Conservation at the palaces

The science and the challenges

Our aim is to find better ways to preserve the historic collections and palace interiors far beyond their original lifetimes.

We have a scientific laboratory at Hampton Court Palace where we conduct research and analyse materials to ensure they’re chemically stable and safe to use with valuable and delicate historic objects.
We use chemistry, physics and applied sciences such as imaging, colour science and environmental science. We use different types of sensors and detectors to tell us about the environment inside the palaces. We’re constantly discovering better ways of slowing down the deterioration of our objects and palace interiors.

Our scientists and technicians work closely with our conservators and curators; working together to develop sustainable methods that will allow Historic Royal Palaces to display the collections and our palaces to visitors for many years to come.

ASK the conservator logo for use with CCC-CM explaining activity programme

Conservation projects

Our conservators work across the palaces, on projects ranging from arms and armour at Hampton Court Palace to Banqueting House, the only surviving part of the magnificent Whitehall Palace. Read about some of the projects that we're working on.

The Great Hall, looking east.
The hall was constructed by King Henry VIII to replace a smaller and older hall on the same site. It had two functions. First to provide a great communal dining room where 600 members of the court could eat in two sittings, twice a day. And secondly, to provide a magnificent entrance to the state apartments that lay beyond.

Conservation research

A range of research projects at Hampton Court Palace; from tapestries to terracotta roundels. Watch the films to find out more.

Conservator moving the Painting of Mary, Princess Royal by Van Dyck

Decorative arts collections

The objects in our collections help us to tell the stories of the people that lived in the palaces. 

 

Tudor or early Stuart red hat with ostrich feather on black background

Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection

10,000 items of historic dress from the 16th century to the present day, this is a collection of national and international importance.

Light

Too much exposure to light can damage historic artefacts such as paintings or tapestries. Excessive light can cause bleaching and permanent discolouring and it can even weaken fabrics. Our biggest worry is sunlight as it is exceptionally strong and damaging, it causes fading of pigments and dyes and is especially bad for watercolour paintings. We monitor light levels regularly and regulate the amount of light in the rooms using the blinds. We try to allow enough light for you to enjoy the rooms, but not so much as to cause damage. 

 

 

Conservator wrapping a statue in the Rose Garden at Hampton Court Palace as part of the annual winter protection programme

Weather

In the winter months, our outdoor marble statues are exposed to wind, rain and snow, which can cause frost damage and erosion. We used surface temperature, humidity and wetness sensors to find out how various types of cover would protect the fragile marble from water and freezing temperatures. The covers were shown to be successful, so now each autumn, our conservators wrap up all our outdoor statuary for a winter sleep!

Vibration

Bouncy floors, rattling window panes and swaying candle-sticks are all the effects of vibration. Such movements could eventually cause damage to the fabric of the building or the objects on display. We place vibration sensors within the palace to monitor movements in the floors and of the objects on display. We analyse the results to plan which rooms are most appropriate for activities likely to cause vibration, and to determine what level of protection is required to prevent vibration damage in the future.

Dust

If dust is not removed from objects and surfaces it can sometimes cause a chemical reaction and cement to surfaces. It can also absorb moisture and pollutants and serve as food for pests, all of which can damage objects. Even the most careful cleaning can cause slight damage to objects, so our approach is to try to reduce the amount of dust falling on objects. We place barriers between visitors and some of the objects and decorative interiors because most dust comes from visitors moving through the palace. Palace conservators spend just short of 10,000 hours a year dusting across all the historic royal palaces. 

 

Research into dust levels in the Haunted Gallery
Aerial view of the Tower of London from the north west with Tower Bridge in the distance.

Pollution

The Tower of London is located in the middle of London, exposed to vehicle emission and industrial pollution. We monitor pollutant levels to make sure that our showcases are performing to highest standards to protect the valuable objects within. Levels of nitrous oxides (NOx) produced by vehicle exhausts can be quite high and so can damage organic material such as paper and silk. Some of our most fragile objects are inside showcases in order to protect and keep them safe for our visitors, now and in the future.

You can help

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

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