The science and the challenges
Our aim is to conserve, display and interpret the magnificent buildings, interiors and collections in our care.
Our royal palaces host internationally important collections of fine and decorative art, the majority forming part of the Royal Collection. We work in partnership with the Royal Armouries to display their collections of arms and armour at the Tower of London. We also manage, conserve, display and research our own collections of royal ceremonial dress, architectural drawings, art, archaeology, furniture, furnishings, architectural decoration and social history.
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.
The objects in our collections help us to tell the stories of the people that lived in the palaces.
Fine and decorative art on display across our palaces remains part of the Royal Collection, one of the largest and most important art collections in the world.
Conservation in action
Conservation in action at the palaces
Discover conservation in action online with Google Arts and Culture. We protect conserve, research and manage the collections on display and in store across our six palaces.Conservation in action
Conservation research happens across the palace. A range of research projects have been undertaken at Hampton Court Palace; from tapestries to terracotta roundels. Watch the films to find out more.Conservation research
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.
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!
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.
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
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.Support us