Ruined Arch

Built by Sir William Chambers in 1759, the Ruined Arch is a charming folly designed to represent a mock ruin.

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Ruined Arch

Ruined Arch

Did you know?

  • Some of the sheep that crossed the Ruined Arch to reach Kew were secretly smuggled to Britain from Spain via Portugal for George III. They were acquired by a trader, approached by Sir Joseph Banks, as part of the King’s efforts to improve the quality of British sheep by cross-breeding with Spanish merinos.
  • Once the flock had multiplied, some of the sheep were auctioned and ended up making the long sea voyage to New South Wales, where they helped launch Australia’s merino wool industry.

History and use

Suitably decrepit and supposedly ancient buildings were vital ingredients of 18th-century garden architecture that sought the aesthetic ideal of the picturesque. If landowners weren’t fortunate enough to have a romantic wreck in their midst, prefabricated gothic or classical towers or temples were made to order.

Unusually, Sir William Chambers’ arch wasn’t just a mock ruin. It also served as a functional bridge over a path, enabling sheep and cattle to be brought from the Kew Road to the enclosed pastures within the Gardens. He conceived “a Roman ruin of antiquity, built of brick, with incrustation of stones”.

His “triumphal arch” had three openings, two of which he subsequently converted into rooms (they are now once again open arches). Ivy and vegetation, and a smattering of stone fragments “seemingly fallen from the buildings”, gave the added appearance of deterioration.

Restoration and conservation

Unlike Kew’s other buildings, the Ruined Arch was intended to appear dishevelled; over the years it has become more ruinous than when built.

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