Craig Moore burrowed deep into the archives to unearth how the Royal Botanic Gardens rose to carry out tasks of national importance in World War Two
For many years I had heard of Barnes Wallis’s connection with Kew Gardens. The innovator and inventor, famous for designing the Wellington bomber and the Upkeep mine (‘bouncing bomb’), reputedly had holes cut from every floor in the pagoda at Kew Gardens to evaluate new bomb designs in secrecy.
I decided to book a reading seat in the Royal Botanic Gardens’ archives to confirm whether the story was true or simply a rumour that had taken root. When I explained my goal to the staff and picked out the documents I wanted to look at, they were very helpful and intrigued. They normally deal with botanists, people researching plant hunters, the origins of certain plants, or different cultivation methods – military experiments are very much a rarer drop to them. I also asked for files on what other wartime projects may have occupied staff at Kew Gardens. What I unearthed was surprising, and the first bit of new information I discovered related to the pagoda.