Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Gardens and Spas - Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens ... The botanical garden here is open to the public daily, Sunday excepted, but the portion denominated the pleasure grounds, by which is meant Kew and Richmond Gardens, are open for promenade from Midsummer to Michaelmas, on Sundays and Thursdays only.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

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Kew Gardens are not only among the most favourite resorts of the London holiday maker, but have special value to the botanist and horticulturist. The judicious expenditure of public money has made the gardens and houses at Kew almost unique among public institutions of the kind. Here are to be seen flourishing in an atmosphere of their own, though in an uncongenial climate, the most beautiful tropical palms, plants, ferns, fern-trees, and cacti; and the pleasure grounds and arboretum contain in endless and exhaustive profusion specimens of the flowers, shrubs, and trees indigenous to Great Britain. Attached to the gardens is a valuable museum of useful vegetable products. The gardens are at present open free to the public every day in the week, Sundays included, in the afternoon; the morning hours being reserved for the necessary work of the gardeners, curators and a few favoured students. A considerable amount of pressure has been lately brought to bear upon the authorities with a view to the public opening of the gardens in the morning ; but Sir Joseph Hooker, the director, who may be supposed to know his own business, continues to offer a resolute opposition to the innovation. From Waterloo (40 min.), 1st, 1/2, 1/9; 2nd, 1/-, ; 3rd, -/9, 1/2

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

see also Dickens Dictionary of the Thames - click here

    Now let us run up the river a little farther, with Kew and its BOTANICAL GARDENS as our first destination.
    How delightful this journey on the water is! We could linger at many places on our way, but just now we must be satisfied with a passing glance.
    Kew Gardens were, for some time, the private grounds surrounding the palace of Kew, and belonged to the royal family since the time when the Prince of Wales, son of George II. and father of George III., admiring the situation, bought the place from its owner, a private gentleman. The Botanic Gardens were commenced by the mother of George III., who took a great delight in the study of plants; and under the able management of Sir W. J. Hooker they obtained a world-wide renown. Soon after Queen Victoria ascended the throne these gardens were very liberally given up by royalty to the public.
    The gardens are full of interest. The temples and other picturesque objects that ornament the grounds are mostly the works of Sir W. Chambers. The Museum of Timber, which was formerly used as the Orangery, the elegant Temple of the Sun, and the Pagoda, which is one hundred and sixty-three feet in height, were each built about 1761. The hothouses and conservatories are very numerous, of which the Palm House forms the chief attraction. It is large enough and high enough to allow the plants that it contains to expand and grow to their natural size, for it is three hundred and sixty-two feet in length; the centre is one hundred feet wide and sixty-six feet high; the wings fifty feet wide and thirty feet high. Some of the other buildings are almost as large, and the Winter Garden is more than twice as large as the palm house. The water-tower and pagoda are very conspicuous objects, and may be seen for some distance round. The Museums contain specimens of the wood of the trees in its natural state, and of the many uses to which it is put; the leaves of the plants and trees, with their flowers or fruit, and the various medicines and dyes produced from them; and, indeed, the whole collection in the museums serves to show us the various uses and conveniences to which plants and trees may be put. Where it has been found impossible to get a natural specimen, a wax model here serves the purpose. 

Uncle Jonathan, Walks in and Around London, 1895 (3 ed.)

    BOTANIC [MUSEUM], ROYAL GARDENS, KEW. Open daily, noon till sunset. Sundays, from 1p.m. Free.
    KEW GARDENS, KEW. Distant from Charing Cross about eight miles. Extensive and finely planted botanic gardens with lake, museums, palm houses, &c. The new museum, the gift of Miss North, filled with paintings of botanical subjects, and situated in the pleasure grounds near the Pagoda, will well repay a visit. The gardens are open free, daily, noon till sunset. Sundays, after 1 p.m. Trains from Waterloo Station, from Broad Street and North London Line stations, and from all stations on Metropolitan and District Railways. Steamers (during summer) from Cadogan Pier, Chelsea.

Reynolds' Shilling Coloured Map of London, 1895

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - The Palm House, Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens - photograph


At the south end of the Royal Botanic Gardens is the Great Palm House, which was built in 1845 at a cost of 33,000. It is 362 ft. long, 100 ft. broad, and 66 ft. high, and contains nearly an acre of glass. Inside, it is easy to imagine oneself in a tropical forest. Palms, tree-ferns, and others of like kind, flourish here exceedingly and the visitor may note the date-palm, the betel-nut, the cocoanut, the upas-tree, the bamboo, the cotton-plant, the coffee-shrub, the tamarind, and the clove. East of the Palm House is the lake, and westward stretches an avenue through the Arboretum nearly three quarters of a mile long. This is known as Syon Vista, the Duke of Northumberland's estate being within view on the opposite bank of the Thames.

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - The Rhododendron Walk, Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens - photograph


The Rhododendron Walk, parallel with the Thames, and situated near the north-west corner of the Arboretum, is one of the chief sights at Kew. The variety of colour here displayed - seen at its best, perhaps, in June - is, to those only acquainted with the somewhat stunted shrubs common in private gardens, a revelation of unexpected beauty. In its way, the Rhododendron Walk is as famous as are the avenues of horse-chestnuts in Bushy Park, though it has not attained the dignity of being identified with any particular Sunday. The Arboretum used to be separated from the Botanic Gardens proper by a wire fence; and until a few years ago, to the unscientific male visitor, the chief distinction lay in the fact that in the former smoking was permitted, whereas in the Gardens it was prohibited.

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - The Museum, Kew Gardens, from the Palm House

Kew Gardens - photograph


To distinguish it from others, the Museum at Kew Gardens of which a picture appears above is known as Museum No. 1. Consisting of three floors, and Italian in style, the building faces the Palm House, the large and picturesque lake lying between the two structures. The Museum was begun in the early fifties, and it was extended in 1881, so crowded had it become with the vegetable economic products and preparations of scientific interest sent for exhibition within its walls. Foods, drugs, fibres, timber, are among the varied and carefully classified specimens, and in some cases the processes of manufacture are illustrated. It has been well said that the aim of the authorities is to explain in this Museum everything of interest to botanists which the plants, while alive, cannot set forth.

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - In Kew Gardens

In Kew Gardens - photograph


It is almost impossible to imagine a pleasanter retreat on a hot summer day than the Botanic Gardens at Kew. From the time that Sir William Hooker became Curator of the Gardens they have flourished exceedingly. Sir William, who died in 1865, was succeeded by his son, Sir Joseph Hooker; the present director is Dr. W. T Thiselton-Dyer. All kinds of flowers, shrubs, and trees have been acclimatised ; and the more botany a visitor knows, the greater are his interest and delight. Here and there have been erected ornamental temples, one of which is shown in our view of a characteristic part of the grounds. The Gardens are open every afternoon, including Sundays.

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Water-Lily House, Kew Gardens

Water-Lily House, Kew Gardens - photograph


One of the most attractive houses in the Botanical Gardens at Kew is the Water-lily House. It is situated near the large Palm House, by the pond at the south end of the Gardens. The tank, which is shown in our picture, is 36 feet in diameter, and it contains many rare varieties of water-lilies. From the centre rises a very fine Papyrus plant. In addition to the numerous lilies, the Sacred Bean of Egypt, the Telegraph Plant of India, the Sensitive Plant, and other curiosities, are to be found in the house, which is well calculated to arouse the interest of even the most ignorant visitor. The famous Victoria Regia Water-lily, of which so much is heard, grows in another building.