What is treatment conservation?

Kate Frame, Head of Conservation and Collection Care and Collections Management, explains what it means for Historic Royal Palaces.

To care for our objects and interiors, we practice two forms of conservation: preventive and treatment. Both of these are based on the research findings of our conservation scientists. 

But where preventive conservation does as much as possible to stop deterioration before it occurs, treatment conservation works directly on the piece to stabilise and slow this deterioration down. At Historic Royal Palaces this is carried out either on-site in our studios or by commissioning treatment specialists.

In particular we specialise in tapestries, state furnishings and we have a large costume collection based at Kensington Palace. Objects vary from early 16th-century tapestries of Henry VIII right up to modern-day royal costume. 

Working with objects of such historic value means that before any treatment is determined, thorough in-house scientific research is conducted. Further, all materials and repair techniques are tested. 

Detailed written and photographic records are taken at every stage of the process both to document our work and to inform future generations of conservators.

Cleaning textiles

Cleaning slows the deterioration of fibres by removing soiling that, as well as being unattractive, is acidic and abrasive. Our cleaning techniques are appropriate and specific to each material or object.

Many types of textiles can be cleaned using vacuum suction, spot cleaning or washing by immersion in water. Vacuuming is carried out with a variable suction cleaner and micro-tools. Spot cleaning can involve solvents or a water base and uses a specialist vacuum table.

Wet cleaning is carried out in a custom-built tank. Our tank holds over 5,000 litres of water and measures approximately 5m x 10m. It allows even the largest of the Abraham tapestries to be washed flat with a minimum of handling.

Repair and stabilisation

This means looking at the structure of an object to see whether it can support itself or whether it help. 

For example, in addition to cleaning, a tapestry will usually need to be stitched to an appropriate support fabric before having a dust-proof lining and a Velcro heading band applied to enable it to be hung on display.

Other types of historic textiles can have their weak, fragile fibres supported with a suitable fabric, sewn in place using a variety of threads and surgical needles. 

Extremely fragile surfaces can be covered with a protective net. All of these fabrics are custom-dyed to order in our own laboratory.

Commissioned treatments

An equally important, but separate, part of our work is the commissioned treatment section. This oversees the conservation of the greatest variety of materials in the collections.

This includes such as wall and ceiling paintings, sculpture, books, paper, prints, furniture, mirrors, lighting fixtures, arms and armour, clocks and both interior and exterior decorative building elements. Our conservators prioritise the treatment of these objects and then select and manage specialist contractors.

Find out more

Ask the conservators

Ask the conservatorsLook for our conservators around the palaces wearing ‘Ask the Conservators’ badges. They’ll be happy to tell you about what they’re doing to conserve the palaces’ collections and to answer your questions.

Supporting us

Palace upkeep is expensive work and as an independent charity we receive no funding from the Government or the Crown. We depend on the support of our visitors, members, donors, volunteers and sponsors.

Become a member, donor or volunteer 

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