RHS Gardens

RHS Gardens

View across the flower beds in the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens

View across the flower beds in the RHS Gardens, c.1871
Photographer: York and Son
Copyright: Reproduced by permission of English Heritage. NMR

From 1861 until c.1886 there were 20 acres of elaborate Italian gardens to be enjoyed in South Kensington. They were semi-private gardens, open only to Fellows of the Royal Horticultural Society and certain paying visitors.

The Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 (becoming Royal in December 1860). In its early days it had small gardens in Kensington and Chiswick. After some financial struggles it applied in 1855 to the 1851 Exhibition Commissioners for a larger, more central, Kensington site.

Prince Albert, President of the RHS

At first their application was declined, but in 1858 Prince Albert became President of the Society. Albert was very interested in the idea of a central show-garden which would unite the institutional buildings around it and a new submission was made. The prince was also keen on potential architectural and sculptural aspects to the garden design. With this new royal direction the society succeeded in acquiring 20 acres of the Kensington Gore estate on a 31-year lease.

From the 1880s the gardens were slowly built upon but their general location can be gleaned from the curved roads leading off Prince Consort Road to either side of the Royal Albert Hall. The gardens descended from there in terraces to the south, to roughly where the Science Museum now stands.