The Environs of London: Volume 1, County of Surrey. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1792.

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'Kew', in The Environs of London: Volume 1, County of Surrey, (London, 1792) pp. 202-211. British History Online [accessed 20 April 2024]



The most ancient record in which I have seen this place mentioned, is a court roll of the manor of Richmond, in the reign of Henry VII. It is there written Kayhough; in subsequent records its name is varied to Kayhowe, Kayhoo, Keyhowe, Keye, Kayo, and Kewe. Its situation, near the water-side, might induce one to seek for its etymology from the word key, or quay.

Boundaries and situation.

Kew, which was heretofore a hamlet to Kingston, and which is still included within the manor of Richmond, first became a parish by an act of parliament passed in 1769. It is of very small extent, and is bounded by the river Thames on the north; by the parish of Mortlake on the east; and by Richmond on the south and west. It lies in the hundred of Kingston, about six miles from Hyde-parkcorner. The soil is sandy, and the small quantity of land, that is not included in the royal gardens (fn. 1), is for the most part arable. The parish is charged 126l. 13s. to the land-tax, which in the year 1791, was at the rate of 9d. in the pound.

Ancient proprietors of lands and houses.

Amongst the early proprietors of lands and houses here, I find Charles Somerset, the first Earl of Worcester of that family (fn. 2).

Sir Henry Gate (fn. 3), temp. Edw. VI. held a capital mansion, called "The Dairie-house," which afterwards became the property of Robert Dudley, the famous Earl of Leicester (fn. 4).

Edward Earl of Devon had a capital messuage here in the reign of Queen Mary (fn. 5).

In a court-roll, 6 Eliz. mention is made of a capital mansionhouse, called Suffolk Place, then pulled down and destroyed.

Sir John Puckering.

Sir John Puckering, lord keeper of the great seal, was an inhabitant of this place. In the Harleian Collection of MSS. in the British Museum (fn. 6), is the following paper, which appears to have been written by his steward:

"Remembrances for furnyture at Kew, and for her majestie's entertainment, 14 Aug. 1594.

"A memorial of things to be considered of, if her majestie should come to my lord's house.

"1. The maner of receyvynge bothe without the house and within, as well by my lord as my ladye.

"2. What present shall be given by my lord, when and by whome it shall be presented, and whether any more than one.

"3. The like for my ladye.

"4. What presents my lord shall bestowe of the ladyes of the privye chamber or bedchamber, the groomes of the privye chamber, and gentlemen ushers and other officers, clerks of the kitchen or otherwise.

"5. What rewards shall be given to the footemen, gardes, and other officers.

"6. The purveyed diet for the queen, wherein are to be used her own cooks, and other officers for that purpose.

"7. The diet for the lords and ladies, and some fit place for that purpose specially appoynted.

"8. The allowance for diet for the footemen and gardes.

"9. The appoyntment of my lords officers, to attend on their several offices, with sufficient assistants unto them for that time.

"10. The orderinge of all my lords servants for their waiting, both gentlemen and yeomen, and how they shall be sorted to their several offices and places.

"11. The proporcyon of the diett sitted to eche place of service; plate, linen, and silver vessels.

"12. To furnish how there will be uppon a soddeyne provision of all things for that diett made and of the best kinds, and what several persons shall undertake it.

"13. As it must be for metes, so in like sorte for bredd, ale, and wynes of all sortes.

"14. The lyke for bankettynge stuffe.

"15. The swetynynge of the howse in all places by any means.

"16. Grete care to be had, and conference with the gentlemen ushers, how her majestie would be lodged for her best ease and likinge, far from heate or noyse of any office near her lodgyng, and how her bedchamber maye be kept free from anye noyse near it.

"17. My lords attendance at her departure from his howse and his companye.

"Ladies diet for bedchamber.

"Ladies some lodged besydes ordinarie.

"Lord chamberlayne, in the howse.

"Lord of Essex nere, and all his plate from me, and dyett for his servants at his lodgyngs."

If this visit took place, her majesty was probably well pleased with her entertainment; for it appears by the following passage in a letter from Rowland White to Sir Robert Sydney (fn. 7), that she honoured him with one in the ensuing year:—"On Thursday her majestie "dined at Kew, my lord keaper's howse, (who lately obtained of "her majestie his sute for 100l. a yeare land, in fee-farm). Her intertainment for that meale was great and exceeding costly; at her first lighting, she had a fine fanne, with a handle garnisht with diamonds. When she was in the middle way, between the garden-gate and the howse, there came running towards her, one with a nosegay in his hand, delivered yt unto her with a short well pened speach; it had in yt a very rich jewell, with many pendants of unfirld diamonds, valewed at 400l. at least; after dinner, in her privy chamber, he gave her a faire paire of virginals. In her bed-chamber he presented her with a fine gown and juppin, which things were pleasing to her highnes; and to grace his lordship the more, she, of herself, tooke from him a salt, a spoone, and a forke of faire agate."

Sir Peter Lely.

