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Your Gate to the Gardens

Elisabeth Thurlow
27 November 2012
The recent renaming of the Main Gate has had the Archives team thinking about the importance of the Kew gates in the Gardens' history.

Elizabeth Gate

In late October Kew’s Main Gate was renamed Elizabeth Gate . The gates of the Gardens have played an important role in the history of Kew in allowing and restricting access to the grounds and in marking historic celebrations and events.


Historic Kew image of the Main Gate.


The newly retitled Elizabeth Gate was designed by the architect, Decimus Burton, and was first completed in 1846. As well as designing a number of buildings at Kew Gardens including, rather impressively, both the Palm House and the Temperate House, Burton also designed the layout of Hyde Park and the gardens and buildings at London Zoo.


Decimus Burton’s design for a new entrance to Kew Gardens, dated 10 December 1844.


The Main Gate has been renamed Elizabeth Gate to commemorate this year’s Diamond Jubilee. The strong royal connections of the Gardens are well known and in fact the original building that housed the archive was formerly the royal residence of the Duke of Cumberland, brother to William IV.


Historic Kew image of visitors walking towards the Main Gate.


Victoria Gate

The Elizabeth Gate is not the first gate to be renamed after a female British monarch. In 1889, the unused Queen’s Gate, which had previously stood between the Marianne North Gallery and the Temperate House Lodge, was re-erected opposite Lichfield Road to meet the demands of visitors using the recently constructed railway station. Kew Gardens had gained in popularity as an attraction thanks to the improved transport facilities and a new entrance was needed to meet the growing demand. Opened on Queen Victoria’s 70th birthday in May 1889, the newly installed gate was named Victoria Gate.


Historic Kew image of the Victoria Gate.


A letter from the Office of Works sent to the Treasury in July 1888 argued that direct access to Kew Gardens for visitors arriving at the Kew Gardens station of the Metropolitan District Railway was a ‘necessity’. The writer was ‘convinced that an entrance to the Gardens in the position proposed would be a very great boon to the public’.

Our records show that in 1889 it cost £130 or £7,785.70 in today’s money to move the previously under-used gates to their new location.


Royal approval

At a luncheon held at the Kew Gardens' Hotel prior to the opening of the Victoria Gate, the Chairman toasted the health of the Queen and pointed out that it was particularly appropriate to open the gate that day, when the Queen’s birthday was being celebrated.

The letter below was received by Kew in July 1889 from Henry Ponsonby, Queen Victoria’s private secretary, sent from the royal residence at Windsor Castle. Addressed to ‘My dear Primrose’, the letter announced that Queen Victoria ‘approves’ of the naming of the gate.


Letter to Kew Gardens from Windsor Castle


Today a total of four pairs of gates in the Gardens are Grade II listed – including both Elizabeth and Victoria Gate. They are considered to be of particular importance, a key part of Kew's World Heritage Site status, and are therefore protected. When you are entering the Gardens, why not take a moment to admire the historic Gates and all they represent?

- Elisabeth -



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29 January 2013
Last year when preparations were being made to renovate the Main Gate, now renamed the Elizabeth Gate, the protective cover that had been placed over the drinking fountain to protect it against vandalism many years ago was removed. It was discovered that the sculpture known as Your Good Health was not present. Since then various investigations have been undertaken to try to determine what happened to the statue. It would appear that is was unlawfully removed at some point between 1982, when the protective cover was removed so it could be photographed, and 2006. There are several possibilities as to what happened to the statue. An inspection of the statue in Norwich Castle Museum confirmed that this is a copy of the missing statue and not the Kew statue. Investigations are continuing to try and locate the statue. If anyone has any information as to its whereabouts we would of course be pleased to receive this.
24 January 2013
What happened to the beautiful marble drinking fountain, featuring a small boy with the words,'Your Good Health'on a banner around him? This fountain was just inside Decimus Burton's main entrance which you have renamed. The fountain was presented by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association in 1865,and made by the Association's art advisor, the sculptor John Bell. (Very recently the Kew Archive team went to Norwich Castle Museum in the mistaken belief that the marble fountain in the collection was 'their'sculpture/ fountain!) The truth, I believe, is that the missing item is in the London home of a great-grandaughter of one of the pre-WW1 directors of Kew. Does anyone know any more about this?

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