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Herbarium Complex, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew - Hunter House and Wings C, B and A, including the entrance gates and railings

A Grade II* Listed Building in Kew, London

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Latitude: 51.485 / 51°29'6"N

Longitude: -0.2911 / 0°17'27"W

OS Eastings: 518756

OS Northings: 177615

OS Grid: TQ187776

Mapcode National: GBR 7Z.39P

Mapcode Global: VHGQW.WXZY

Plus Code: 9C3XFPP5+2H

Entry Name: Herbarium Complex, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew - Hunter House and Wings C, B and A, including the entrance gates and railings

Listing Date: 10 January 1950

Last Amended: 4 June 2018

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1065399

English Heritage Legacy ID: 205490

Location: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond upon Thames, London, TW9

County: London

District: Richmond upon Thames

Electoral Ward/Division: Kew

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Richmond upon Thames

Traditional County: Surrey

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: Kew St Anne

Church of England Diocese: Southwark

Tagged with: Botanical museum

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The Herbarium complex at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, comprising the mid- to later C18 Hunter House, and purpose-built accommodation of 1877 by John Lessels (Wing C), of 1902-1903 (Wing B) and 1932 (Wing A) by the Office of Works, and entrance gates and railings.

The site was expanded in 1969 (WIng D) by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works and again in 1988 (Wing Q), and most recently in 2009 by Edward Cullinan Architects (Wing E). The 1969 and 1988 wings are not of special architectural or historic interest. The 2009 wing designed by Edwards Cullinan Architects is not included as in 2018 it is of too recent date to qualify for assessment.


Herbarium, comprising the later C18 Hunter House and purpose-built herbaria of 1877 by John Lessels, and of 1902-1903 and 1932 by the Office of Works, and including the entrance gates and railings.

HUNTER HOUSE, later C18, adapted for the royal household in about 1820, altered certainly in 1877 and possibly in the 1850s for the Botanic Gardens, and again in 1902-1903 and in the later C20.

MATERIALS: red-brown stock brick in Flemish bond with red brick, rubbed brick and stone dressings. Slate and tiled hipped roofs, felted and glazed flat roofs.

PLAN: the house is arranged around a central entrance hall with a stair hall at the rear, with more richly finished rooms within the full-height bowed bay centrally placed on the west elevation, formerly overlooking the gardens, and with more functional spaces to the east, formerly overlooking the service yard. It is laid out on three storeys and a basement, with the entrance front in seven bays, of which the outer bays, which are square on plan, project. It has a tall hipped roof over the front of the house, shallower hipped roofs over the rear, and a flat, partly glazed roof where it adjoins the adjacent wings. There is a single stack to the rear of the house. To each side of the entrance, rooms lead to smaller rooms or closets in the outer bays. On the first floor, the front three rooms are now a single space, retaining the separate rooms at each end. On the upper floor a single space has been subdivided, creating a series of small offices and a corridor behind. A secondary C18 stair at the east side of the building runs from first to second floors.

EXTERIOR: the south and west elevations have red brick quoins and a plain brick parapet, while the principal, south elevation additionally has a deep moulded cornice above the first floor and a plat band above the basement. The entrance, at a slightly raised ground floor level, is reached by a flight of five stone steps with a simple steel or iron balustrade. It has a pedimented Ionic doorcase with dentil ornament to the pediment. The entrance appears to have been reduced slightly to accommodate a pair of glazed doors with wide margin lights above low, near-flush, moulded panels. Windows on the south elevation are slightly recessed in openings with flush, red brick dressings, with rubbed brick flat arches and stone cills, and on the ground and first floor with rubbed brick aprons, and all with scrolled foliate keystones. Ground and first floor windows are six-over-six with slender glazing bars and without horns, and on the upper floor are two-over-six sashes. The hipped roof over the front section of the house is hidden behind the parapet.

