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The Story of Kew Gardens in Photographs

Kiri Ross-Jones
24 April 2013
Read about Kew's latest publication, which draws on our Library, Art & Archives collections

Visitors enjoying the sunshine outside the Orangery, which was a wood museum at this time

Over the last year, Lynn Parker, our Assistant Illustrations Curator, and I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to work on a book showcasing over 250 rare and remarkable black and white photographs from across our collections. Having spent some time searching through boxes in our stores, we found a number of photos, each revealing their own story – images of a man with a penguin in the Gardens, land girls in clogs and women harvesting beetles from cacti in Antigua. Never before has the history of Kew been told through its photographic collections and so it was decided that this would provide a good opportunity for a publication, as well as a chance to promote parts of our collections never previously seen. 

Woman spinning cotton in India

The story begins in the 1840s, with our earliest photographs (daguerreotypes), which are of the Palm House being built. We look at the building projects under the Hookers and how they formed Kew, Victorian Kew’s imperial inks, drawing on images of plant products and other botanic gardens around the world and life in the field for plant hunters. We then return back to Kew, to explore behind the scenes and the untold stories of staff, our long history of welcoming visitors and the visitor attractions around the Gardens, wartime Kew and finally the emergence of the Kew we know today, in the period 1940s-1970s. Images of giant plants and seeds, Edwardian visitors enjoying the scenery, unknown corners of the Gardens and key personalities can all be found in the book. 


Staff working in the Tropical Pits

Get Involved

Through working on the project, Lynn and I found that we learned a great deal about the history of Kew, as well as discovering previously unknown images. If you appear in the images yourself or can provide us with any further information, we would love to hear from you! Please contact us at

Without the generosity and photographic skills of many of our previous members of staff and visitors, this book would not have been possible. If you have any images of the Gardens that you are happy to share with us, particularly images from pre-1970, you can upload your photos to our Flickr group, or email them to

Win postcards of historic images

To celebrate the publication, postcards are being given away daily via our twitter feed – All you need to do is follow us @KewDC and retweet.

Buy a copy of the book

The Story of Kew Gardens In Photographs can be purchased for £15 from Kew’s online shop


Further Information



21 June 2013
Delighted to find a photograph of my grandfather in the Kew cricket team in 1933 in this wonderful book. I will be contacting the Kew archive to see if i can find out more about his life and work whilst he was training at Kew
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