Dragons to return to The Great Pagoda at Kew after 200 year hunt

Dragons to return to The Great Pagoda at Kew after 200 year hunt

We are working with Historic Royal Palaces on one of the most exciting and important conservation projects within the UK, if not Europe – the restoration of The Great Pagoda in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London.

Our conservation architects are providing the technical conservation expertise on the two year project to restore the famous Kew Pagoda to its 18th century splendour.

Following extensive research by Historic Royal Palaces and physical analysis, original paint colours and lost architectural detailing will be reintroduced on the Pagoda, which was one of the jewels in the crown of Georgian London.

This unique conservation project will also include the restoration of the eighty decorative dragons missing from the Pagoda for over two hundred years.

Designed at the height of the eighteenth century craze for Chinoiserie, The Great Pagoda at Kew was famously adorned with eighty brightly coloured wooden dragons.The eye-catching dragons 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.

Probably commissioned by Princess Augusta, and designed by the eminent architect Sir William Chambers, Londoners and tourists alike flocked to see the striking 163ft (nearly 50m) tall building, which formed part of a homage to the Grand Tour in the famous gardens. It also offered one of the earliest and finest bird’s eye views of London.

Observers were most impressed by the dragons. Though memorable, the dragons were removed in 1784, when repairs were undertaken to the ten storey building’s roof. Though rumoured to have been payment for the Prince Regent’s debts, experts believe that, being made of wood, they had simply rotted over time.

Remarkably, in spite of their fame, none of the eighty dragons appear to have survived, beginning a two hundred year hunt to rediscover or replace them.

The architect who designed the Palm House – Decimus Burton – made an attempt as early as 1843, and right up to the 1970s, the mystery of the lost dragons and the question of how to replicate them was still being discussed. Finally it is anticipated that eighty new dragons will adorn the Pagoda once more.

David Millar, Director and Head of Conservation at Austin-Smith:Lord, says: “We are thrilled to be working with Historic Royal Palaces and project sponsor Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on the restoration of the Great Pagoda

“This exotic octagonal brick and timber tower structure, which closely resembles the Chinese ‘ting’ temples that Chambers probably saw on his visits to Canton, is a true masterpiece of 18th century English architecture.

“We look forward to seeing this extraordinary part of our architectural heritage standing tall and proud once again.”

Craig Hatto, Project Manager, Historic Royal Palaces, says: “It has been fascinating to piece together the story of the elusive dragons, missing from this remarkable building for over two centuries. Using tantalising contemporary accounts and drawings, and taking inspiration from surviving eighteenth century dragons in houses and museums across Europe, we’ll be pulling together a team of specialist craftsmen to ensure the new dragons are as faithful to the original design as possible.”


Please contact Joanna Harrison (07884 187404) or  Ilya Scott (07799 416476) of Real PR with any press queries

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