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About conservation at National Museums Liverpool

An Egyptian mummy

National Museums Liverpool's role as a museum service includes looking after the objects in its care. If collections are stored and treated carefully, they will be available for museum visitors to see both now and in the future. Objects kept in good condition enhance our exhibitions and displays and can be safely shown to researchers.

There is a huge variety of different objects in our collections, ranging from Egyptian mummies to motorbikes, fine art to Beatles memorabilia and much more. Keeping them all in the right conditions to guard against damage and also treating deteriorated objects requires the talents of a team of conservators, all of whom specialise in the conservation of different materials. Find out more about our conservation departments on this website.

If you have any questions about how to care for your own objects you might find our frequently asked questions to conservators useful.

Find out more about our conservators work by reading our conservation blogs.

Man carefully removing protective cover sheet from a drawing in a storage box in a conservation studio

Creating the Conservation Centre

A 1989 report concluded that 60% of the collection of National Museums Liverpool was in need of conservation. When you consider that we hold over 1 million objects just in World Museum you see the scale of the problem. We were not alone - there was growing national concern over the condition of the works of art, scientific specimens and other cultural objects held in Britain’s collections.

The trustees of National Museums Liverpool made the care and conservation of the collections a priority. Housing needed to be found for our conservation departments; accommodation that provided environmentally sound workspaces for the conservators. This led to the creation of the Conservation Centre.

The Midland Railway Building

The Midland Railway Goods Offices before renovation

Following a feasibility study a beautiful Grade II listed Victorian warehouse in the city centre was selected as the best candidate for the Conservation Centre. In its previous life the Midland Railway Goods Offices - generally known as the Midland Railway Building - stored and dispatched parcels between Liverpool’s main freight terminals. Local architects Culshaw and Sumners built the warehouse in 1874, a time of great prosperity for Liverpool. Its design made use of the natural slope of the site, with inclined loading bays running through the centre of the building, enabling wagons to be moved by the force of gravity. It continued in this use until the 1950s, after which it fell into disuse and disrepair. However it still remained a beautiful example of urban architecture.

Suitability

The Midland Railway Building was suitable for conversion for a number of reasons, the main being:

  • The building was large enough to accommodate all the conservation team on one half-acre site, providing around 60,000 square foot of floor space.
  • Suitable access routes into the building allowed easy passage for large objects.
  • The city centre location, close to several of our other venues.

The interior of the building, before renovation

Renovation

The building itself was not in perfect condition with water penetration, settlement and timber and ironwork in need of repair, plus a new roof was needed. A wholesale conversion was required to provide working space for the many disciplines within the department, some of which have very definite needs. For example picture restoration needs high light levels; sculpture conservation needs high floor loading and access to overhead gantries. Some processes require fume extraction or space for water immersion. The workplaces also needed to be safe and pleasant for the staff housed there. Add to this space for a library, a meeting area and a public display area and the scale of the project becomes apparent.

The interior of the building, before renovation

Development work began in 1994, with the finished building opening in 1996 and the royal opening by HRH The Prince of Wales in December that year.

Display spaces

When the Conservation Centre first opened it included displays introducing the work of conservators to the public. The Centre won the European Museum of the Year award in 1998, as well as the International Institute of Conservation's Keck award for promoting public understanding of conservation.

Almost ten years later the centre underwent a major refurbishment of the public spaces to create the Reveal gallery, which opened in summer 2006. The Reveal exhibition explored the use of science to help us understand more about objects, and their stories. The exhibition had a working laboratory at its heart, so that visitors could see some of the techniques used to examine objects in action. In 2006 Reveal was visited by members of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, conducting an inquiry into Science and Heritage. The subsequent House of Lords report on Science and Heritage highlighted the exhibition at Liverpool's Conservation Centre as an "impressive example" of how the heritage sector can make science accessible to the public.

A series of temporary exhibitions were also held in the Conservation Centre, which are listed on the Exhibition archive page.

The public displays at the Conservation Centre closed to visitors on Friday 17 December 2010 following government cuts.

However our conservators are continuing their vital work to conserve our collections in the conservation studios.