With 7.3 million items in the Science Museum Group collection, our dedicated team of conservators have a busy programme of preservation work to look after the millions of items we care for.
Our conservation work includes:
- treatments to stabilise the condition of an item;
- preparing items for display in our museums or for loans;
- assessing the condition of new items added to the collection;
- pest management to protect our collection;
- monitoring of heat, light and pollution to minimise their impact on the items we care for.
The collection includes many different types of materials, often together in the same item, so our conservation team work with metals, plastics, paper, books, art (of all shapes and sizes) and working objects too.
Recent conservation projects
Putting the Power Hall “to bed”
The Power Hall at Science and Industry Museum is normally the beating heart of the museum. With its working historic engines, visitors have enjoyed experiencing the sight, sound and smell of the working engines that used to power industries and mills in the North-West.
It is not just the engines that have a history, the building itself has a past life as a shipping shed and is a listed building. Due to the age of the building, it will be undergoing some restoration work, but before this could be started it was important to make sure all the historic objects inside were safe. Given the size and weight of the objects, the Conservation team opted to remove any smaller objects from the gallery for safe storage but protect the larger engines in-situ.
Thorough condition checks and photographs were taken of the objects before putting them to bed. This ensures the team have a gauge of the condition of everything now to compare against when the engines are finally unwrapped after the building work. The engines were then cleaned and a protective coating applied to prevent any corrosion whilst not in use. Finally, they were wrapped and protective tents created around them.
A wooden crash-deck was also constructed above the gallery for protection and a temporary roof built whilst building work is on-going. It will be exciting to have the engines running again soon!
The Conservation and Collections Care team received a new piece of equipment in November when a microfadometer was delivered to our conservation laboratory at the National Collections Centre. This apparatus is used to help assess the stability of an object’s surface and interpret how long an item can be on display before noticeably fading.
The microfadometer shines a very small, intense beam of light onto the surface of an object, the tested area is not noticeable to the naked eye. The equipment uses the light reflected from the surface to establish how much fading has been caused by the beam of light. Testing may be required on several areas when an object has different surface finishes such as various pigments or dyes.
After training on how to operate the equipment and interpret the results, the microfadometer has been used by the team to assess the stability of some items which will go on display in the Science Museum’s new Medicine Galleries.
After months of preparation, Stephenson’s Rocket left the Science Museum for the first time in almost 20 years in June 2018.
This 5 tonne locomotive has headed north on a tour, first visiting the Discovery Museum in Newcastle (the city in which Rocket was built) as part of the Great Exhibition of the North and now having joined other legends of the steam age on long-term display at the National Railway Museum in York.
Not many museum objects need a bespoke tailored protective jacket and several large pieces of lifting equipment to be moved safely, but Rocket did.
The conservation team ensured Rocket was not damaged during its journey, carefully removing its chimney (and replacing all 18 unique nuts and bolts), checking it was ready to move and supervising all lifting of the locomotive
To the Moon and back by train
As just one of many trains we care for, 2HAP seems unremarkable at first. Yet this is the most travelled railway carriage in the Science Museum Group collection, having covered five times the distance to the Moon and back while it carried London commuters between 1957 and 1997.
The restoration of 2HAP is underway in the restoration workshop at Locomotion with the help of the volunteer Project Commuter team. Once completed, 2HAP will go on public display.
This restoration work is an example of returning an item in the collection to an earlier appearance. We only do this in special circumstances when our curators judge that the appearance or function of the item is more important than preserving the item in the condition it joined our collection.
Making Conservation more sustainable
With the Science Museum Group putting sustainability at the heart of it’s work, the Conservation & Collections Care team have been eager to contribute. This is why the team is introducing new Terracycle bins to recycle nitrile gloves. Nitrile gloves protect objects by helping people to avoid transferring grease and dirt from hands to the objects. Metal surfaces often show fingermarks from where they were handled without gloves many years ago. At the time they were made, these fingermarks would have been invisible. Gloves also offer protection when conservators use chemicals in conservation treatments and also from certain hazardous materials in objects. For all these reasons gloves are worn every time any object is handled, so the Science Museum Group uses many pairs each year.
The large recycling box can hold about 3000 gloves. At our Blythe House storage site, our Collections Care Conservator has set up boxes on each floor to be emptied into the large bin. The gloves need to be free from hazardous substances and not very dirty, but this will still allow for recycling a large proportion of used gloves. After leaving our site, the nitrile gloves will be recycled by Terracycle into plastic pellets and then can be made into new products. This is a great step forward in working in a more sustainable way.
More about our work
You can read about more about our conservation work on our museum blogs:
- Science Museum Blog
- National Railway Museum Blog
- National Science and Media Museum Blog
- Science and Industry Museum Blog