Soane himself cared for his collections. He had pictures cleaned and frames re-gilded - in one year he bought 654 books of gold leaf for this purpose alone. He also had blinds installed throughout his house to prevent damage from light.  

After his death, the Museum’s curators during the 19th and 20th centuries continued this work, including re-painting plaster casts, mending frames, repairing sculptures and cleaning oil paintings as well as regular cleaning and dusting. We know this from the many bills for the work in the Soane Archive. Some of the work carried out may, unfortunately, have unwittingly caused damage. ‘Washing’ casts for example, meant that the water actually caused dirt to soak into the surface of the plaster and be fixed there permanently.  

It was not until Peter Thornton was appointed Curator (a post we now call Director) in 1984 that ‘conservation’ as we know it today began at the Museum. The back room on the second floor of No. 12 became a conservation ‘studio’. However, the room was also used as the staff kitchen, photocopier and fax room, and was even where food was prepared for the Museum cat!  

Peter brought in two conservators, both self-employed and part-time.  He applied for money from the Henry Moore Foundation for a programme of sculpture conservation carried out over three years during the 1990s. Conservation was now a permanent daily concern of the Museum.  

It developed further during the 2000s, playing an integral role in Opening up the Soane, our long-term project to restore lost spaces within the Museum and return a vast number of objects to their original display locations. Much of this work took place in our first purpose designed conservation space, the John A and Cynthia Fry Gunn Conservation Centrecreated in both the front and back rooms on the second floor of number 12.  A state-of-the-art studio, it was generously supported by Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation (USA).  

Conservation at the Soane today is a much expanded, more wide-ranging and professionalised aspect of our work than ever before. Jane Wilkinson, who was one of the two conservators employed by Peter Thornton, is now Head of Conservation. With support from the Assistant Conservator, she oversees the day-to-day care of the Museum and its collections. She also carries out conservation treatments and manages restoration projects. Working alongside the conservators are the Visitor Assistants and volunteers, completing the team who care for the Museum.  

With conservation playing such an important role across the whole Museum, we hope to ensure that Soane’s wonderful house and collections will continue to be enjoyed by our visitors for generations to come.