The Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens

Explore the history of this 18th-century marvel in Kew Gardens.

By Historic Royal Palaces

George III's mother Augusta created a world-garden, which became the foundation of Kew Gardens. Augusta's creation included the Great Pagoda, which was the largest and most ambitious building in a 'royal circuit' of 16 structures. The structure was designed by architect Sir William Chambers.

A View of the Wilderness, with the Alhambra, Pagoda and the Mosque in the Royal Gardens, Kew, Edward Rooker, after William Marlow, 1763, From the collection of: Historic Royal Palaces
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Section of the Great Pagoda, T Miller, after Sir William Chambers, 1763, From the collection of: Historic Royal Palaces
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Chambers’ designs for the Pagoda were influenced by prints he had seen there of the famous Porcelain Pagoda at Nanjing.

Pagodas are revered in traditional Chinese culture as the repository of relics or sacred writings and as place for contemplation.

The newly restored Great Pagoda at Kew (2018) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

The Kew Pagoda was inspired by the porcelain Pagoda at Nanjing, one of the wonders of the medieval world, and is not designed as a religious monument.

The newly restored Great Pagoda at Kew (2018) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

Rather, it was intended to be a window for the British people into Chinese culture.

The Great Pagoda at Kew was originally far more colourful than it is today, and was once adorned with 80 'iridescent' wooden dragons, which were removed in 1784 when repairs were undertaken to the building's roof.

The newly restored Great Pagoda at Kew, Richard Lea-Hair, 2018, From the collection of: Historic Royal Palaces
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The newly restored Great Pagoda at Kew, Richard Lea-Hair, 2018, From the collection of: Historic Royal Palaces
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None of the 80 dragons appear to have survived. In 2018, Historic Royal Palaces restored the dragons to the Pagoda once more, as part of this major conservation project.

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