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Floreat Kew: in remembrance of the fallen

Jessica Hudson
20 June 2014
Preparing the Great War commemoration display and event at Kew involved in-depth research into the period and shed light on one of the less well-known buildings in the Gardens, as Library trainee Jessica Hudson explains.

Something old, something new

Standing solemnly in the gardens at Kew is the Temple of Arethusa. Originally constructed as a folly for the pleasure of Princess Augusta in 1758 by the architect William Chambers, by 1921 it (like many from Kew) had been requisitioned into war service and was unveiled as the home of the War Memorial commemorating the loss of Kewites who had served and sacrificed their lives in the First World War.

In all there are 37 names listed on the plaque in the temple, names which have become intimately familiar during our research for our forthcoming display and event, 'Plants, People and the Products of War: a centenary tribute'.

Photo of the Temple of Arethusa
The Temple of Arethusa as it stands today

Planning and Progress

The concept of establishing a permanent memorial in Kew had been raised as early as 1917 during the Annual General Meeting of the Kew Guild and, by 1918, discussion had commenced in earnest. Various ideas were mooted. Initially it was proposed that a scroll recording the names of those who had joined the war should be kept in the Lecture Room or Gardens Library. Perhaps a seat or monument would be suitable, located in 'some quiet spot in the gardens' (Journal of the Kew Guild, vol. 3 (26) 1919, p.436)? A statue of a soldier facing west to east was advocated with a Roll of Honour emblazed underneath, while the more practically minded Mr. A. C. Bartlett suggested ‘a drinking-fountain, which would be useful as well as a permanent memorial’ (ibid., p.436). Regardless of the ultimate form it would take, it was agreed that:

'some fitting monument [should be erected] to their comrades of the Guild in a prominent place in the Gardens, so that the public and Kewites yet unborn might be reminded of the part Kewites had taken in this Great War. (ibid., p.436)

A motion was carried to begin a War Memorial Fund, a subsequent War Memorial sub-committee was established and the relevant permissions were sought from the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries (the Government department then responsible for the management of Kew). In the interim, Captain Arthur Hill (Assistant Director of Kew) approached the architect Sir Robert Lorimer who had worked on memorials for the Imperial War Graves Commission. (It is likely that this is how Hill came to be acquainted with him; as is explained in our Library display (details below)).

Lorimer produced two sketches which were submitted for approval - one for a two-panel bronze plaque in classical style and a second composed of three panels to be erected in the Temple. The latter scheme was unanimously agreed, with Charles Curtis (President of the Guild) later declaring that Lorimer 'had given us a very beautiful design, and the memorial was in every way a fitting one to the gallant fellows who died that we may live' (Journal of the Kew Guild, vol. 4 (29) 1922, p.76).

A target was set to raise £150 for the work but, following a rallying cry for subscriptions, by the time of its unveiling the War Memorial Fund had generated £171 10s 10d with the final construction costing £142 10s. 10d. The Guild later debated what the balance of £29 0s. 10d should be used for, it being eventually agreed that it should form the foundation of an Educational Scheme for Kew horticultural students. The Fund had thereby both commemorated the past and sown the seeds for future progress – Floreat Kew ['May Kew flourish'] indeed!

Photo of the war memorial plaque in the Temple of Arethusa
The plaque in the Temple of Arethusa commemorating Kew’s 37 men who died during WWI, extended in 1951 to include those who died in World War II.

Grand Unveiling

On Wednesday 25 May 1921 at 3pm the memorial was unveiled with due ceremony by the Director of Kew, Sir David Prain. The assembled crowd was made up of both Kewites (past and present) and family members of those named. As the plaque was revealed from beneath its Union Flag shroud, Prain proclaimed:

'Sadly as an individual, yet proudly as the representative of Kew these thirty-seven men loved so well, I unveil this, their memorial.' (ibid., p.76).

And so we remember.

Close-up of the Latin motto Floreat Kew
May Kew Flourish

Bibliography and further information

  • Journal of the Kew Guild, vol. 3 (25) 1918, pp.402-404.
  • Journal of the Kew Guild, vol. 3 (26) 1919, pp. 435-437.
  • Journal of the Kew Guild, vol. 3 (27) 1920, pp.475-479, 482.
  • Journal of the Kew Guild, vol. 4 (29) 1922, pp. 67-68, 76-77.
  • Journal of the Kew Guild, vol. 4 (30) 1923, pp.141-143.
  • Journal of the Kew Guild, vol. 7 (57) 1951, p. 32.

Event

To find out many other fascinating stories from our rich collections before, during and after the First World War, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Library, Art & Archives invites you to our Open Day on Saturday 5 July 2014, 10 to 4pm, to explore our Commemorative Exhibition 'Plants, People and the Products of War: a Centenary Tribute'.

- Jessica -

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