The west elevation is essentially symmetrical, with a single bay to each side of a full-height, bowed bay of three windows, with the addition of a single bay to the south, being the return of the projecting bay on the south elevation. The architectural treatment is simplified, lacking the cornice, and windows have plain rather than foliate keystones; aprons on the bowed bay have been removed. The bow has three- over-six sashes from basement to first floor, with a central entrance with a pair of six-panelled doors at basement level, and three-over-three sashes on the upper floor. The flanking bays have six-over-six sashes to the principal floors and three-over-six to the upper floor. On the southernmost bay all except for the upper floor have blind openings in similarly dressed reveals.

The east elevation is irregular, with the southern corner bay projecting, and a single-storey entrance built against it. The stair bay is lit by six-over-six and three-over-six sashes. Other windows include a six-over-six sash and small oculus to the south of it and C19 or early C20 paired sashes built against a large external stack to the north.

INTERIOR: room reference numbers are taken from Insall's report (2017). The entrance hall is lined in full-height, C18 raised and fielded panelling with a moulded dado rail and a box cornice which have been altered where they frame the opening to the rear, stair hall. Doors are of six fielded panels in plain moulded architraves. The floor is of stone with lozenge insets in slate. The flanking front rooms have coved cornices; the doorcase in the westernmost room (G3), opening on to the principal west-facing room (G9), has a broad, plain architrave and door of six raised and fielded panels. The original bow-fronted room has been subdivided to create G9 and the adjoining corridor G8, the cornice, of moulded panels with rosettes, running across both spaces. Principal doors are wide and set in panelled architraves, one with a foliate, acanthus leaf moulding and shallow cornice. The room has deep skirtings and a marble chimneypiece with crisp stylised floral motifs.

The stair is C18 in origin, remodelled in 1877 when the added rear wing of the house was demolished, and probably also in the early to mid-C20. It is an open string, dog-leg stair, splaying toward the base, and rises to first floor level with a tall intermediate landing at the rear. It has columnar fluted newels, tapering turned balusters, two per tread, a moulded rail and strings with moulded panels which are offset from the treads above. The dado has raised and fielded panels between stylised fluted pilasters, with large moulded wall panelling above, some with Adamesque wall treatment of plaster ornament, and beneath a coved cornice. At half-landing level are dummy doorcases with flaring, moulded cornices and six-panelled doors. The entrance to the central first-floor room, flanked by pilasters within full-height fielded panelling, has been blocked and lined with panelling; rooms to each side have six-panel doors in moulded architraves. At first floor level the ceiling cornice appears to be of C18 form with later enrichment. The west-facing room (F2) has moulded architraves and a suspended ceiling and has lost its chimneypiece. The secondary, eastern stair is C18, and has plain columnar newels, tapering turned balusters on tall bases, two per tread, and a deep, moulded rail. It has richly-carved foliate tread ends, and newels have drop finials. The balustrade at the upper landing has been altered. The central section of the front range is opened up as a single space, with a continuous moulded cornice; some doorcases are deeply moulded. A C19 iron spiral staircase with barley sugar twist balusters rises from the south-western room (F4) to the room above. The front range of upper floor rooms and the corridor behind have a deep and continuous boxed and coved cornice reflecting the C19 use of the upper floor as a single space. The west-facing room (S10) has a mid-C19 marble chimneypiece.

Below the main stair, stone stairs with worn treads and a simple steel balustrade lead to the basement, where the west-facing rooms have York stone paving and a chimney breast in B1.


1877 by John Lessels, and designed to complement Hunter House. Altered early C20.

MATERIALS: clad in buff stock brick with red brick, rubbed brick and stone dressings, it has patent concrete floors which were installed in the early C20 as a fire deterrent and a steel frame roof, clad in slate.

PLAN: aligned north-south and rectangular on plan and attached to the rear of Hunter House, it is arranged on three storeys over a basement. Above ground floor level the herbarium has two galleried levels reached by spiral stairs, and has storage and work spaces in each window bay.

