Why is conservation important in museums?

Conservation plays a key role in any museum. Although conservators aren’t always the most visible members of staff, they are involved in a huge number of museum activities behind the scenes, from monitoring light conditions to banishing woodworm!

Pieta Greaves in Conservation 14

Conservation at the Royal Armouries

At the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, we have three full-time conservators who staff our main conservation lab. They are regularly joined by volunteers and interns from conservation courses around the UK and from abroad.

What do conservators do?

Conservators are responsible for the care and preservation of the Museum’s entire collection.Work ranges from:

  • practical remedial conservation work, like preparing objects for new exhibition or loans to other museums
  • preventative conservation such as monitoring and controlling temperature, humidity and light levels around the Museum.
  • pest management, which in our case includes rabbits in the Arena as well as the more normal museum pests like woolly bears or woodworm.
  • checking the condition of objects before they are used in handling sessions to ensure objects are suitable and won’t be damaged.
Xray of Triplex Harquebusier’s Breastplate (Circa 1650)
X-ray of Triplex Harquebusier’s Breastplate

It is also important that Conservators test any materials which are going to be used in close contact with displayed objects to ensure they won’t cause the object to deteriorate, for example, silk will cause silver to tarnish if left in the same display case together.

Conservation Facilities

In addition to the main lab, the Museum has a large X-ray room where objects from the size of a small bullet up to a large cannon can be examined. X-raying objects helps us to understand how objects are constructed, helping us to choose appropriate treatments. It can also answer questions which Conservators and Curators have about a particular object, as well as identifying old repairs or intentional fakes.

Conservation Lab

The Conservation Team will be posting regularly about what they’re up to, keep checking back for more!