Water features have figured strongly in Kew's history and there
have been two major Lakes.
The first Lake had its beginnings in the 1740s, in Frederick, Prince
of Wales's grand plans for his gardens. Frederick died in 1751 and
in 1753 Thomas Greening , the new Head Gardener, was instructed
to continue dredging the Lake.
By 1763 it occupied 9 acres (3.64 ha), of which two-thirds were
water and the remaining third an island. Water for the Lake was
raised from a deep well by Smeaton's Water Engine, an Archimedes
screw near the eastern end of the Lake. Smeaton's pump was in operation
by 1761 and continued in use until the 1850s.
The island was reached by the Palladian Bridge, crossing a narrow
channel of water. Its design was largely taken from one of Palladio's
wooden bridges, but, according to Chambers, "There is nothing
remarkable in the whole but that it was erected in one night".
The bridge appears to have had a relatively short life, since it
does not appear on maps after around 1785.
The Lake with its island, however, was an important part of the
design of the old Kew Gardens. It was flanked by several follies,
including the House of Confucius and the Temple of Arethusa, and
was in full view of the White House at the far end of the Great
A remarkable Swan Boat was made for George III in 1755, when he
was still the Prince of Wales, in celebration of his 17th birthday.
Designed by John Rich, the manager of Covent Garden, the boat could
hold 10 people, and the swan's neck and head reached to a height
of 18 ft (5.4 m).
A large part of this first lake was filled in during the 1790s
by the orders of 'Farmer' George III, who wanted more arable land
in his garden. By the time Aiton's "View of the Royal Gardens"
was drawn in 1837 the Lake was a mere remnant of its former glory
and on one contemporary plan, it was reduced to being labelled 'the
Burton then reshaped this 'pond' as part of the design for the
new Palm House and so created today's Palm House Pond. The Palm
House itself was built on part of the original Lake filled in by
George III and was the primary cause of the constant flooding of
The present Lake, situated further west towards the Thames, was
created by Sir William Hooker in the late 1840s. In 1848, Hooker
told the Board of Woods and Forests that he wanted an "open
flow of water through a portion of the pleasure grounds". What
he did was extend the gravel pits which were then being excavated
to provide spoil for the foundations of the Temperate House.
A plan for the Lake from 1855 shows how the shape of the southern
shore was arrived at by retaining existing clusters of trees, which
was Hooker's Pinetum and some of these trees may still stand today.
Underground culverts were created to connect the Lake with the
Thames, and it was filled for the first time in 1861. The 4 1/2
acres (1.82 ha) of Lake created by Sir William were extended by
a further half acre (0.2 ha) by his son Joseph, who said he was
"Trying to make our very ugly lake an ornamental piece of water
with a gang of 50-60 navvies"
Joseph Hooker also extended his father's plantings around the edges
of the Lake and in later years, the next Director, Sir William Thiselton-Dyer,
decided that the islands "should be heavily wooded with well
disposed clumps of trees. These give effects of light and shadow
on the water which are often in striking contrast". He landscaped
the Lake to this effect at the end of the 19th century.
A lesser known, but crucially important, function of the Lake was
as a reservoir. In 1864, the Engine House was constructed to pump
water from the Lake for use around the Gardens. Gradually, over
the course of the 19th and 20th Centuries, mains water supplies
superseded river water from the Lake, which finally ceased being
used in 1973.
The Lake is now 5 acres (2.02 ha) of water, studded with four islands.
The thickly wooded islands are important nature conservation areas,
undisturbed by regular human activity. The boundaries of the Lake
are surrounded by vegetation, with some openings through which the
water can be viewed.
The Lake is in the clearing created by 'Capability' Brown' during
his landscaping of Richmond Gardens. In this way the Lake continues
the tradition of an open space in this area.
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