Sir Peter Lely, the celebrated painter, purchased a house at Kew, to which, during the latter part of his life, he frequently retired (fn. 8) : after his death, it escheated to the crown, but through the good offices of Lord Keeper North, was restored to his family (fn. 9), some of whom were remaining there about fifty years ago. The house, which is now pulled down, stood upon the site of Mrs. Theobalds's beautiful gardens, on the north side of the green.

Stephen Duck.

Stephen Duck, whose native genius broke through the obstacles of his humble origin, and recommended him to royal patronage, was settled in a house at Kew, by Queen Caroline. It is well known that he afterwards entered into holy orders. The curiosity of the public had been so much excited by his story, that for some time whenever he preached, prodigious crowds flocked to hear him; and the newspapers of the day abound with accounts of the petty disasters which happened on these occasions.


In describing the present state of this place, the first object that demands attention is Kew-house, the occasional residence of his present majesty. About the middle of the last century, this house belonged to Richard Bennet, Esquire (fn. 10), whose daughter and heir married Sir Henry afterwards Lord Capel, of Tewkesbury, who died Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1696. His widow resided for many years at Kew, and dying in the year 1721, was buried in the chapel there.

Samuel Molineux.

The house was afterwards the property and residence of Samuel Molineux, Esquire, who married her daughter. Mr. Molineux was Secretary to George II. when Prince of Wales, and is well known as a man of literature, and an ingenious astronomer. Dr. Bradley's discoveries, relating to the parallax of the fixed stars, are said to have been made with an instrument of his contrivance (fn. 11). The late Prince of Wales admiring the situation, took a long lease of Kewhouse, from the Capel family; and it is now held by his present majesty on the same tenure. The house, which is small, and calculated merely for an occasional retirement, was improved and ornamented by Kent, for the Princess Dowager. It contains some good pictures, amongst which are a portrait of the Lord Treasurer Burleigh, and the celebrated picture of the Florence gallery by Zoffanii. In the long room above stairs, is a set of Canaletti's works, consisting of views in Venice, and two general views of London, the one from the Temple, the other from Somerset-gardens.

Kew gardens.

The pleasure grounds, which contain about 120 acres, were begun by the late Prince of Wales, and finished by the Princess Dowager, who took great delight in superintending the improvements. Lord Melcombe, in his Diary, mentions working in the walk at Kew (fn. 12). Notwithstanding the disadvantages of a flat surface, the grounds are laid out with much taste, and exhibit a considerable variety of scenery. They are ornamented with divers picturesque objects and temples, designed by Sir William Chambers, among which is one called the Pagoda, in imitation of a Chinese building. It is forty-nine feet in diameter at the base, and 163 feet in height (fn. 13), which renders it a very conspicuous object in the neighbourhood.

The green-house is of very large dimensions, being 142 feet long, 25 feet high, and 30 feet broad.

Exotic garden.

The exotic garden was established in the year 1760, by the Princess Dowager. The present royal family being much attached to the study of botany, his majesty has bestowed great attention upon this garden, which now exhibits the finest collection of plants perhaps in Europe, which is daily increasing by the communications of the President of the Royal Society, and such other zealous promoters of the science, as have frequent opportunities of procuring new seeds and plants from distant parts of the world. As a proof of the rapid increase of this collection, it was found necessary, about two years ago, to build a new house, 110 feet in length, for the reception of African plants only.

A catalogue of the plants in the exotic garden at Kew was published in 1768, by Dr. Hill, under the name of Hortus Kewensis; a much larger and more scientific work, under the same title, was published by the present ingenious gardener, Mr. William Aiton, in the year 1789, in three volumes 8vo.

Sir William Chambers in the year 1763, published a description of the house and gardens at Kew, in folio, with upwards of forty plates, engraved by Rooker, from drawings of Kirby, Marlow, Sandby, &c. Kew gardens have been the subject also of two poems, one by George Ritso in 1763, and the other by Henry Jones, author of the tragedy of the Earl of Essex, in 1767 (fn. 14).

The old house, opposite to the palace, was formerly the property of Sir Hugh Portman, who is mentioned in a letter of Rowland White, as the rich gentleman that was knighted by her majesty at Kew (fn. 15). Sir John Portman sold it in 1636 to Samuel Fortrey, Esquire; it was alienated by William Fortrey in 1697 to Sir Richard Levett, of whose descendants it was bought in trust for her majesty, in the year 1781: the late queen took a long lease of it, which was not then expired. During this lease, it was inhabited by different branches of the royal family. The Prince of Wales was educated there, under the superintendance of Dr. Markham, now archbishop of York. The house appears to have been built about the reign of James, or Charles I.

Kew chapel.

Kew chapel was built in the year 1714: it is situated towards the east end of the green, and is a small brick structure, consisting of a nave and a north aisle; the south side being appropriated for a school-room: at the west end is a turret.

Monument of Jeremiah Meyer.

Against the south wall is a tablet to the memory of Jeremiah Meyer, R. A. late painter in miniature and enamel to his majesty, with the following verses by Mr. Hayley:
"Meyer! in thy works the world will ever see
How great the loss of art in losing thee;
But love and sorrow, find their words too weak
Nature's keen sufferings on thy death to speak:
Through all her duties, what a heart was thine!
In this cold dust, what spirit used to shine!
Fancy, and truth, and gaiety, and zeal,
What most we love in life, and losing feel.
Age after age may not one artist yield
Equal to thee in painting's nicer field.
And ne'er shall sorrowing earth to Heaven commend
A fonder parent, or a truer friend."

