The Archives may be divided for convenience into the "official" records of the Royal Botanic Gardens and its work, and "private" papers, which are not related specifically to Kew.
The three largest sections of the official Archives are:
- Directors' Correspondence - the scientific correspondence received by senior staff from 1841 to 1928, and Sir William Hooker's correspondence from before 1841 which he brought with him to Kew. We do not have copies of outgoing correspondence.
- Miscellaneous Reports - bound volumes containing printed reports, correspondence and miscellaneous items, c. 1850 to 1928, relating chiefly to Kew's relations with botanic gardens and other organisations overseas, with an emphasis on economic botany.
- Record Books, Inwards Books and Outwards Books - records of living material and seeds received at and despatched from Kew, dating from 1793 until the mid-twentieth century.
From 1928, a system of registered files was in use, which continues to this day. There are also many other collections of papers that are official in nature, ranging from correspondence on the day-to-day running of the gardens to the personal scientific papers and plant collecting notebooks of former staff members.
The Archives also contain many collections of private papers of botanists, gardeners, and others, including Sir Joseph Banks, Richard Spruce, William Burchell, George Bentham, and Frank Kingdon-Ward. We also have a large collection of private papers of both Sir William and Sir Joseph Hooker.
The most complete published summary of the Archives holdings at Kew may be found in Natural history manuscript resources in the British Isles, ed. G.D.R. Bridson et al. London : Mansell ; New York : R. R. Bowker Co., 1980.
Please note that the online
library catalogue does not contain records for material in the Archives.
The Archives hold records of past employees and apprentices at Kew. Unfortunately, the records for the Royal period (pre-1841) have not survived. Our staff records therefore start in 1841 and apprenticeship/ student records in 1902. If you think your ancestor worked or trained at Kew, please supply us with his/her full name and also the approximate date he or she would have been at Kew and a brief search can be made on your behalf. Please note that as our records are arranged in date order, dates of employment are vital even if only a rough estimate.
The Archives have been catalogued in many different ways over the years. The chief finding aid is the card index kept in the Archives Room, which covers the main collections up to about 1928. Since acquiring cataloguing software, we have been cataloguing collections of papers relating to individuals. There are now catalogue records of the collections of around forty individuals available in our on-line Archive Catalogue, including the papers of Sir Joseph Hooker, the artist Marianne North and Sir Joseph Banks.
Please see below for a list of those personal collections that are available in the Catalogue - please click on the link to view the record of that individual's papers. Please note that this represents only a small percentage of our collections and we may hold other papers relating to the individuals in our corporate collections. We are currently working to add further summary records of the collections to the Archive Catalogue. If you are unable to find what you are looking for, or would like us to check our card index, please contact us.
Collections that have been catalogued and are available in the Archive Catalogue:
To help with your research, we are creating some research guides based on certain popular topics in the Archives. These include background information on collections or specific documents grouped by subject.
- Guide to sources for medicinal plants
- Plant hunters in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries
- Sources for the research of historical individuals: pre-19th, 19th and 20th centuries
- Photographs held in Kew's collections: 1880s-1996
- Sources for the history of the Gardens
- Guide to illustrations held in the Archives
- Buildings and gates in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: 18th-21st centuries
- Guide to women's employment in the Gardens: late 19th and 20th centuries
We often receive new material for the Archives. In 2000 we were given the travel diaries of the plant collector Frank Kingdon-Ward. In 2005, we were given the records of the Tree Register, consisting of notebooks and index cards recording ancient and rare trees in gardens throughout the country, from the 1900s to the 1990s. In April 2007, we received from a private donor a botanical notebook and a sketchbook taken during lectures, press cuttings, a plan of the vegetables and fruits grown in the Gardens during the Second World War and photographs; these are from Rosalie Periam who was a Lady Gardener here at Kew from 1947 to 1951.
We are always glad to receive donations of archival items relating to the Royal Botanic Gardens, its staff and students, or the history of botany. If you would like to make a donation, please contact the archivist at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that we are only able to accept items that fall within our acquisition policy.