Missing dragons are set to return to Kew Gardens' famous pagoda more than 200 years after flying the roost, when restoration work gets under way.
The decorative Eastern-inspired tower was a hit with the public when it opened at the Royal Botanic Gardens in 1762 - especially the 80 glistening dragons adorning its eaves.
They disappeared in the 1780s, when they were rumoured to have been sold to cover the Prince Regent's gambling debts, though the more prosaic, and more likely, explanation is that they were removed because the wood had rotted.
Today, the Great Pagoda is in a sad state, closed to the public and with its paintwork peeling, but that is soon to change.
A two-year refurbishment project will see the building restored to its original splendour, with the long absent dragons back on their old perches, and permanently opened for visitors to enjoy the panoramic vista.
The work will be carried out by Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), which has already restored Kew Palace and the Royal Kitchens at the site, across the river from Brentford. It is set for completion in 2017.
Tracking down the dragons has proved beyond numerous amateur sleuths at Kew Gardens over the years, meaning the mythical creatures will have to be replaced with lovingly crafted replicas.
Craig Hatto, who is leading the project for HRP, said: "It has been fascinating to piece together the story of the elusive dragons, missing from this remarkable building for over two centuries.
"Using tantalising contemporary accounts and drawings, and taking inspiration from surviving 18th century dragons in houses and museums across Europe, we'll be pulling together a team of specialist craftsmen to ensure the new dragons are as faithful to the original design as possible."
The pagoda, which stands just under 50m tall in the south-east corner of the gardens, near Lion Gate, is believed to have been commissioned by Princess Augusta and designed by Sir William Chambers.