Over the tablet is his bust in white marble.

Mr. Meyer was born at Tubingen, in the dutchy of Wurtemburgh. He came over to England, at fourteen years of age, and studied under Zincke (fn. 16). His own merit, and the royal patronage, contributed to raise him to the head of his profession, as a painter in miniature.

On the north wall of the church, are the monuments of Brigadier William Douglas, who died in 1747, in South Beveland (in Holland); and Mary, widow of Colonel Russel, who died in 1764.

Against the east wall, is the monument of Dorothy Lady Capel, widow of Henry Lord Capel of Tewkesbury, who died in 1721.

Against the south wall, is the monument of Elizabeth Countess of Derby, who died in 1717; and lies buried in Westminster Abbey.

Tomb of Gainsborough, the painter.

In the church-yard near the school-house door, is the tomb of Thomas Gainsborough, Esquire, the celebrated artist, who died August 2, 1788, aged 61. He has no other monument than a gravestone, which only mentions the date of his death. His memory will live however in his works, and in the deserved and liberal encomiums bestowed on him in the lectures of the late worthy and much lamented President of the Royal Academy. Mr. Gainsborough never resided at Kew, except on occasional visits to his sister.

Tomb of Joshua Kirby.

Near the same spot is the grave of Mr. Meyer, whose monument has been just described; and that of Mr. Joshua Kirby, clerk of the board of works, an ingenious architect, who published a well known book on perspective. He died June 20, 1774.

Other tombs.

In the church-yard, are the tombs also of Sir Charles Eyre, Knight, Governor of Fort William, in Bengal, who died in 1729; Thomas Gardiner, Esquire, who died in 1738; Col. Armand de la Bastide, who died in 1744; Thomas Howlet, Esquire, who died in 1759; and others of his family; Peter Forbes, Esquire, who died in 1762; Thomas Robinson, Esquire, page to three Princes of Wales, who died in 1775; Edward Thomas, Esquire, who died in 1777; Frances, wife of John Larpent, Esquire, who died in 1777; Jane, wife of Captain Lawson of the Artillery, who died in 1780; Elizabeth, widow of Edward Bearcrost, Esquire, who died in 1780; John Haverfield, Esquire, well known for his taste and skill as an ornamental gardener, who died in 1781; Philip Delafield, Esquire, who died in 1787; and the Rev. Daniel Bellamy, late minister of Kew, who died in 1788. He was author of some Ethic Poems, and a Paraphrase on the Book of Job.

The church (fn. 17) of Kew is in the diocese of Winchester, and the deanery of Ewell. In the year 1769 it was separated by act of parliament from Kingston, to which it had been a chapel of ease, and being united to Petersham, another chapel belonging to the same church, they were both made one vicarage. In the king's books, St. Anne's chapel on Kew Green is said to be 5l. per annum certified value.

The present vicar is the Reverend William Foster, who succeeded Mr. Bellamy.

Parish register.

The parish register is of the same date as the chapel, which was consecrated the 12th of May 1714.

Comparative state of population.

Average of Baptisms. Average of Burials.
1714—1724 7 9
1780—1789 10 14

The present number of houses is about eighty.


Lady Capel left a benefaction of 11l. per annum to this parish, for the purpose of establishing a charity-school.

Elizabeth Countess of Derby left 1000l. to the poor of Brentford and Kew, the moiety belonging to this parish produces 24l. per annum.


An act of parliament was obtained 30 Geo. II. for building a wooden bridge across the Thames at Kew; it was finished in the year 1759. The present bridge, which is of freestone, was opened in Sept. 1789. It is the private property of Robert Tunstal, Esquire; being built at his expence, as the former was at the expence of his father.


  • 1. A considerable part of Richmond gardens is in this parish, as well as those of Kew.
  • 2. Court Rolls of the manor of Richmond, temp. Hen. VII.
  • 3. Terrier of Lands in Surrey, Brit. Mus. 4705. Ayscough's Cat.
  • 4. Pat. 1 Eliz. pt. 4. May 29.
  • 5. Terrier of Lands in Surrey.
  • 6. No 6850. f. 90.
  • 7. Dec. 13, 1595. Sydney State Papers, vol. i. p. 376.
  • 8. Biographia Britannica.
  • 9. North's Life of the Lord Keeper, p. 312.
  • 10. Court Rolls of the Manor of Richmond.
  • 11. Biographia Britannica.
  • 12. P. 66.
  • 13. Sir William Chambers's Description of Kew Gardens.
  • 14. See Gough's Topography, vol. ii. p. 273.
  • 15. Letter to Sir Robert Sydney, Dec. 22, 1595. Sydney State Papers, vol. i. p. 384.
  • 16. From the information of Mrs. Meyer, his widow.
  • 17. It is still usually called Kew Chapel, notwithstanding it has been separated from the mother church.