Archives and History of the Kew Guild

The Kew Guild Archives

The Kew Guild maintains a physical archive of historical papers, the majority of which have been deposited with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Archive who now retain ownership and ongoing management of the collection. Parts of the archive collection are also stored with individual members of the Guild.

A listing project was completed by A.J.P. Gray in Feb 1990 and a full project to catalogue the Guild’s records was undertaken by Mandy Ingram between October 2005 and May 2006.

The Kew Guild continues to deposit records in the archive and as such cataloguing is an ongoing process. The Guild archives warmly welcomes papers from Guild members of potential historical importance. If you would like to deposit your records please contact the Guild Secretary:

To consult, or access the archives please contact the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Archive. An online version of the catalogue is available here (please note the search reference for the Kew Guild archives is KGU):

History of the Guild

The Kew Guild was founded in 1893, as an offshoot of the Kew Mutual Improvement Society (itself created in 1871), with an intention of uniting past and present “Kewites” by means of the publication of an annual journal that would convey news and facilitate communication. The Director, William Thiselton-Dyer, gave his blessing and a committee was formed to carry out the scheme, consisting of W.Watson, W.J. Bean, G.H. Krumbiegel, J. Brown, A.A. Pettigrew and J. Aikman.

At this time, the fledgling organisation also adopted its motto, ‘Floreat Kew’, meaning ‘May Kew Flourish’. A badge for the Guild was first developed in the 1920s. Improvements were made to this in the 1930s but the design was not appropriate from a heraldic point of view and so, in the 1960s, the Guild approached the College of Arms and an official badge and arms were awarded.

Initially, the Guild was intended only for gardening staff but, in 1898, this rule was expanded to include those “who are or who have at any time been employed as gardeners or in any position of responsibility in the Royal Gardens, Kew”, a qualification that allowed horticultural, scientific and administrative staff to become members. Among those who became life members early on were Sir Daniel Morris, Sir Joseph Hooker and Sir William Thiselton-Dyer. In 1937, volunteer student gardeners were also admitted to the Guild under the category ‘Associate-Membership’. The worldwide membership now also includes International Trainees, Research and Liaison Scientists, Diploma and Postgraduate Students and, at the discretion of the Committee, other individuals who have had an association with Kew.

At its inception, the Guild Journal was intended to provide a vehicle for the publication of the Mutual Improvement Society’s Annual Prize Essay. The Journal provides an unbroken annual record of Kew and the Guild since 1893, and is a continuing channel of information about the Gardens as well as about the fortunes of current and former staff and students across the world. Its original, successful format has changed little over the years.

In addition to the publication of the Journal, the Guild’s other main event is the Annual Dinner, held in May, the first of which took place in 1900 at the Holborn Restaurant. Initially, the Director or invited botanists presided over the event however, on the retirement of William Thiselton-Dyer in 1906, the President of the Guild took up this role. The Annual General Meeting of the Guild takes place in September at which time appointments to the Committee are made. This is traditionally followed by a social event.

There have been a number of periods of concern for the Guild, for example during the financial depression of 1931-2 (when publication of the Journal was delayed), the First World War (when the Journal was reduced and the Annual Dinner abandoned), and the Second World War (when the Journals for 1939 and 1940 were amalgamated). The most serious constitutional crisis for the Guild occurred in 1908 when a number of members desired to use the Guild to put pressure on the government for a rise in salaries for the gardening profession in general, a move that went against the fundamental principle that the Guild should not be used for political purposes. Eventually, this proposal was abandoned but not without the resignation of a number of members and the absence of a journal for 1909.

The Journal for 1918 contains a Roll of Honour and a war memorial was erected by the Guild in the Temple of Arethusa to which names were added after WW2. It was also during the First World War that women gardeners became eligible for membership when they took the places of the men who had gone on active service.

Throughout its history, the Kew Guild has donated prizes to be awarded to student gardeners. Initially, they were presented at the annual dinner but are now given on the same occasion as the Kew Diploma and other non-Guild awards. The Guild has also been involved in helping individuals suffering hardship and, in the early 1970s, a proposal was put forward which resulted in the Award Scheme which sponsors and administers bursaries, awards and travel fellowships that are open to all members. As a result of this, fundraising functions have also become a regular undertaking of the Guild.

In 1962, the Guild applied for charitable status, a request which was granted on appeal in 1964, thus increasing the Guild’s income by ceasing its liability for income tax.

More about the history of the Kew Guild can be found in a book entitled A Century of Kew Plantsmen: A Celebration of the Kew Guild by Frank Nigel Hepper and Ray Desmond.

The main aims of the Kew Guild in the new millennium are:

  • The advancement of horticultural and botanical knowledge, particularly in connection with the work of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Wakehurst Place (RBG, Kew) and among members of the Guild.
  • The encouragement of horticultural and botanical education at RBG, Kew by the provision of prizes and grants for Students and the administration of the educational funds of the Guild.
  • The administration of the Awards Scheme and other charitable funds of the Guild for the objects of the Guild, and the assistance from such funds to members of the Guild at the discretion of the Committee.
  • The publication of a Journal in furtherance of one or more of the aims of the Guild.

Mandy Ingram, 2006 & Astrid Purton, 2017

Desmond R, Hepper N.F. A Century of Kew Plantsmen: A Celebration of the Kew Guild. Kent: Whitstable Litho Ltd; 1993

Archive discoveries: News & Features from the Archives

Kew’s World Garden: A 1940s film

A 1940s film about Kew Gardens was discovered by chance when Michele Losse, Assistant Archivist at RBG Kew and Archives Liaison officer for the Kew Guild, was perusing through a 1941 publication of the Guild’s journal. Michele then located the film at the British Council and its discovery led to its restoration. More about her discovery can be consulted here.

The film is now available to view online via the British Council here.

And here is the journal article, pp.52-55, published in 1941 which triggered the restoration of a fascinating film which may otherwise have been lost to posterity:

A film which, according to the film Director, provided a moment of solace in the midst of war.

“At Daffodil time the ‘Blitz’ was still on, and I began to quite look forward to slipping down to Kew. Within an hour the war was forgotten: things were growing at Kew: people were building instead of destroying . . . Here was sanity in a mad world”.

Film Director, 1941 Kew Guild journal, p.54

New blog post (June 2018)

See Kew’s Library, Art & Archives blog for a new blog post about the Kew Guild. Available here.

KGU blog post