Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives
- Original design
- Unknown, 1750
- Unknown, 1877
- Edward Cullinan Architects, 2010
An early 18th Century Queen Anne style house on Kew Green occupied by the Duke of Cumberland (subsequently the King of Hanover) until his death in 1851. The adjacent Meyer's House (currently Hanover House) formed the other part of the residence.
In 1851 the Royal Gardens at Kew were transferred from the Crown to the State. William Hooker had been appointed director in 1841 at a time when there was no official herbarium. Before then, Sir Joseph Banks' herbarium and library in Soho Square had been used for queries on plant names and classification. Hooker now made his own collection, perhaps the largest in private hands, available to staff and visitors. The ground floor of Hunter House became available to the Director in 1852, initially on a temporary basis, and was used to house Hooker's herbarium, and the herbarium and library of Dr William Arnold Bromfield. The first curator, Allan Black, was appointed in 1853.
In 1876 the Drawing Room, South Room, kitchen and formal steps on the river frontage of Hunter House were demolished to make way for:
First purpose-built wing of Herbarium (1877) – currently Wing C – on the tour today
Purpose-built storage for pressed, dried plant specimens over three floors, the upper two galleried on iron columns, with working bays maximising natural light as artificial (gas) light a serious fire hazard – plant collections are mounted on paper and housed in wooden cabinets. Originally with elaborate ironwork and wooden panelling. In 1903 the wing was stripped, fire-proof concrete floors laid, and the galleries widened by 18 inches. The ironwork was probably simplified at this point.
Second wing of Herbarium (1902) – currently Wing B – on the tour today
Galleried wing similar to Wing C. Originally with two spiral staircases, the second removed on addition of 3rd wing. Electric light installed throughout in 1904.
Third wing of Herbarium (1932) – currently Wing A
Art Deco-style galleried wing over four floors designed by Ministry of Works architect, JH Markham
Fourth wing of Herbarium with purpose-built Library (1969) – currently Wing D
Quadrangle basement (1990) – compactorised storage for herbarium collections
Fifth wing (2009) – on the tour today
Extension to Herbarium (now housing c. 7 million specimens in total) and Library, with secure Art and Archive storage, and Reading Room. Edward Cullinan Architects Ltd
1854 – herbarium and library of George Bentham given to Kew
1858 – Indian collections of Griffith, Falconer and Helfer acquired from the East India Company together with Roxburgh drawings
1862 – Borrer's British plants; Cunningham's collections from Australia
1863 – Grant's East African plants collected by Speke & Grant expedition to discover the source of the Nile
1865 – Burchell's collection from St Helena, South Africa and South America presented; Lindley's orchid herbarium purchased
1866 – WJ Hooker's herbarium (£5,000), library (£1,000) and correspondence (1,000) purchased by the government after his death and formally incorporated into the collections at Kew
1877 – Schweinfurth's tropical African plants; Indian herbarium of CB Clarke
1878 – Dalzell's Indian herbarium
1880 – herbaria of Schimper (N.E. Africa), Bishop Goodenough, and W Munro
1881 – Watson's British plants
1882 – Baron's herbarium (Madagascar); herbarium of Botanical Record Club; Leighton's herbarium
1913 – Herbarium of the Honourable East India Company (the "Wallich" herbarium) transferred from Linnean Society of London
Behind the scenes at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew lies the tropical nursery – a biodiversity hotspot holding an estimated 45,000 accessions. Plants are held as living collections with species from across the temperate, subtropical and tropical regions of the world.
The glasshouse covers 6,500m2 making it the largest of all Kew’s houses. Water for the collection is treated by reverse osmosis, UV sterilisation and softening and is stored in a 60,000 gallon tank.
The collections are grown to support and backup the display collections in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, Palm House and the Temperate House, and each of its 21 different climatic zones has its own climate control computer. The collection is also used for study and research by Kew’s botanists and scientists and visitors.
There are approximately 4,000 species within the collections which are listed as endangered or critically endangered, and 40 species that are extinct in the wild. Walking through the nursery you will be able to see the expansive orchid collections, some of the carnivorous wonders of the world, plants from the temperate regions including UK oversees territory island flora, the large collections of succulents from arid regions and tropical flora from the wet tropical forests.
The nursery has 14 members of staff, around 10 horticultural students and apprentices, and a team of volunteers who help maintain the collections on a day to day basis. Nursery staff will be available throughout the day, happy to share their knowledge and passion about the plants on display.