Catalogue description Papers of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, During the Second World War

This record is held by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Library and Archives

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Details of RM 14
Reference: RM 14
Title: Papers of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, During the Second World War

This collection comprises two groups of records which illustrate the impact of the Second World War on Kew, in particular the measures undertaken as a response to the threat posed by air raids. This first group (WWK/1) deals with the evacuation of specimens and books from the Herbarium and Library to off-site storage. The other (WWK/2) deals with the mobilisation of the volunteer force, the Home Guard, and other fire prevention activities, including a detailed documentation of air raid attacks on the Gardens.

NOTE: Please use the document references found in the 'Former reference (Department)' field when wishing to consult these documents at the Archives of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Date: 1938-1946
Related material:

There are some old Registry files held in the Gardens Archives relating to research activities at Kew during the Second World War. See also the papers of Ronald Melville & papers from the Jodrell Laboratory on nettle research (QX95-0016). More information can also be found in the Library in several bibliographical pamphlets and publications.

Held by: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Library and Archives, not available at The National Archives
Former reference in its original department: WWK
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Arthur Disbrowe Cotton, 1879-1962

Sir Geoffrey Evans, 1883-1963

Sir Arthur William Hill, Knight, 1875-1941

Charles Edward Hubbard, 1900-1980

Henry Samuel Amos Marshall, 1892-1974

Ernest Nelmes, 1895-1959

Theodore George Bentley Osborne, Professor, 1887-1973

Sir Edward James Salisbury, Professor, 1886-1978

Herbert Kenneth Airy Shaw, 1902-1985

Thomas Archibald Sprague, 1877-1958

William Bertram Turrill, 1890-1961

Physical description: 27 artefacts and files
Access conditions: Open
Immediate source of acquisition:

Donated to the Archives at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew by former members of staff

Administrative / biographical background:

For a few weeks at the outbreak of the War the Gardens were closed to the public in order to make preparations for possible air raids, the reorganisation of the reduced staff and the arrangement of safeguarding valuable collections. However, the Gardens did not suffer much irreplaceable damage. 30 high explosive bombs fell in the garden area breaking much glass in particular in the Temperate House, The Palm House, North Gallery and Museum no 1. The only direct hit was on the Stableman's house although there were no serious injuries. During a night raid of 24-25 September 1940, 121 panes of glass were broken in the Herbarium and Library. In 1941, a bomb fell near the Pagoda but caused no damage. Volunteer fire fighters and staff were on duty every night from 1 September 1939 until 24 March 1945. Throughout this time the Herbarium and Library remained opened to visitors.

In November and December 1940, one third of the Herbarium collection and valuable books were moved to Oxford and stored in the basement of the New Bodleian building, with more items sent at various times up to July and August 1944. All specimens and books were returned to Kew in October and November 1945. Professor Theodore George Bentley Osborne (1887-1973), Sherardian Professor of Botany at Oxford, placed rooms at Yardly Lodge, 9 Crick Road, Oxford, at the disposal of Kew staff. Dr Turrill was sent to Oxford to oversee Kew material preserved there. One third of the Herbarium was moved to Colesbourne and Cliffordine in Gloucestershire in January 1941; other books were taken to Lypiatt Park, also in Gloucestershire. Cabinets of specimens were moved from Colesbourne to Daglingworth Rectory in October 1941. Accommodation was arranged with Sir Nigel Norman and his Honour Judge Woodstock. The collections stored in Gloucestershire were returned to Kew in September 1945. The Wallich Herbarium and other special collections were stored in the Tring Museum by permission of the authorities of the British Museum and returned in 1946.

Attendance in the Gardens grew over the War years and surpassed previous peace time numbers. Large lawns were dug up and used as vegetable plots, (particularly for potatoes) and provided to residents as allotments. A 'model' allotment was run on lines recommended by the Ministry of Agriculture and advice was given to the public on growing vegetables. Air raid shelters were built in the Gardens for visitors and staff. Due to shortage of male staff, the Gardens employed a large number of women gardeners.

Research at Kew was increasingly involved with the war effort. Staff concentrated on finding local alternatives for no longer importable goods, such as medicinal plants and vitamin rich foods. From 1940 the cultivation of pharmaceutical plants not of interest to commercial growers, but necessary for the war, became a new feature in the Gardens. Botanists were also involved in the research of rubber yielding plants and the use of nettle fabric for reinforcing plastic in aircraft construction.

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