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An unexpected visitor

Elisabeth Thurlow
5 September 2013
In her last blog post, Elisabeth writes about her experiences as the Archives Graduate Trainee and reveals more about an unexpected Victorian visitor to the Gardens.

Treasures of the Archives

During my traineeship the Archives have had record numbers of enquiries and visitors. As well as assisting the day to day running of the archive service, I have been involved in the preparation of displays for the public.

We recently held a series of events where we invited members of the public to hear talks exploring Kew’s historic relationships and displayed treasures from the Archives. This allowed me to showcase my favourite items in the collections, including those which record a familiar but unexpected visitor to the Gardens.

A historic visitor register, which was used to record visitors to the Herbarium in the late nineteenth century, bears the signature of one Beatrix Potter. This visitor book shows that Beatrix Potter visited Kew on a number of occasions, including Wednesday 20th May 1896.

The historic connections between Kew and Beatrix Potter will be interesting to anyone with an interest in her life, the history of Kew, or the role of women in the study of natural history.

The signature of Beatrix Potter in a Herbarium Visitor's Book on Wednesday 20th May 1896 

Beatrix Potter and her Kew Connections

Today she is remembered as a talented children’s author and illustrator, but our collections reveal that Beatrix Potter was also a promising naturalist with a particular interest in the study of fungi. Her uncle, the distinguished chemist Sir Henry Roscoe, helped her gain access to the Gardens to further her study.

A letter held in the Directors Correspondence collection sheds further light on her interest in the study of nature


Letter from Beatrix Potter to William Thiselton-Dyer, 3 December 1896 (Archive reference Directors Correspondence [DC 99] folio 7) 

Beatrix Potter the fungi expert

Potter wrote to the third director of Kew, William Thiselton-Dyer, asking him to view her paper on fungi which explored her own theory of how fungi spores reproduced.

Her paper was presented to the Linnaean Society in 1897 by Kew’s own mycologist; women not being allowed to present to, or even attend, meetings.

Being both an amateur and a woman, Potter’s theories were not taken seriously and her paper was not recommended for publication. But today we know that she was right in what she observed. Her theories were later credited to a male German scientist, meaning today her contributions to the study of fungi are considerably less well known than her contribution to children’s literature.

Beatrix Potter the painter

Earlier this year Kew acquired some of Potter’s botanical watercolours at auction. Drawn in 1885, the watercolours illustrate Daphne laureala in flower, and Tamus communis, the leaves and berries of a Black Bryony.

And Kew’s connections with Potter continue to this day. The Beatrix Potter Society recently visited Kew to view the archive and art materials associated with Potter and enjoy a themed walk around the Gardens.


Botanical watercolour by Beatrix Potter, recently purchased by Kew

And so goodbye from the Archives Trainee...

My time at Kew is up. What now? I will be studying for the postgraduate diploma in Archives and Records Management at University College London from next year. To become an archivist you need a postgraduate qualification which is accredited by the Archives and Records Association.

Elisabeth Thurlow working in the Archives store 

After completing the qualification I hope to gain employment as an archivist, putting into practice the skills I have developed during my time at Kew.

And although it is goodbye from me, look out for blog posts from the new Archives Graduate Trainee. 

- Elisabeth -


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