Historic Royal Palaces unveils newly-upgraded state-of-the-art scientific laboratory thanks to fund to support heritage research

Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) - the independent charity that cares for six historic sites including the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace - has this week unveiled its state-of-the-art scientific laboratory, which has recently been upgraded thanks to vital funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The equipment upgrade will transform the charity’s ability to undertake detailed scientific analysis of heritage assets, as well as providing in-depth information and data on the condition, materials and manufacturing techniques of its world-famous palaces and collections.

In early 2021, HRP received nearly £1million in funding as part of the AHRC’s Capability for Collections (CapCo) fund, a landmark £25million investment in the arts and humanities to help  secure the future of the UK’s galleries, libraries, archives and museums by renewing and upgrading research facilities. HRP is the trusted custodian of more than 60,000 objects, including a Designated collection of Royal and Ceremonial Dress, with one of the largest number of tapestries, baroque wall paintings and state beds on display in the UK. The collection is housed in more than 1,000 rooms across its six sites; the Tower of London; Hampton Court Palace; Kensington Palace; the Banqueting House Whitehall; Kew Palace and the former royal buildings at Kew; and Hillsborough Castle and Gardens in Northern Ireland. Founded 30 years ago, the HRP Heritage Science Laboratory has established the charity as an industry leader in the field of heritage science and conservation research, collaborating extensively with academic, heritage and industry partners on innovative projects, however with a number of its instruments becoming dated or obsolete, its pioneering work has been limited.

The new state-of-the-art infrastructure will drastically change the delivery of scientific   research through access to advanced analytical and digital documentation equipment, including scanning electron microscopy, hyperspectral imaging, a light ageing chamber and 3D laser scanner. The expanded research facility will also allow for the development of digital assets supporting immersive experiences and technological innovation, as well as nurturing the next generation of heritage scientists, facilitating access to skills and knowledge to analytical instrumentation, scientific data sets and sample collections. The upgrade will  enable HRP to pursue a number of research discovery projects, including one focussed on the iconic Rubens ceiling painting at Banqueting House, where complex surveys and cross-disciplinary analysis will determine how the paintings were created and have altered over time, as well as establishing an accurate record of their present condition to inform changes in visual perception and interpretation. It will also support the Historic Tapestries Environmental Protection research project at Hampton Court Palace, which seeks to integrate and process 10 years of environmental monitoring data on the palace’s historic tapestries, to improve understanding and aid preservation.

Adrian Phillips, Director of Palaces and Collections at Historic Royal Palaces, said: “We are delighted to receive this generous grant from the CapCo fund and are immensely grateful to the AHRC. As an independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces has been badly affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, with the devastating impact causing a £100million shortfall in the last financial year - an income reduction of over 85%. As an Independent Research Organisation, this grant will be instrumental in allowing the charity to continue its important research through access to cutting edge equipment and pioneering new techniques.”

For more information on Historic Royal Palaces’ Conservation and Collections, visit www.hrp.org.uk/about-us/conservation-and-collections

Historic Royal Palaces is a team of people who love and look after six of the most wonderful palaces in the world. We create space for spirits to stir and be stirred. We want everyone to feel welcome and accepted. We tell stories about the monarchs you know and the lives you don’t. We let people explore and we set minds racing. We are a charity and your support gives the palaces a future, for everyone.  

Registered charity number 1068852. For more information visit www.hrp.org.uk

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, funds internationally outstanding independent researchers across the whole range of the arts and humanities: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages and literature, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. The quality and range of research supported by AHRC works for the good of UK society and culture and contributes both to UK economic success and to the culture and welfare of societies across the globe. ahrc.ukri.org.