Library, Art and Archives blog
Welcome to Kew's Library Art and Archives blog. Here you will find information about Kew's collections, services and fascinating work which is taking place within the section and also meet the Library, Art and Archive staff who will provide regular updates with news from projects they are involved in, treasures they have discovered and exciting new developments planned for the future. Donate now - Help Kew look after its art and heritage
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Lady gardeners of the 19th - 20th century
To coincide with International Women’s Day on the 8 March, I thought I would tell you about the history of women at Kew. The first women gardeners were appointed by the then Director, William Thiselton-Dyer, in 1896. They had qualified from the Horticultural College for Women at Swanley in Kent. Thiselton-Dyer was a strict disciplinarian and had introduced uniforms for gardeners as a symbol of status, as well as imposing order within the establishment. Thus, our first lady gardeners had to wear the same uniform as the men, so as not to distract their male colleagues when working alongside them.
Lady gardeners - Gertrude Cope, Alice Hutchins, Eleanor Morland (Image: RBG Kew)
The first of the lady gardeners were Annie M Gulvin and Alice Hutchins. The compilers of the Journal of the Kew Guild for 1896 had mixed feelings about their appointment: "Some of the work seems too laborious for them but this is their affair… Given fair play and no favour we do not object to anyone competing in the field of horticulture, be it prince or peer, retired army officer or young lady. The pity it is that in the case of women, marriage would terminate their gardening career". By 1898, Alice Hutchins had been promoted to sub-foreman (!) and Annie Gulvin had been replaced by Jessie Newsham and Florence M Potter.
The year 1902 was the last Kew had any lady gardeners, but the First World War saw their re-employment to replace the men who had gone to fight. Over 30 women gardeners worked at Kew until 1918; some stayed on until March 1922, when the employment of women gardeners was discontinued. Women were recruited once again during the Second World War to replace male gardeners. Many were employed until 1946, after which numbers were cut dramatically. From the early 1950s women students were recruited at the rate of one or two a year, until the 1970s when their number increased to become equal with male students.
Artists, specimen mounters and scientists
It is more difficult to trace the employment of women in the scientific sphere, such as the Herbarium and Jodrell Laboratory. There are no sources available prior to 1893, the date of the first publication of the Kew Guild Journal. Matilda Smith (1854-1926), a botanical artist, is the first and only female to appear in the 1893 Kew Guild Journal. She is mentioned as having been employed since 1878, when she was recruited by Sir Joseph Hooker, and worked for a further 43 years. The sole artist for many of these years, she drew botanical illustrations for Curtis's Botanical Magazine.
Matilda Smith, botanical artist
The majority of the women employed in the Herbarium in the late 19th and early 20th centuries appear to have already had links with Kew, mostly through their relatives. In 1894, Miss Ada E Fitch, ‘Specimen Mounter’, may have been the daughter of Walter Hood Fitch (1817-1892), who was a botanical artist at Kew from 1841 to 1880. In 1905, she was joined by a Miss C E Hemsley, 'Sub-Assistant' in the Herbarium, who may have been the daughter of William Botting Hemsley (1843-1924), Keeper of the Herbarium from 1899-1908.
The employment of women in scientific roles steadily increased in the early 20th century, especially after 1915. In the 1950s, female scientists obtained a more prominent role, especially as they became allowed by law to stay on after they married. Today women are actively involved at Kew in a variety of roles and of course continue to be, from gardening to archiving!
3 comments on 'The history of working women at Kew'
Plant hunters were botanists and horticulturalists who were willing to take risks to travel the other side of the world, sometimes for several years, to discover new plants for science and to ornament people’s gardens. They had a real passion for discovery and plants and I’m going to introduce you to a few of these remarkably intrepid travellers.
Joseph Hooker in the USA; Colorado Expedition in 1877 with Dr. and Mrs. Asa Gray amongst others
Introducing Sir Joseph Banks
Sir Joseph Banks, who had accompanied Captain Cook on HMS Endeavour’s voyage to the South Pacific (1768-1771), was appointed as an informal director to the Gardens by George III in 1773. Banks sent the first Kew collectors around the world, including Francis Masson, Allan Cunningham and James Bowie. Their love of plants and willingness to explore unknown shores, despite obvious dangers, resulted in many specimens being shipped to Kew from all over the growing British Empire. Under Banks’ supervision, Kew became one of the foremost botanical gardens in the world, during the golden age of plant hunting.
