03.04.2015
10:41

Museum No. 1 (Royal Botanic Gardens)

Address:

Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB

Phone:

020-8332 5655

Website:

www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/explore/attractions/museum-no-1

Opening times:

Daily from 9:30; closing time varies according to season (approx. 16:00 in winter, 18:00 in summer)

How to get there:

Tube: Kew Gardens

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Cafés and shop

Looking out across the Kew Gardens lake towards Decimus Burton’s graceful Palm House is another, more austere, Neoclassical building also designed by Burton, known as Museum No. 1. Opened in 1857, it was the second home for the Museum of Economic Botany, founded in 1841 by Sir William Hooker when he became Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens. He held that post until 1865, and the display of his core teaching collection of specimen textiles, gums, dyes and timber was intended to complement the living plants in the gardens. A protégé of Sir Joseph Banks, who sent Captain Bligh on his ill-fated expedition to transport breadfruit aboard HMS Bounty Hooker had a particular interest in the economic usefulness of plants. The museum was the first of its kind in the world, and the collections grew rapidly, with contributions encouraged from all corners of the Empire. Many, such as an intricate Hindu temple carved out of vegetable ivory, were also received from the Great Exhibition of 1851. The famous expeditions undertaken by explorers like Richard Spruce in South America and Dr Livingstone in Africa also donated a variety of exotic artefacts. Burton’s new building was purpose-built, with as many windows as possible on each elevation to illuminate the showcases with natural light. By 1987, when the museum was closed for extensive refurbishment, the collections contained over 70 thousand different plants and plant products, making them not only the oldest but also the most comprehensive of their type in the world. Curated by the Centre for Economic Botany, they now concentrate on wild and little cultivated plants, especially from Europe and the dry tropics. Museum No. 1 re-opened in 1998 and visitors can now see two rooms on the ground floor, one small part of a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens themselves.

The first room is given over to a contemporary exhibition entitled ‘Plants and People’ in themed showcases illustrating changing selections from the museum’s collections. The central cabinet contains items chosen by staff at Kew Gardens, such as the cannibal fork and dish collected from the island of Fiji and made from dark merbau, a timber native to southeast Asia and the Pacific. This is the place to discover how the potato was originally developed for domestic consumption by the Incas of Peru, to see a superior brick of Chinese tea, or a very delicate lace-like collar spun from the hair of the milkweed fruit in Jamaica.

The second, smaller, room provides an introduction to the history of Kew’s economic botany collections, briefly exploring the study of plants useful to people, explaining how the collections have grown over the past century and a half, and how they have been exhibited.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

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