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The mysterious hanging diagrams of Museum No. 2

Caroline Cornish
9 August 2011
Blog team: 
One of Kew's PhD students investigates the beautiful posters that once hung in Kew's museums.

I’m trying to understand how Kew's Museum of Economic Botany tackled the issue of learning: what messages was it communicating, to what kinds of visitor, and what resources were used? Knowing details such as the visual aids used, would help to build up a more complete picture of the museums’ mission of ‘instruction’.

If you look at old photographs of the former Museum No. 2 (now the School of Horticulture), you’ll see a series of large, framed, botanical diagrams suspended from the balcony (below, about 1900).

Historical photograph of Museum No. 2 (1900s)

They were still in place in the 1960s when the museum was closed to the public (below).

Botanical diagrams suspended from the balcony in Museum No. 2 (1960s)

By the 1980s, however, when the building was being used as a collections store, they had disappeared from view (below, about 1985).

Museum No. 2 (1980s)

For my PhD research into the history of the Kew museums, I’ve been trying to track these pictures down. They are no longer in Kew's Economic Botany Collection (the sucessor to the Museums), or collections of illustrations, but it’s possible they were transferred elsewhere during the move of the museum collection to the Banks Building in the late 1980s.

So, my question is: does anyone recognise the author or illustrator of these quite distinctive diagrams? In fact I’d be keen to hear from anyone who knows anything at all about them, or the use of such posters more generally in botanical education. Please do get in touch (via my university web page) if you can shed any light on the likely solutions to these botanical mysteries.

London Open House

One reason Museum No. 2 is on my mind is that I'm working with the Curator of the Economic Botany Collection, Mark Nesbitt, to re-open the building for Open House London. In 2011 this is on the weekend of 17-18 September, when hundreds of buildings that are usually private are opened to the public, free-of-charge.

Visit Open House at Kew Gardens 2011

We think Museum No. 2 will be quite special. It's the first time it has been open to the public since 1960. Its current use as Kew's School of Horticulture has not disturbed the display cases and interior designed by Decimus Burton in 1846-47. We'll be using enlarged photos (including this one, below, from a recently discovered cache in Leiden) and posters to take visitors back into the 19th century. We'll also be reinstalling lots of artefacts from the Economic Botany Collection, including a special display to mark the centenary of the death of one of Kew's great directors, Sir Joseph Hooker.

Historical photograph of Museum No. 2 (1900s)

Do come and visit, if you can. Details are on Kew's web site, and at Open House London. Admission is free (but only via the Jodrell Gate PDF) , first come, first served, but but we (and all the Kew volunteers who are helping on the day) will do our best to keep queues as short as possible.

To see the posters in more detail, please examine the higher resolution images available at Kew on Flickr.

- Caroline -


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11 August 2011
This is fascinating! I have always been interested in the Kew museums and its great to see one of them re-opening for Open House.
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10 August 2011
Many thanks to botanical colleagues, who have told us these were produced in Germany and termed "Wandtafeln". There is a web page about these botanical wallcharts hosted by the Harvard University Herbaria:
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