Conservation and collections

Updated 25 March. In line with Public Health England guidance, we have taken the decision to close all six of our palaces and gardens until 31st May. We will be reviewing this and will keep you updated. Please read our statement for further information. Read our statement

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.

Our collections

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

 

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

Art and decorative collections

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. 

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.

Conservation research

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

Conservation research

Conserving Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's baby dress

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.

Support us