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Historic Royal Palaces Collections Care


ABOVE: A raven gets washed at the Tower of London.

Source: Historic Royal Palaces

Historic Royal Palaces employs a team of 33 specialist conservators who are responsible for the conservation of 94 rooms displaying over 5,000 objects, including 26 grand-scale wall paintings.

General facts and figures:

  • There are more than 8 acres of buildings at Hampton Court Palace comprising 70 display rooms, each and every one of which must by cleaned once a week.

  • Each year, the conservators:

  • Climb up and down more than 6,000 ladder rungs each;

  • Use 2,000 pairs of gloves whilst handling historic objects;

  • Clean and coat 364 metal objects in the Tudor Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace;

  • Build and dismantle over 100 tall scaffold towers to care for the palace's high-level ceiling paintings and grand-scale objects;

  • Spend 33 hours peeling off more than 2 kg of chewing gum from the Royal State Apartment floors;

  • Delicately dust over 1 km of gilded (or gold leaf) picture frames using the finest pony-hair brushes.

  • With many of the ceilings being around 10 meters high, it takes three conservators and one electrician more than an hour to change one light bulb.

  • Last year, conservators trapped more than 700 insects and spiders, identifying 30% as object-damaging pests. (Not included was the baby grass snake that wandered into the King's Exhibition Room at Hampton Court Palace.)

  • The 66 historic mirrors at Hampton Court Palace are made up of 4,620 parts, all of which are inspected regularly to ensure they are well secured.

  • A newly-woven tapestry can support the weight of 1Ĺ double-decker buses. A 400-year-old tapestry can barely support its own weight.

  • The Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection at Kensington Palace contains between 13,000 and 14,000 individual items that were fabricated between the 1750s and the present time.

  • Hampton Court Palace's six grand-scale Royal State beds are made up of more than 300 textile, wood, and metal parts, each requiring a specialist-tailored approach to its conservation.

  • Queen Caroline's State bed is fitted with six mattresses that are stuffed with straw, horsehair, and lambswool.

  • There are 94 pieces of giltwood furniture at the palaces, 63 of which have been treated in the past four years.

  • There are more than 100 pieces of sculptural building decoration at Hampton Court. The most vulnerable pieces in the palace gardens are wrapped each winter with special covers to protect them from freezing conditions.

Tapestries at Hampton Court Palace


ABOVE: A tapestry gets a wet cleaning in the Textile Conservation Studio.

  • Henry VIII commissioned the 10 Abraham tapestries for the Great Hall 500 years ago. It is said that each tapestry cost the equivalent of building, fitting out, and staffing a modern-day battleship.

  • The Abraham tapestries are one of the most sumptuous tapestry ensembles to survive from any period. The prodigious amount of gold used in the tapestries distinguishes them as one of the most opulent products of the Brussels industry of this or any other period.

  • Tapestries were made almost exclusively by men, including the dyeing of the yarns and the weaving itself. Embroidery was much more a female occupation.

  • At the time of Henry VIII's death, the English Royal Collection of tapestries numbered more than 2,000, including more than 200 "gold-rich" tapestries.

  • If all the tapestries at Hampton Court Palace were to be laid out, they would cover an area equivalent to six tennis courts.

  • Specialist surveys calculate that it will take 126 human years to conserve the palace's historic tapestry collection--by which time repeat treatment is expected to be required.

  • Washing a tapestry takes around 8,000 liters of water. This seems a lot, but a tapestry will need a wash every 80 to 100 years at most. If a person has a bath every day for 80 years, he or she will use 5,256,000 liters of water--657 times as much.

Salvage team at Kensington Palace


ABOVE: The Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection at Kensington Palace.

  • There are 12,000 items at Kensington Palace that must be salvaged or rescued in the event of a fire.

  • The palace's 16-strong salvage team can safely remove all objects from a room in an incredible six minutes. They use ladders that are 35 feet high to salvage many of the paintings, and they have to remove items very carefully from spaces as small as half a meter wide.

  • The salvage team's members spend 180 hours a year practicing the removal of artworks from Kensington Palace.

  • The smallest item to salvage at Kensington Palace is a button, and the largest is a painting--"Charles II on Horseback"--that is approximately 5 meters high.

Also see:
Textile Conservation Studio
Hampton Court Palace
Kensington Palace
Tower of London