The Pagoda was one of the jewels in the crown of Georgian London. It was so unusual that a suspicious public were unconvinced it would remain standing when it was built in 1762.
Designed at the height of the 18th century craze for Chinoiserie, it tapers with successive floors from the first to the topmost being 1ft less (30 cm) in diameter and height than the preceding one. The original building was very colourful; the roofs being covered with varnished iron plates, with a dragon on each corner. There were 80 dragons in all, each carved from wood and gilded with real gold.
The eye-catching dragons were the talk of the town for 20 years, before disappearing in the 1780s. The dragons had been removed in 1784 when repairs were undertaken to the building’s roof and are rumoured to have been sold to pay for the Prince Regent’s debts. However experts believe that, being made of wood, they had simply rotted over time.
There have been several restorations in the past, mainly to the roofs. However, the original colours and the dragons have not previously been replaced until now.
The dragons are set to return to Kew Pagoda once again, as part of a conservation project which will see the building returned to its 18th century splendour. Heritage charity Historic Royal Palaces — which has already completed major restorations of Kew Palace (King George III’s former home) and the Royal Kitchens within Kew Gardens — is undertaking a two-year project to return the Pagoda to its former glory. Offering one of the earliest and finest bird’s eye views of London, the Pagoda is expected to reopen to the public permanently in 2017.