The meeting of Two Pagodas in London's Kew Gardens

Updated: 2016-09-26 17:49

By Li Wensha in London(China Daily UK)

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The meeting of Two Pagodas in London's Kew Gardens

Frank Slevin, Executive Chairman of House of Fraser (front left) signs a sponsorship contract with Rupert Gavin, Chairman of Historic Royal Palaces (front right) on Friday in front of the Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens in London, witnessed by Madame Hu Pinghua (center back), wife of H.E. Ambassador Liu Xiaoming, Yue Lei (center left), Senior Vice President at the Sanpower Group and Michael Day (center right), Chief Executive of Historic Royal Palaces [Provided to China Daily by HRP]

The Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens in London will return to its 18th Century splendour and reopen to the public in 2018 after a major restoration based on its historic ties with China.

The Historic Royal Palaces organization, which is responsible for the care and restoration of the pagoda, in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, is poised to start a major conservation project.

This will see the pagoda return to its original appearance, complete with green and white roofs, a gilded finial and 80 wooden dragons. The project is sponsored by the department store House of Fraser, part of the Sanpower Group of Companies based in Nanjing, China's Jiangsu province.

It draws on the historic links between the Kew pagoda and Nanjing's Porcelain Pagoda, which is believed to have inspired the English architect Sir William Chambers when he designed the Great Pagoda in the 18th century.

"For more than two centuries, the Pagoda has stood as a symbol of enlightened interest and fascination between different cultures - and between Chinese and British culture in particular," Rupert Gavin, Chairman of Historic Royal Palaces, said at the signing ceremony on Friday. "As Nanjing in London Week offers a new window into a thriving part of modern China, we have the opportunity to celebrate the start of the next phase of in the history of the Pagoda – its restoration. "

Buddhist Master Da Chu, a Buddhist Abbot of the Jianchu Temple - later called Bao'en Temple - in Nanjing, presided over a traditional blessing ceremony, followed by a formal signing of the partnership contract.

Pagodas are revered in traditional Chinese culture as the repository of relics or sacred writings and as place for contemplation. The Kew pagoda was not designed as a religious monument, but was intended to act as a window on Chinese culture for British people.

Sir William Chambers visited China twice and his Great Pagoda designs for the royal family were influenced by prints he had seen there of the famous Porcelain Pagoda at Nanjing. When it was completed in 1762, the 163ft tall building was so exotic that a suspicious public was unconvinced it would remain standing.

The Great Pagoda at Kew was originally far more colourful than it is today, and was once adorned with 80 iridescent wooden dragons which were removed in 1784 when repairs were made to the roof.

The Porcelain Pagoda of Nanjing, one of the wonders of the medieval world in the former Bao'en Temple, or Temple of Repaid Gratitude in Chinese, was built in the 15th century on the South Bank of the Yangtze River.

In the West, it was one of the most well-known Chinese cultural heritages, thanks to an introduction by Johan Nieuhof, a renowned Dutch traveller in the 17th century, in his illustrative and informative China memoirs.

The Porcelain Pagoda was mostly destroyed in wars in 1856, but fortunately, the underground palace beneath the temple escaped all the misfortunes and remains intact. An archaeological discovery in 2008 found Buddhist relics in the underground palace and a glass and steel tower based on the original site was built and open to public in 2015.

Frank Slevin, Executive Chairman of House of Fraser & Group SVP of Sanpower said "it is fitting with our ultimate parent company, Sanpower, based in Nanjing, for us to be supporting a building that was modelled on the Porcelain Pagoda at Nanjing and which has stood for over 250 years as a symbol of Anglo-Chinese exchange and co-operation.'

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