The Imperialist Roots of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew (by Stephen Basdeo)

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The Imperialist Roots of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew (by Stephen Basdeo)

The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew were founded by Princess Augusta (1713-1772) in the 1760s. In 1838 a Royal Commission was set up to inquire into the future of the gardens. The Commission concluded that, after years of official neglect, ‘the gardens should either be put on a professional footing or be closed’ (Blomfield, 1992, p.23). The government took the first option and throughout the rest of the nineteenth-century Kew gardens developed and expanded its activities. The following essay will account for the development of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew after 1840 by illustrating that three factors contributed to this. These factors were moves towards rational recreation among the middle classes, imperialism, and in the twentieth-century, conservationism.

In 1840 Britain was a changing society. The emerging middle classes during this period had at their disposal more wealth and more leisure time. This increase of affluence and leisure time coincided…

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