Dragons return to The Great Pagoda at Kew after 200-year absence

12 July 2018

12 July 2018

Eighty decorative dragons once again adorn the famous Kew Pagoda, as four-year restoration project by Historic Royal Palaces restores regular access for first time in decades

Reopens 13 July 2018

It was one of the jewels in the crown of Georgian London: a building so unusual that a suspicious public were unconvinced it would remain standing when it was built in 1762. Used by the Georgian Royal Family to entertain and astonish visitors with its stunning views across London, the Great Pagoda at Kew is a fascinating window into Chinese culture in the eighteenth century. Designed at the height of the craze for Chinoiserie, the Pagoda was once famously adorned with eighty brightly coloured wooden dragons, which were the talk of the town for twenty years before disappearing in the 1780s, rumoured to be payment for the Prince Regent’s gambling debts.

Now, with the completion of a major restoration project by Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, dragons once more adorn this magnificent structure. Thanks to the generous support of the Sanpower Group of Companies, the building has finally been returned to its 18th century splendor, and for the first time in decades will allow regular access to the upper floors. From 13 July - for the first time in its history - visitors to the gardens will now be able to access the Pagoda and its bird’s eye view of the gardens daily. As well as the chance to take in panoramic vistas across London, those who brave the climb will also discover the little-known role the Pagoda played in planning for the D-Day Landings, and have the opportunity to try out the automata on the ground floor for a tour of Kew’s Georgian ‘royal route’…in miniature.

Historic Royal Palaces, the charity behind the project, is the guardian of some of the splendid royal buildings in Kew Gardens. In partnership with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, HRP’s team of expert curators, surveyors and conservators have been working on the restoration of the building since 2014, undertaking painstaking research to piece together a detailed picture of the appearance of the eighty dragons, which were removed from the building 20 years after it was erected. Experts in paint conservation also conducted detailed studies to reveal the original Pagoda colour scheme – a glorious Georgian green and buff, which has now been restored to the building.

Innovative techniques have made this unique restoration possible. Working with 3D printing experts, 3D Systems, and architects Austin Smith Lord, Historic Royal Palaces have produced 72 3D printed dragons, using precision laser sintering. These new dragons will be almost completely immune from the decay HRP’s curators suspect caused the original dragons to be removed in the 1780s. The dragons on the lowest level of the building have been hand carved by master carpenters, faithfully following some of the historic techniques used to craft the original wooden beasts. This remarkable combination of use of these materials and technologies means that, for the first time, something like Chambers’ original vision for the Great Pagoda can be restored and maintained. 

John Barnes, Chief Executive, Historic Royal Palaces, said,

‘We were delighted to have been able to realise a generations-old architectural ambition by fully restoring the Great Pagoda to its original Georgian glory. An enormously talented team of historians, architects and conservators have made this unique restoration possible and now that the project has been completed and the dragons unveiled, we look forward to welcoming visitors to the gardens to this extraordinary building!’

Notes to editors:

Tickets: £4.50 adults / £3.00 children. Free for Historic Royal Palaces members. Advance booking recommended.

A valid ticket to the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew is also required.

For information and images please contact Adam Budhram in the Historic Royal Palaces press office on 020 3166 6307 or [email protected]

For further information about the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew please contact Tarryn Barrowman on 020 8332 5607 or [email protected]

Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle.  We help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built. We raise all our own funds and depend on the support of our visitors, members, donors, sponsors and volunteers. With the exception of Hillsborough Castle, these palaces are owned by The Queen on behalf of the nation, and we manage them for the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Historic Royal Palaces cares for Hillsborough Castle under a separate contract with the Northern Ireland Office. Registered charity number 1068852. For more information visit www.hrp.org.uk

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international and a top London visitor attraction. Kew’s 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Kew’s country estate, Wakehurst, attract over 1.5 million visits every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. Kew receives just under half of its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and research councils. Further funding needed to support Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales.

Sanpower Group Co., Ltd. is a China-based multi-national holding company whose primary businesses are engaged in the technology and modern services industries. With big data serving as its core competitive advantage, Sanpower is rapidly building up an industrial ecosystem across the finance, health and retail / commerce sectors. The company now has an excess of RMB 100 billion in both total assets and annual gross sales, and a controlling stake in more than 100 subsidiaries. Through this diverse set of businesses, Sanpower provides growth opportunities for a 100,000-strong global workforce, including 30,000 staff from its non-Chinese enterprises.