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News Student Blog: English Heritage

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​Left: Ranger’s House in Greenwich, the location of the conservation science laboratory (source: Right: Eltham Palace & Gardens in London. An example of the breadth of properties managed by English Heritage (source: English Heritage).

As part of my third-year as a graduate student at WUDPAC, I had the great fortune of spending three months at English Heritage in London. I was working specifically in conservation science with Dr. David Thickett and Dr. Naomi Luxford. My major, preventive conservation, is a new major at WUDPAC. While there are many people specializing in preventive conservation in the USA, it is far more established as a major course of study in the U.K. The scientists at English Heritage are well-known for their research in preventive conservation, and I was eager to work closely with them.

English Heritage is a charitable trust that is responsible for the care of over 400 historic monuments, buildings, and places. These locations range from the world-famous Stonehenge to Eltham Palace, a 1930’s Art Deco-revived 14th century palace. I worked specifically at Ranger’s House within conservation science, which supports the collections conservation team by offering analysis and research into preventive conservation research questions.

I was tasked with a specific research project that would offer the scientists a resource for better developing showcase designs. In order to understand the need for this research, I visited many different sites around the country to see different stages of showcase design, installation, and the methods for monitoring the environment within showcases. The locations were spread across the country from as far north as Yorkshire to the southern points of Dover, Kent and Falmouth, Cornwall. The purpose of this travel was to also introduce me more generally to the work completed by the scientists, the management of environmental sensors, participation in organization-wide collections meetings, to assist in integrated pest management tasks, to witness an exhibition planning meeting for a property, and to join a symposium with conservation staff from both English Heritage and the National Trust. For my time at English Heritage I travelled around England to the following places:

​Left: WUDPAC Class of 2020 Fellow Melissa King learning about the challenges of preserving outdoor metal cannons in salt air conditions at Pendennis Castle in Cornwal. Right: Learning about passive sorbents for showcases and environmental monitoring devices at Ranger’s House (photo: Rebecca Bennett).

  • Audley End House and Gardens
  • Apsley House
  • Wellington Arch
  • Richmond Castle
  • Eltham Palace
  • Wrest Park
  • Kirby Hall
  • Kenwood House
  • Marble Hill House
  • Pendennis Castle
  • Cleeve Abbey
  • Farleigh Hungerford Castle
  • Battle Abbey
  • Pevensey Castle
  • St. Augustine's Abbey
  • V&A Conservation Science

The specific research project I was assigned related to the use of passive humidity control within cases. Controlling relative humidity is an important preservation technique that can prevent the growth of mold, corrosion of metal objects, splitting of wooden objects, and flaking of paint on composite objects amongst others. Many of English Heritage's collections are housed in ruinous castles and abbeys, and historic homes not designed to maintain a climate through mechanical control such as HVAC.

​Left: Learning about showcase design and installation at Richmond Castle. Right: Testing the air exchange rate of showcases with Dr. David Thickett (photo: Rebecca Bennett).


The way that English Heritage, and many other cultural heritage institutions manage this is through the use of passive sorbents such as silica gel (the little sachets that say, "DO NOT EAT," you find in a box of brand new shoes!). It has been known that the relative humidity within a showcase is dependent on the relative humidity outside the case, the amount of sorbents within the case, and the air exchange rate for that specific case. For cases that require low relative humidity (below 30% RH) such as actively corroding metals, the scientists have been able to utilize a model to predict the relative humidity within a case with this information. This is a helpful tool when determining the amount of silica gel to put within the case and for determining certain specifications for designing cases. I was tasked with determining if there was a model that could be used for a similar purpose on mid-range RH (~40-60%) cases. I did this by comparing different models' predicted relative humidity to the actual recorded relative humidity within cases using sorbents at mid-range RH. Data science is a new skill for me, but one that is crucial for those wishing to pursue preventive conservation as we are often tasked with interpreting many forms of data.

This internship was made possible through the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and for that I am extremely grateful. It was certainly an experience I will never forget. I met many preventive professionals and learned about cutting-edge scientific research in my field. I traveled throughout England and expanded my network of conservation professionals outside of the US. Being in Europe, I had the opportunity to visit many museums and cultural institutions, and developed my understanding of art and cultural history for the region while also learning about the variety of approaches taken to preserve these works. I found myself looking for insect traps in the galleries, observing light levels on sensitive materials, and closely examining display mounts—a symptom of caring deeply for my chosen specialty of preventive conservation. I am extremely grateful for this enriching experience, and for the opportunity to publish my research and share what I have learned with my colleagues at home.

— Melissa King, WUDPAC Class of 2020

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In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2020 Fellow Melissa King discusses her interdisciplinary training in preventive conservation, including her work this past summer with conservation scientists at English Heritage charitable trust.

In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2020 Fellow Melissa King discusses her interdisciplinary training in preventive conservation, including her work this past summer with conservation scientists at English Heritage charitable trust.

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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489