Skip to main content
You are here


Sir William Hooker first planned a Museum of Economic Botany in 1845. Ultimately four museums were opened to the public.
Museum No. 2 in 1960
Museum No. 2 in the 1960s.

Museum No. 2 (the first to open — now the School of Horticulture)

In 1846, the architect Decimus Burton converted the old royal fruit store into a museum building (later named Museum No. 2), which then opened to the public in 1848. Objects for the Museum came from Hooker’s personal collection, from his wide range of official and scientific contacts around the world, and from the displays of international exhibitions such as the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Museum No. 2 was used to display plant specimens belonging to the Monocotledons and Cryptograms, including grasses and palms. The Museum closed in the mid 1980s and is now the School of Horticulture, retaining its original gallery and cases.


Museum No. 2 about 1900
Museum No. 2 in about 1900.

Museum No. 1

Purpose-built, again by Decimus Burton, facing the Palm House across the Pond, it opened to the public in 1857 and greatly increased the display space. It was used to display specimens in the Dicotyledons. The Museum closed in 1987 and was emptied of its contents. The ground floor, retaining its cases, reopened in 1998 as the Plants + People exhibition. The remainder of the building is used for education.


Museum No. 1
Museum No. 1 - collection cases

Museum No. 3 (The Orangery)

Opened in 1863 as a Timber Museum (Museum No. 3); iron galleries were added in 1883. This museum closed in 1953; the Orangery was used once again for citrus cultivation. It is now a restaurant.


Museum No. 3
Museum No. 3 - main hall.

Museum No. 4 (Cambridge Cottage)

In 1840, Cambridge Cottage was purchased by George III for his son, the Duke of Cambridge. Added to the Gardens in 1904, it was converted into a Wood Museum (Museum No. 4) in 1910. In about 1988, the museum closed and the building now hosts the Kew Gardens Gallery.


Museum No.4
Museum No. 4 - exterior.


Museum No. 4
Museum No. 4 - wood collection.

1980 to Present

By the 1980s it was clear that the four museum buildings needed restoration; other uses also took priority. A purpose-built research store was designed to replace the museums and was completed in the late 1980s, formally opening in 1990. During the late 1980s the contents of the old Museums were moved into compactor units in the research store, where they have remained since.


Economic Botany store
Compactor units in the Economic Botany store, Sir Joseph Banks Building

Curating Biocultural Collections: A Handbook

Curating Biocultural Collections

The first major curation manual for biocultural collections. Including real-life case studies and references to online resources.