EXTERIOR: the east elevation is in eight bays, the west elevation in seven bays, the eighth being internal, all beneath a hipped roof which is hidden behind a plain brick parapet. Both elevations have red brick quoins to the outer corners and windows have flush red brick quoins, flat rubbed brick arches and stone cills. Windows are slightly recessed, those on the ground and first floors being six-over-six sashes, those on the first floor three-over-three.

INTERIOR: the galleried storage space is arranged on three levels around an atrium of six by two bays. Originally narrower, the galleries were extended by a bay in 1902-1903, reducing the size of the atrium. They are supported on the original C19 fluted cast iron columns with stylised foliate heads, but have simple early C20 tubular steel balustrades, all painted red. Cast iron spiral stairs at the north-west and south east corners have ornate shafts and balustrades with foliate panels, and are also painted red. Before the reordering in the early C20 the gallery balustrades were of similar design. The building has a lightweight steel truss roof. The floors are of patent concrete laid with parquet. Three-tier, built-in storage cabinets arranged perpendicular to the windows create naturally-lit work bays, which also have lower cabinets providing work surfaces, while larger low cabinets are set out in the atrium. The majority of the cabinets are of painted deal, some later additions are metal. In the lobby within the southernmost bay of the building is a built-in timber cabinet arranged on three levels, with projecting end bays. The cornice is inscribed PRESENTED BY THE HONOURABLE EAST INDIA COMPANY.

1902-1903 by the Office of Works, architecturally echoing Hunter House.

MATERIALS: faced in buff stock brick with red brick dressings, the main block has a hipped slate roof, the narrower link block has a flat roof.

PLAN: aligned east-west, and laid out on three storeys and a basement, the herbarium has three galleried levels, echoing the 1877 building, and is connected to Hunter House by the narrower link block, comprising a corridor lined with storage and additional offices, entrance to Wing Q and a lift shaft at the rear.

EXTERIOR: the south elevation of the main block is in eight bays articulated by giant order pilasters with red brick dressings, supporting a deep dentilled cornice above the first floor, while plain pilasters support a simple moulded cornice to the parapet. Windows openings have red brick reveals and rubbed brick segmental arches with stone keystones, with horned, six-over-six sashes on the ground and first floors, three-over-three on the upper, attic floor and segmental headed vents to the basement. The three-bay link block is set back, and without bay articulation. Windows are similar, with smaller six-over-six sashes on the upper floor and all have rubbed brick aprons. The fenestration pattern is repeated on the plain, north elevation of the herbarium block whereas the link block has been altered by an inter-war and later C20 extension and the addition of the Japanese-inspired lift shaft and entrance to Wing Q. (See Wing Q, below, for details).

INTERIOR: the galleried storage space is arranged on three levels around an atrium of six by two bays, supported on fluted cast iron columns with foliate capitals and with simple tubular steel balustrades, and reached by plain spiral stairs, all painted red. It has a lightweight steel truss roof. Floors are of concrete laid with parquet. As in the 1877 wing, storage is arranged in tiered cabinets between the window bays which provide naturally-lit workspaces, and in cabinets on the floor of the atrium.

1932 by the Office of Works in neo-Georgian manner.

MATERIALS: faced in hand-made buff and red-brown brick in Flemish bond, with red brick and stone or concrete dressings. It has a flat roof.

PLAN: laid out on four storeys with a basement, with the west elevation in nine bays and the south elevation in three bays, it is aligned north-south and set back from Wing B.

EXTERIOR: the symmetrical southern elevation has a central three-storey canted bay in red brick with flared sides and stone or concrete coping to the parapet which obscures a flat roof, and deep, red brick quoins on the outer angle of the range. Windows are horned sashes in exposed boxes. In the canted bay these are of eight over eight panes, with red brick arches with shaped heads. The outer bays have six-over-six horned sashes in red brick surrounds beneath flat arches except for the upper floor which has three- over-six and a central four-over-eight sash, beneath soldier courses. There is an entrance with glazed doors in the right-hand bay. The wing has a plain parapet with stone or concrete coping. The west elevation is similarly treated, with the addition of three-over-six basement windows in the northern three bays.