William & Joseph Hooker
Others in the 19th century followed in their footsteps, even though the Gardens, now a public institution, could not afford to send plant hunters as Joseph Banks had done. However, the Empire was well established and the thirst for new plants was far from quenched. Kew still contributed to expeditions by lending either expertise or botanists and gardeners to others’ expeditions. Sir Joseph Hooker (1817-1911), the son of Sir William Hooker (Kew’s first public Director) and later himself Director at Kew, took part in several expeditions. The first voyage was in 1839-1843 onboard HMS Erebus, an Antarctic expedition, and he later travelled to the central and eastern Himalaya (1847-1849), having obtained a government grant for the trip. In Sikkim, Hooker and his travelling companion, Archibald Campbell were arrested for border violation, only being released when the British Government, threatened to invade Sikkim. Hooker collected c.700 species in India and Nepal and added 25 new rhododendrons to the 50 already known, helping to create a rhododendron craze amongst British gardeners.
20th century plant hunters
In the 20th century, Kew used its own botanists to bring plants back from around the world, and self-made plant collectors still sent plants to Kew. Frank Kingdon-Ward (1885-1958), often referred to as the last of the great plant collectors, sent 120 plants to Kew. He explored regions such as Yunnan in China, Burma and Tibet in the 1920s and 1930s. He was so enthused by Burma’s landscapes that he later returned with his second wife Jean in 1953/4. However, he found the country much changed and some of the habitats he had so admired had been destroyed to make way for agriculture.
Frank Kingdon-Ward's Diary for the Lohit Valley Expedition 1950 FKW/1/25 (f 4)
His diaries make a fascinating read and are far from being dry, scientific writings. He was interested in everything, and talks about the geography, weather, plants as well as native people encountered in an anecdotal manner and with great humour. He also published numerous books about his expeditions which are still widely available today.
Plant hunters were individuals of great courage and determination, equipped with passion and devotion, sometimes enduring weeks of loneliness and physical hardship, bringing back with them the extraordinary plants which can be seen in our gardens today.
- Michele -
- Read about the Archives Awareness Campaign.
- Find out more about Kew's Archives.
- See photographs taken by Frank Kingdon-Ward courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society.
- Visit Jim Endersby's site on Sir Joseph Hooker.
- Discover more about Plant Explorers at a site dedicated to their work.
- If you would like to see the archival collections, please contact the Archives.
See our interactive book for iPad, The Plant Hunters, featured as new and noteworthy on the Apple iBookstore
0 comments on 'Adventure and discovery around the world with the plant hunters'
From our humble beginnings - four members of staff sharing one small basement office in Kew's Herbarium - the Directors' Correspondence Digitisation team have, quite literally, moved up in the world. In the spring of 2010, we moved out of the basement into a roomy, but temporary home on the first floor. Then, at the end of last year, we finally moved into our new, long-term accommodation, the Library Digitisation Suite: purpose-built offices situated within the original library on the first floor of the Herbarium. The suite comprises a main office, a scanning room/meeting room and a dark room for our digital camera set up.
Part of the main office of the new Library Digitisation Suite
Many thanks must go to the Estates staff for remodelling the library space to construct the new offices and for helping us to move our desks and equipment. Thanks also go to the IT and communications staff who ensured that everything was in working order on the day of our move, and to Andrew McRobb, one of Kew's in-house photographers, who set up and calibrated our digital camera – for the second time in a year.
A challenge for our readers
We have started the New Year in our new suite with renewed vigour and enthusiasm! Our project is going well and, since starting the digitisation of the Asia Directors' Correspondence collection in April last year, we have digitised eight out of the 26 volumes of correspondence: that translates to the team having read through, summarised and imaged over 6,000 pages of predominantly hand-written letters – no mean feat! In fact, to give you a small taste of what we do every day, we'd like to set our readers a bit of a challenge...
Extract of a letter from Justus Karl Hasskarl to Sir William Jackson Hooker – can you decipher the handwriting?
Above is an extract taken from a six-page letter written by Justus Karl Hasskarl to Sir William Jackson Hooker, from Priangan, Java, in 1855. As you can see, the writing from one side of a page has bled through to the other side of the page. Have a go and see if you can work out what it says?
Thankfully not all the correspondence is this difficult to decipher! We look forward to telling you more about what we find in the collection over the coming year.
- Helen -
2 comments on 'New year, new office, new challenges!'
The beautifully restored Marianne North Gallery re-opened last month with the original artworks back on the walls. Here in the conservation studio we are so excited to see the paintings back in the gallery knowing that their condition has been improved and that they will continue to be enjoyed by visitors for many years to come. It is, though, with a touch of sadness that we lay down our tools as we have all become rather attached to the paintings. Here are some of the highlights of the project which have made the time working in the studio so enjoyable.
Through the examination and treatment of the paintings we have been able to discover more about Marianne North’s painting techniques as well as uncover additional images. Rachael Smith, one of the conservators working on the project, has now totally uncovered the completed painting she discovered on the back of A Cycad in Fruit in Mr Hill’s Garden, Verulam, Natal.
