Harwell’s first restoration project was in 1979 after a burst pipe affected 200 irreplaceable 16th Century books from Oxford University. Harwell’s founding engineers, experts in drying science, were asked to research optimal drying techniques for water-damaged paper and leather.
After the successful restoration of these books, further research and development was conducted through the 1980s, culminating in the 1988 UNESCO's RAMP study which 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 growing demand for a specialist service provider was met by Harwell’s Priority User Service, with Woburn Abbey becoming the first subscriber. Today the Priority User Service is Europe’s leading emergency service for libraries, archives and museums.
After a management buy-out in 1995, Harwell moved into the private sector as a family-run business and has enjoyed significant business growth each year since then. Thousands of restoration projects have successfully been completed since then, and have included several major loss restoration projects (Norfolk County Record Office, Guy's Hospital) and surge responses.