The Great Pagoda at Kew

Tim Knox looks at how the explosion of interest in all things Chinese in 18th-century Britain found a centrepiece in the royal gardens of George III.

The towering Pagoda in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is perhaps the most ambitious garden structure built in the Chinese style in Europe in the eighteenth century. It is a relic of the taste for exotic and often ephemeral garden buildings which prevailed among the wealthy and fashionable classes of that profuse age.

The pagoda was designed and built by the architect Sir William Chambers (1723-96) between 1761 and 1762 as the principal ornament in the pleasure grounds of the White House at Kew, residence of Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales, mother of George III. Something of the original appearance of the building is recorded by a finely-rendered and colour-washed architectural drawing by Chambers in the Royal Institute of British Architects Drawings Collection in London. It is one of a series of drawings made to serve as the basis for the engraved illustrations of Chambers' lavish folio publication entitled Plans, Elevations, Sections and Perspective Views of the Garden and Buildings at Kew. This book, published in 1763, did much to promote the fashion for Chinese-style garden buildings in England.

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