Naomi Luxford surveying an item in English Heritage's collection

Conservation science

Conservation science research underpins the decisions we make to control light, humidity, insects, mould, pollution, temperature, vibration and cleaning methods, all of which cause objects to deteriorate.

Where there is a lack of evidence for conservation methods we carry out our own research, often in collaboration with other institutions. Find out more about some of our current research projects.

Managing Mould

Sophie Downes culturing mould samples collected in a comprehensive survey from 20 English Heritage and National Trust sites

Sophie Downes culturing mould samples collected in a comprehensive survey from 20 English Heritage and National Trust sites

Mould is a major problem in historic properties and is predicted to increase at many UK sites with the expected changes in the climate. Previous research has shown that many conservation methods do little to prevent mould regrowth and that several actually encourage it.

Sophie Downes is undertaking a PhD to investigate mould in 20 historic properties, its risk to organic collections, and new treatment methods. The project has produced the first mould population survey of heritage environments in the UK, and includes DNA profiling.

The project is jointly funded by English Heritage and the National Trust at Birkbeck College (supervised by Dr Jane Nicklin).

Protecting outdoor Sculptures

A test frame for a tent sculpture cover and monitoring equipment at Brodsworth Hall, South Yorkshire

A test frame for a tent sculpture cover and monitoring equipment in position at Brodsworth Hall, South Yorkshire

Although little can be done to slow the decay of outdoor marble sculpture, the fact that many of our historic houses close in the colder months allows us to use winter covers. However, we do not know how protective such covers are at particular sites, and which designs work best.

Mel Keeble has begun a PhD project to assess how effective different cover designs are. It uses analytical techniques to establish the rate of surface deterioration of covered and uncovered marble pieces. The findings will be assessed alongside the monitored environmental parameters.

The project is a collaboration between English Heritage and University College London (supervised by Professor Matija Strlic), funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Conserving Archaeological Copper Alloy and Bone

Surface damage to a Roman skeleton from Lullingstone Roman Villa, Kent

Surface damage to a Roman skeleton from Lullingstone Roman Villa, Kent

One of our current areas of research is on the corrosive effects of humidity and gases in showcases on archaeological copper alloys and bone. Existing studies have been inconclusive, so we are undertaking laboratory experiments to fill these gaps in our knowledge and ensure that this important evidence of our past survives. These experiments are based on methods developed during 10 years of research at English Heritage.

Extensive surveys of bone and copper alloy objects on display at English Heritage sites are being done to check that the laboratory results are representative of the real material.

This work has been funded as a Conservation Fellowship by the Clothworkers’ Foundation, London, and is being carried out by Dr David Thickett. You can download more information about the project from the link below (155KB).

Read more about the research
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