conservation of the Royal Kitchens at KewThe Great Kitchen table, the bakery table and the dresser and shelf are not only historic working kitchen pieces but they also show wear and tear, possibly from the years that the kitchen was used as a workshop.

The items of furniture have survived remarkably well given their age and the conditions in which they have been stored.

The commissioned treatment team have been working with furniture conservation experts to check the condition of the objects and carry out minimal conservation and stabilisation work. The pieces are made almost entirely in pine, with the Great Kitchen table top in elm. There is significant evidence of historic furniture beetle attack on the surfaces of all the pieces and there was some structural instability. We have checked their condition, stabilised the loose boards and coated the fragile wood to prevent further loss.

Environmental care

The conservation and collection care team at Historic Royal Palaces not only conserve the objects and interiors of the palaces but also look after the environment in which they are kept. Our preventive conservators have been working with environmental monitoring experts to design and install a conservation heating system that will allow the visitors to see the kitchens in comfort and at the same time provide a suitable environment for our precious objects and interiors.

Conservation at the Royal Kitchens at KewIt is most important to maintain a stable moisture content in the air in order to ensure that the building does not become too damp. This heating system consists of a series of free-standing radiators, which are turned on and off automatically by sensor-controlled switches when changes to air moisture content are recorded. The data from the sensors is automatically downloaded so that we can check the conditions at any time.

Using this system, we aim to achieve a stable relative humidity (RH) of below 70%; 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This is very important as when an object absorbs water it can expand and split, or, if it is too dry then this can also cause splitting. Over 70% humidity, moulds can begin to grow which can cause damage to objects, textiles and the fabric of the building.

This is an extension of the system currently in place in Kew Palace which has proved successful over the past six years, making sure that both the objects and visitors are kept warm and dry. This is particularly challenging in this new location as the kitchens have an internal drain!

In order to minimise any light damage to the textiles and other vulnerable objects all of the windows are fitted with covers that cut out damaging light rays. We also monitor and control any insect pests that might be living in the space by installing pest traps and implementing any controls that are necessary. At the moment we are paying particular attention to the original Great Kitchen table where activity has been recorded previously.

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