Partially revealed painting on the back of painting no. 366 (Image: RBG Kew)
Fully uncovered painting on the back of painting no. 366 (Image: RBG Kew)
The new image is a landscape and is similar to another painting in the gallery Male Pawpaw with Flowers and Imperfect Fruit. As a board had been stuck directly onto the oil paint, Rachel had to spend a lot of time devising ways of removing the board remnants without removing the paint. An image of the uncovered painting will also be viewable on the new touchscreens in the gallery.
Our time working on so many paintings by one artist has also enabled us to carry out some research into the different materials Marianne North used. I have been looking at the ground or ‘primer’ under the paint layer, while other members of the studio have been examining the pigments, inks and papers she used. The practical work has also thrown up new and exciting challenges which do not usually occur in paper conservation. In between removing around 800 backing boards from the paintings we have been consolidating paint, in-painting losses and repairing tears, amongst other interesting treatments. We are in the process of writing an article, which we hope to publish in a conservation related journal, as we feel we have learnt a great deal from undertaking this unusual project.
I think what has been another real treat is that we have been given the opportunity to meet some of the people who share our enthusiasm for Marianne North. It has been wonderful to hear such a positive response to the paintings, and to watch visitors in the gallery find images that they have a personal attachment to; whether it is a place they have visited, a particular favourite plant, or, in one case, a picture of a friend’s garden! Through our talks with visitors and meetings with the sponsors of the paintings it has been really interesting and encouraging to see what a broad spectrum of people enjoy Marianne North’s work.
Rebecca Chisholm giving a talk to visitors in the Marianne North Gallery (Image: RBG Kew)
Many thanks to all those who made this project possible – the condition of this fantastic collection is now greatly improved and many more visitors to the Gardens will be able to enjoy the work of this remarkable woman.
- Eleanor -
- Find out more about the Marianne North Gallery
- Discover how you can play a part in safeguarding the future of the Marianne North paintings
- Read about Marianne North and her links to Kew
0 comments on 'Highlights from the Marianne North Gallery Conservation Project'
It has now been three months since I took up the role of Archive Graduate Trainee at Kew, and already I have learned so much about archives and records management. Having realised that to truly know a collection can take a lifetime! I am content with my increasing knowledge of the archives here.
Having completed my induction I am now involved in a number of projects, one of which involves repackaging the papers of a botanist who was involved in the conservation of an endangered tree species, the Populus nigra. It is fascinating being able to see the extent of this man’s dedication to preserving the native trees of Britain. Unfortunately some of the papers have been badly damaged by damp and mould, and owing to the nature of his work I often find myself coming across suspicious looking envelopes filled with very old plant samples. However I find that this is what makes the job so satisfying; knowing that the important work of this man will not be lost and will be available for researchers in the future.
The Populus nigra papers
I am also now well under way with my first cataloguing project, which again concerns the papers of a botanist who worked closely with Kew. Whilst keeping the original order of a collection is important in order to ensure that it doesn’t lose any evidential value, I find that the challenge is in creating a clear and concise catalogue which will accurately reflect the collection and make it as accessible as possible. It appears that this botanist carried out invaluable work producing plant determination lists in the West Indies, and I really hope that the catalogue I create will increase the accessibility of his papers so that people will be able to use his work as a reference for many years to come.
In the Records Management aspect of my role, I have learned so much in the past couple of months. What seems very complicated in theory can be made very straightforward through well organised and efficient organisation. Being able to work with both current records and archives is a great advantage, as I am able to see the process of creating records through to their destruction or transfer to archives. It has also made me more aware issues surrounding the profession, such as the increasing focus on the need for effective electronic records management systems, and the PR work in raising awareness of efficient record keeping.
Sarah getting to know the collections
On a final note, I will be starting the MLitt in Archives and Records Management by distance learning at the University of Dundee in January. I think it is a great opportunity to be able to apply what I will be learning in practice on a day-to-day basis whilst gaining a qualification on the road to becoming a fully fledged archivist.
- Sarah -
2 comments on 'Settling into the Archives: catch up with our budding archivist'
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
Kew's Library, Art and Archives contains many millions of items within its collections. Find out about the diverse teams who look after these collections and make them accessible.
- Archives team
- Directors' Correspondence Digitisation team
- Exhibitions & Galleries team
- Library Information Services team
- Preservation team
Suffragettes at Kew: Fascinating stuff. Love the old headlines. . by: Neil
History of art in the Directors' Correspondence: the painting of an iconic Kew image: Hooker is my favourite Fellow, He was a lab bench man and it is fitting that he should also be celeb ... by: Brian S. Hartley FRS
Letters from India: some extracts from Joseph Hooker's historic correspondence.: Hi Judy, thanks for your lovely comment supporting the work of the project. Your great grandfather w ... by: Virginia, RBG Kew archive
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