Sir William Hooker first planned a Museum of Economic Botany in 1845. In 1846 the architect Decimus Burton converted the old Royal fruit store into a museum building (later named Museum No. 2), opened to the public in 1848. Objects for the Museum came from Hooker’s personal collection, from his wide range of official and scientific contacts around the world, and from the displays of international exhibitions such as the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Ultimately four museums were open to the public.
Museum No. 2
The first to open, Museum No. 2 was used to display plant specimens belonging to the Monocotledons and Cryptograms, including grasses and palms. The Museum closed in the mid 1980s and is now the School of Horticulture, retaining its original gallery and cases.
Museum No. 1
Purpose built, again by Decimus Burton, facing the Palm House across the Pond. It opened to the public in 1857 and greatly increased the display space. It was used to display specimens in the Dicotyledons. The Museum closed in 1987 and emptied of its contents. The ground floor, retaining its cases, re-opened in 1998 as the People+Plants exhibition; the remainder of the building is used for education.
Opened in 1863 as a Timber Museum (Museum No. 3); iron galleries were added in 1883. This museum closed in 1953; the Orangery was used once again for citrus cultivation. It is now a resturant.
In 1840 Cambridge Cottage was purchased by George III for this son the Duke of Cambridge. Added to the Gardens in 1904 it was converted into a Wood Museum (Museum No. 4) in 1910. In about 1988 the museum closed and the building now hosts the Kew Gardens Gallery.
1980 to Present
By the 1980s it was clear that the four museum buildings needed restoration; other uses also took priority. A purpose-built research store was designed to replace the Museums and was completed in the late 1980s, formally opening in 1990. During the late 1980s the contents of the old Museums were moved into compactor units in the research store, where they have remained since.
In 2006 the staff of the Centre for Economic Botany moved to the Wolfson Wing of the Jodrell Laboratory, joining the Sustainable Uses group and ceasing to exist as a separate entity. The Collection continues to be managed by staff of the Sustainable Uses Group.