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Caring for the collection

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.

Everything from Roman ceramic votives to intricate orrerys and modern spacesuits are brought into our laboratories to be cared for.

Recent conservation projects

Rocket returns

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 then returning to the Liverpool Road station it served 180 years ago—now part of the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester—where it will be on display from 25 September 2018 – 21 April 2019.

A man in a white coat cleaning the front of Stephenson's Rocket
Science Museum Conservator Richard Horton preparing for the transportation of Stephenson’s Rocket. Rocket is being loaned to Newcastle Discovery Museum for the Great Exhibition of the North 2018.

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.

Picturing the past

To prepare for the Action Replay exhibition, which explores changes in sports broadcasting technology, at the National Science and Media Museum, the conservation team has painstakingly cleaned a unique 1948 camera control rack ready for the public to see it on display.

It was covered in a brown tar-like substance probably from cigarette smoke, from the time when smoking in the workplace was the norm.

A woman wearing protective gloves conserving part of a large machine
A conservator at the National Science and Media Museum cleans the camera control rack

George III half-penny coin

In July 2018, the Science and Industry Museum reopened its Textiles Gallery. Many objects in the refreshed gallery are on display for the first time, including a George III half-penny coin from 1799.

The coin was found on the fourth floor of Decker Mill in Manchester during an archaeological survey of the site. It’s likely that the coin was deliberately concealed during the original construction of the mill in 1801 to bring luck following a folklore tradition.

A female conservator sits at a desk with a delicate cleaning tool working on a small coin
A conservator at work on a George III half-penny coin ahead of its display in the Textiles Gallery at the Science and Industry Museum.
Photograph credit: Drew Forsyth

Ahead of the coin going on display the conservation team first studied its condition (repeated monitoring helps with the long-term preservation of objects) and then cleaned it, removing corrosion to avoid further deterioration and removing dirt so the text on the coin is visible.

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.

A man stands on a ladder at the front of a railway carriage painting it yellow
Restoration work taking place on the Network South London Class 414 2 HAP electric multiple unit

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.

A Star addition

Visitors to the Science Museum can come face-to-face with a gigantic model of Blue Star Line’s Arandora Star. This scale model of the twin-screw turbine steamer was recently conserved at our National Collections Centre in Wiltshire.

Significant splits in the hull were repaired before the Group’s logistics team transported and installed the model at the Science Museum.

A photograph of a model turbine steamer called the 'Arandora Star'
Model of the Blue Star Line T.S. ‘Arandora Star’ in the Making the Modern World Gallery at the Science Museum

More about our work

You can read about more about our conservation work on our museum blogs: