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Temperate House restoration project

Opened in 1863, the Temperate House is the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world. Since August 2013, Kew has been undertaking a vital five-year restoration project on the Temperate House and its surrounding landscape.
Front view of the Temperate House
Work has begun on the huge five-year project to restore the Temperate House to its former glory.

You can help

Help us restore the Temperate House. Kew needs your help so we can carry out this vital and complex restoration.


Now more than 150 years old, the Temperate House is in need of a full restoration if it is to survive and continue providing a dedicated home for Kew’s worldwide collection of temperate zone plants.

The project aims to do far more than restore the building. It will also create new ways of seeing and understanding plants, help us reach out to communities, and aid in expanding Kew’s education programme.

Project updates

  • February 2015 The North Block has scaffolding inside and out, creating an all-season roof covering, and platforms for working on. The first panes of glass are now being removed, and previously out-of-reach areas of the metalwork can be surveyed closely.
  • December 2014 - Site offices and equipment are all in place, the interior levelled out and prepared, and we will soon see scaffolding going up, so the restoration work can commence.
  • October 2014 - Hoardings have gone up all around the site - painted green to minimse impact but with a striking graphics design across the boards beside the main and north lawns. Letters of the word 'RESTORATION' appear to float in front of the house, each letter filled with a fascinating the Temperate House image, and then a brief timeline of Kew and the Temperate House to either side. 
  • September 2014 -The main contractor is now setting up on site and working on its detailed day-by-day plans for the coming years.
  • August 2014 -The contractor is appointed, contracts signed, and final paperwork and surveys are being completed. The Temperate House is empty of all but the largest plants that could not be moved.
  • July 2014  - The Propagation Glasshouse is now complete and the remaining plants from the Temperate House are being moved in - so what looked like a big open space is rapidly becoming a green oasis.

The Temperate House project

A Grade 1 listed building, the Temperate House is the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world, and more than twice the size of Kew's iconic Palm House. Designed by renowned architect Decimus Burton, it's an ornate design with tiers of metal and glass. It features many fine examples of Victorian metalwork, including decorative trusses, iron-capped pilasters, and attractive spiral stairs. Urns top the masonry pillars outside, the entrances are adorned with statuary commissioned for the Temperate House, and several statues and other sculptures have been collected inside. Burton also employed the latest in Victorian technology to collect and distribute water while also providing reactive ventilation throughout the building.

Restoration - something old

It's a very special building but one that is complex to maintain, especially with the challenging environment of a cool, moist atmosphere filled with plants that climb pillars, and brush against the glass, walls and high roof. This is not at all ideal for metalwork, and the glass deteriorates over time which allows less light in.

The old iron (and later, steel) work has, on many occassions, been painted over and over to protect it. This repainting has offered enough protection to keep the structure relatively intact, at least temporarily, but not enough to address any real deterioration of metalwork and masonry beneath the layers. In some cases, details of carvings on the urns have been almost smoothed out. The roof-lights (opening windows) no longer operate as they should and some don't open at all. Many of the box vents at ground level have been covered over or closed.

This major restoration aims to:

  • get beneath the layers to repair and restore the whole framework
  • replace the thousands of panes of glass
  • reinstate a fully-working ventilation system
  • replace the heating
  • restore the urns and statuary that are part of the building

Restoration - something new

  • The central space will be opened out to create an inviting place to look up and out at the planting and provide an area for displays and events.
  • A new biomass boiler and radiators will make for a much more efficient and sustainable heating system, reducing CO2 emissions by 25 per cent.
  • The original pathways were simply clinker, replaced by utility paving in the 1970s. In this restoration the paths will be re-paved with more attractive, stronger paving and grid panels, enabling easier maintenance of plants and the heating systems running below.
  • Much needed new facilities will be added – toilets, disabled access, a small kitchen, and improved office and working areas for the horticulture team. 

Exhibitions, community and education

The Temperate House Project aims to do more than restore a Grade 1 listed building. It includes plans to expand Kew’s involvement with communities and schools by providing:

  • new spaces for engaging with schools and education
  • new spaces for community and participation projects
  • a venue for special events

The Temperate House octagons will provide changing exhibitions focussing on science, as well as how and why plants matter.

Apprenticeships are an important part of the project, with ten horticultural, and six construction-based apprenticeships. Two of each will be recruited per year during the project, offering varied experiences of glasshouses, plant propagation and conservation, and general and nursery horticulture. For the construction apprenticeships there will be experience of a wide range of specialist metal and glasswork restoration techniques.

With thanks

Defta and Heritage Lottery logos

Kew would like to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund, Defra, Eddie and Sue Davies, The Garfield Weston Foundation, The Wolfson Foundation, The Linbury Trust, The Hartnett Conservation Trust, and other supporters of this vital restoration project.

Thanks also to donors supporting the Horticultural and Construction Apprenticeships, including the J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, the Buffini Chao Foundation, Make My Day Better, The Ingram Trust, the Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation, the Finnis Scott Foundation, the Ernest Cook Trust, CHK Charities Limited, the Sandra Charitable Trust, the Vandervell Foundation, the Radcliffe Trust and the Lake House Charitable Foundation.