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Press release

National Trust awarded major funding for scientific research on its historic collections and sites

A hand holds a torch to fabric
New science equipment funded through Creative Research Capability (CResCa) programme | © National Trust / Textile Conservation Studio

The National Trust has been awarded £809,000 to purchase science equipment by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and World Class Labs, through the Creative Research Capability (CResCa) programme. The equipment will enable the conservation charity to deepen its understanding of how historic places and objects in its care have been made, used and experienced.

The CResCa programme supports UK Research and Innovation’s ambitions to expand and upgrade the UK’s world-class research infrastructure.

Its investments will support the sector and ensure UK researchers have access to the best labs and equipment they need to keep producing world-class science.

The award to the Trust positions the charity as a key player in research and development within the arts and humanities and will underpin the Trust’s project “Future Heritage Now: Delivering Creative Research Through Enhanced Scientific Analysis” to help it deliver ambitious, creative and cultural research.

The funding will be used to build on the work of the Trust’s Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio at Knole in Kent and the Textile Conservation Studio at Blickling in Norfolk, and to enhance and upgrade science facilities across its places including its archaeological capabilities across its regions and countries.

The equipment the Trust will purchase with the funding includes:

  • A portable XRF (X-ray fluorescence) analyser to measure the composition of historic materials: from identifying original versus non-original areas of paintings, to coatings and different types of metal leaf on frames, and pigments used in watercolours. The Trust has already used these techniques with great success on the painting Omnia Vanitas at Kingston Lacy for example but has been constrained by not having access to this equipment in-house. For the first time the charity can now lead analysis in its own properties helping to develop more knowledge about the date and provenance of items in its collections.
  • State of the art portable 3D scanners will capture archaeological sites and monuments, such as statues, building materials and decorated ceilings, to generate digital models and understand how their condition changes over time. Early uses will include laser scanning historic graffiti with volunteers at Mottisfont in Hampshire.
  • Microfading equipment will help Trust teams to understand the light sensitivity of watercolour paintings, photographs, tapestries and textiles, to see how colours will fade under natural light. This will help to make informed decisions about their care and display. New Dino-Lite equipment has already been put to use, by checking the condition of the State Bed at Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire and informing plans for its conservation treatment.
  • New geophysical survey equipment will enable the charity’s archaeologists (including heritage and archaeology volunteers) to see beneath the ground to reveal new sites and stories and make informed choices about how these assets are managed. Trust archaeologists have already been gaining hands-on experience training with the new equipment at the historic Stourhead Estate in Wiltshire. They also have plans to bring together four local societies to research the landscape at Hinton Ampner in Hampshire and to work with Historic England and local groups to assess the condition and extent of Bronze Age Barrows on the Isle of Wight, supporting their removal from the Heritage At Risk Register.

Further examples of collections and places that will benefit include: some of the approximately 13,500 paintings found across the Trust, including The Governor/Sultan of Surat from Studley Royal in North Yorkshire; paper bed hangings at Mount Stewart in County Down; tapestries at Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire; and the site of the now-demolished medieval manor house at Ickworth in Suffolk, where a geophysical survey using new equipment will reveal the extent of any buried remains.

Professor Christopher Smith, UKRI’s International Champion, said: “This crucial support for UK research infrastructure is part of the package of support provided by government so that our research and innovation communities can carry on with their essential work notwithstanding the delay to association with Horizon Europe.

“The investments, made across the UK, will provide UK researchers with advanced equipment, facilities and technology, and help maintain the UK’s position as a leader in research and innovation.

“This support will ensure the UK is an attractive place for scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to live, work and innovate.”

Dr Tarnya Cooper, National Trust’s Conservation & Curation Director, said: “We’re delighted to receive this generous funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and World Class Labs. The Trust gained Independent Research Organisation status in 2019, and this award will help us continue to shape our culture of collaboration, innovation and leadership. Our ‘Future Heritage Now’ project forms an important part of our ongoing commitment to protect heritage and enable access for everyone, for ever, helping us to share equipment and knowledge, inform regulatory frameworks, contribute to the UK’s creative economy and develop the skills needed to meet heritage challenges now and in the future.”