Harwell's History

Harwell's first project restoring water damaged books was carried out at Harwell Laboratory in 1979 after a burst pipe over the Christmas vacation at Oxford University (Taylor Institution) saturated 200 irreplaceable 16th Century volumes.

Harwell's founding engineers, part of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority undertook research and development into the optimal drying method for water-damaged paper, finding freeze-vacuum drying to be the best. Ken McKenzie was part of this original team.

After the successful restoration of these books, a number of restoration projects were undertaken in the 1980s for organisations such as the House of Commons and the Law Society, as the freeze-vacuum drying process was developed further as a technique for restoring paper.

In 1988, UNESCO's RAMP study concluded that freeze-vacuum drying is the optimal method for drying water-damaged paper, as it poses no risk the paper, is suitable for both modern and antiquarian materials and is able to dry large volumes 'in one go'.

In the 1990s, the Priority User Service was established to provide emergency response to libraries, archives, museums and record offices with large volumes of valuable paper-based holdings. Since the first subscriber, Woburn Abbey, a further 800 organisations have joined this, the UK's largest emergency service for document and book salvage, and the numbers continue to rise?

After a management buy-out in 1995, Harwell moved into the private sector and has enjoyed significant business growth each year since then. We have carried out restoration projects for all major insurers and loss adjusting firms, as well as servicing the needs of our Priority Users.

Thousands of restoration projects have successfully been completed in the last 20 years, and have included several major loss restoration projects (Norfolk County Record Office, Guy's Hospital) and surge responses in 2000 and 2007.

Since 2000, Harwell's expansion, growth and development have continued apace. Increasing numbers of instructions, significant additions to staff and achievements such as ISO accreditation and Corporate Membership of the BDMA confirm Harwell's position as the most trusted specialist service provider. Two-time winners of Business Continuity Awards, and enjoying year-on-year growth, Harwell remains the UK's most trusted service provider for document recovery.