I was recently in London, and took the opportunity to visit Kew. The one thing I particularly wanted to see there was the Great Pagoda. As you approach you can see the changes, where once there was a shabby building of brick and slate – now there are dragons.
When it was originally built in 1762, Sir William Chambers, who had visited China and knew exactly what a Chinese pagoda was like, decorated the roofs with carved dragons.
Unfortunately the dragons were made of carved pine, which rotted and few survived the terrible winter of 1783, those that did were removed and the pagoda was left bare for over two hundred and thirty years.
In 2018 a major renovation project led to the return of the Dragons. Carefully reconstructed from surviving drawings, the lower ones are carved wood, the upper, in a modern touch, of 3D printed plastic. So now we can glimpse something of the colourful splendour of Georgian popular architecture.
But there may be another explanation, this is the one preferred by my granddaughter.
When the Pagoda was first built, it was occupied by a small flock of Chinese Dragons, they didn’t do very well in the increasingly smoky air of London, and disappeared during the terrible winter of 1783.
Now, with the warming climate and cleaner air the dragons have returned. They sleep during the day, and at night they fly across the gardens. Then this year something strange has been seen in the gardens, giant glassy spheres in the gravel near the base of the pagoda.