INTERIOR: functionally detailed, galleried storage space is arranged on four levels around an atrium lit by clerestorey windows. The galleries are supported on concrete piers, set back behind steel balustrades which are painted black, with a timber rail. Stairs to the lower level have a steel frame, timber treads and steel balustrade with a moulded timber rail which returns to form the gallery balustrade.

Entrance gates and railings to the Herbarium, Kew Green.

Refurbished steel, wrought and cast iron gates and railings with decorative panels and dogbars and with spearhead finials, set on a stone plinth. These continue without a break to enclose Hanover House (NHLE 1065400), also part of the RBG site, to the east.


The Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew was established in 1853 by William Hooker, first Director of the Gardens. The creation of a national collection, one of Hooker's priorities, helped to establish Kew as a leading botanic garden, its scientific importance reflecting the growth of the British Empire and increasing global exploration; the collection contained in the herbarium is of international historical significance.

A herbarium is a collection of preserved plant and fungal specimens used as a reference to identify plants and fungi. The collection at Kew is arranged phylogenetically, that is, by evolutionary classification, with specimens filed systematically by family, genus and species, the layout of the purpose-built wings reflecting this system.

The herbarium was in 1853 initially housed in Hunter House, a later C18 house overlooking Kew Green which had been previously part of the royal estate at Kew, and intended as the king’s residence.

In 1852 William Hooker had been given access to Hunter House, for at first a limited period, and then permanently, to house the collection which was to form the basis of the herbarium and its library. As well as his own library and herbarium, Hooker secured a number of eminent collections, including those of the doctor and botanist William A Bromfield, and George Bentham, Secretary of the Horticultural Society (Desmond, 1995, p 197-8).

The herbarium continued to expand, acquiring the highly valuable East India Company collection in 1858, and by 1860, with 1.2 million specimens, Kew surpassed all other public and private herbaria in the world (Insalls, 2017, p 4). In 1874 it was recommended that an extension should be built, and in 1876 Joseph Hooker, the second Director, announced that Hunter House would be retained as a library and writing rooms, rendered ‘sufficiently fire-proof’, and a purpose-built 'herbarium hall added at the back in the same style of architecture that suits the site and surroundings.' (Insalls, 2017, p 12)

The new-purpose built herbarium of 1877 (Wing C) was designed and drawn up by the architect John Lessels for the Office of Works and Public Buildings and comprised three galleried floors set round an atrium and reached by spiral stairs at opposing corners. Cabinets were arranged between each window bay, providing naturally-lit study areas, with examination tables and units of drawers arranged on the floor of the atrium. A later C19 photograph shows the original configuration (Desmond, 1995, p 248).

John Lessels (junior), 1833-1914, was born in Dawyck, Peeblesshire, working as a carpenter for his father before training as an architect and setting up practice in Edinburgh. He was appointed Drawing Clerk at Windsor Castle in 1853, thereafter working for the Crown and Office of Works for most of his future career with a break between 1857 and 1860. In 1876, after a period in Constantinople working on the British Embassy there, he was appointed Surveyor for the Country District of Windsor, which included not only Windsor Castle and its parks, but Hampton Court Palace, Parks and Gardens and Bushy Park, royal residences and buildings in Richmond Park, and Kew Palace, Cambridge House and other buildings associated with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

By 1901 further and improved accommodation was required, Thistleton-Dyer, Hooker’s successor, remarking to the Office of Works in 1899, ‘I cannot control the expansion of Kew Herbarium because I cannot control the expansion of the Empire. The scientific investigation of new territories follows their accretion.’ (Desmond, ibid, p 287), and a second block (Wing B) modelled internally on the first, and architecturally closely echoing Hunter House, was built in 1902-1903 to the west of the original house. At the same time Wing C was modified to make it more fire resistant, replacing timber floors in concrete, while the galleries were widened by 18 inches, with the loss of the original balustrades. A third range (Wing A) followed in 1932, in a stripped neo-Georgian manner, and again using a variant of the established internal plan for the herbarium.

