Water supplies had been a constant issue at the Royal Botanic Gardens
since their foundation in 1841. Decimus Burton had recommended that
a well should be sunk beneath the Campanile to supply the Palm House
with water, but his suggestion was not taken up.
In 1850, on the advice of James Easton from the engineers Messrs
Easton and Amos, a steam engine and pump were installed in the base
of the Campanile. These pumped water from the river from a suction
pipe near Brentford Ferry. However, when the plants were watered,
a fine deposit of alluvia was sprayed over the plants. As a replacement
for Smeaton's Water Engine, this was not effective and another solution
Around 1855, James Simpson and Company sank a well near the river
and connected it to a new cement-lined underground reservoir near
the Temple of Aeolus. It is not known how long this system remained
in use, or even if the underground reservoir still survives.
William Hooker's Lake provided a third solution. In 1864 an engine
house was constructed to pump water from the Lake to the Gardens.
In 1867 James Simpson reported that this water, once filtered, was
superior to that pumped from the river wells. In response the Lake
was deepened and filter beds were constructed.
Mains water was connected to the Gardens in 1876 for the use of
the residences, the museums and public drinking fountains. However,
the Lake filter system remained in use until after 1931 when the
Richmond Borough main was connected to the site.
The Lake was excavated again in 1890 to increase its capacity,
largely through removing the vast accumulation of mud, in great
part London sewerage. Electric pumps were added to the Lake sluices
at the turn of the century to ensure that the Lake remained full
even when gravity feed was not sufficient.
During the drought of 1921, the Lake was found to have had a high
salt-water content, so it was emptied and refilled several times.
New rainwater tanks were constructed to reduce dependency on the
Lake. The Lake was used to water the plants in the Gardens until
1973. Pipes to conduct the water were constructed across the Gardens
in several phases and now form an elaborate network.
Back to: 1841-1885:
The flowering of Kew