In 1969 the quadrangle of buildings was completed by the addition of the riverside range (Wing D), which is laid out with open floor plans with storage stacks and a library and with offices and meeting rooms. In 1988 the central space was infilled by a low, single-storey and semi-basement range (Wing Q) with a Japanese flavour to the entrance from the main herbarium and a Japanese-inspired garden on the roof (Wing Q). Most recently, in 2009 Wing E was added, to designs by Edward Cullinan Architects, providing a drum-shaped circulation core with a reception area and library, and leading off it storage for the herbarium, workrooms and offices in the sinuous building to the north, lining Ferry Lane.

HUNTER HOUSE was probably built between 1773 and 1796 on the site of an earlier house and its gardens, shown on Rocque's map of Richmond of 1734 and a house on Burrell and Richardson's map of 1771. In 1765 Peter Theobald, a local philanthropist, acquired the house and its neighbour, demolishing it in 1773-1774 and adding the land to his garden. In 1796 the house changed hands before being acquired in 1800 by Robert Hunter, a friend of William Aiton, 'Gardener to His Majesty' at Kew. Hunter House was then bought by George IV in 1820 with the intention of extending the King's private property at Kew, before he sold it in 1823 to the Office of Woods and Forests without realising his plan, save for acquiring extra land which had been part of Kew Green that became the forecourt. A Lease Plan of June 1820 shows the house with its projecting southern bays, and a service yard to the south east, pleasure grounds extending north to a Barge Walk by the river and west to kitchen gardens, while a plan of 1821 additionally shows the bow window on the west front, and a watercolour depicts the entrance front. By 1837 the grounds had been laid out with sinuous paths and beds and a carriage sweep, lawns and beds are shown in front of the house. The C18 house was at some point extended at the rear adding a lower five-bay, hipped-roofed range which was demolished when the house was modified in 1877 to make way for the new herbarium.

Reasons for Listing

The later C18 Hunter House and Wings C (1877), B (1902-1903) and A (1932) of the Herbarium complex at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and including the entrance gates and railings, are listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* a succession of purpose-built herbarium buildings for the Botanic Gardens, Kew, specifically laid out for the systematic storage and study of the expanding collection of preserved plant and fungal specimens;

* designed in the prevalent architectural style of the period, but moderated to accord with Hunter House;

* the substantial C18 house, its fixtures and fittings and subsequent adaptation, first as part of the royal estate and later for the Herbarium.

Historic interest:

* the foundation by William Hooker in 1853 and subsequent growth of an internationally important collection that helped to establish Kew as a leading botanic garden, its expansion reflecting increasing global exploration;

* the buildings provide an early, physical manifestation of phylogenetic plant classification;

* the late C18 Hunter House reflects the C18 development of Kew Green, associated with the royal estate at Kew.

Group value:

* the Herbarium stands within Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew World Heritage Site and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Registered Park and Garden, (Grade I, National Heritage List for England 1000830) in an area of high importance overlooking Kew Green, which is framed by listed buildings and structures including the Principal Entrance Gates and Railings fronting Kew Green (listed Grade II*, NHLE 1250801), the adjacent Hanover House and attached railings (NHLE 1065400) and 59-61 Kew Green (NHLE 1056541) and opposite 49 Kew Green (NHLE 1357732), Royal Cottage (NHLE 1065398) and Herbarium House, 55 Kew Green (NHLE 1357733), each listed at Grade II.

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