Conservatories

Conservatories made their entrance around the beginning of the 19th century, probably being a natural progression of the orangery. The early conservatories were typically architectural in form and normally built of stone, such as at Syon House. The problem with conservatories in the English climate is that to successfully display plants and flowers the whole year round all-year round, as much light as possible is required, in addition to effective, and efficient heating and adequate ventilation so as to allow a degree of environmental control to be maintained. Advancements in glazing techniques, wrought- and cast-iron glass framing technology, developed in the first part of the 19th century, permitted much larger curvilinear structures to be constructed, which offered optimal light penetration, as well as moisture dispersion because of the bevelled surfaces,. This, together with improved heating apparatus and ventilation systems, allowed for a new generation of conservatories to be built.

 

Boulton & Co., Conservatory c. 1870

Initially these new conservatories were the preserve of the privileged classes, such as at one that was built at Bretton Hall, near Wakefield, as early as 1827. This was commissioned by Diana Beaumont[1], who was a keen horticulturalist. Designed and constructed by W. and D. Bailey of Holborn at a cost of £15,000, the domed conservatory[2] was 60 feet in diameter and 45 feet in height. At the time, it was the largest of its kind in the world. Following her death in August 1831[3], the estate passed to her son, Thomas Wentworth Beaumont, who in April 1832 held a three-day sale of a number of his late mother’s possessions. The conservatory was one of the items put up for sale along with wines, marble statues, a museum of minerals, and other curiosities. Also included in the sale were pine, peach and vine houses, as well as a number of rare exotic plants.

In the sale notification, the conservatory was described as follows[4]:

THE FAR-DOMED CONSERVATORY,
60ft. in diameter and 45ft.in height, known as “One of the Lions of the North,” which was erected by the late “mistress of Bretton Hall” at an expense of 15,000l. It is composed if iron and glass, and connected with it are an engine-house, and steam-boilers and apparatus, It is intended to submit the whole without the slightest restriction, either in one or more Lots. (Removal may be easily accomplished, water-carriage being very contiguous)….

The conservatory was purchased Mr. Bentley, a brewer, for £546[5]. Almost immediately, a rumour went the rounds of the local newspapers reporting that Mr. Bentley had re-sold the conservatory almost to the Duke of Devonshire for £1,000 profit[6]. It was apparently only a rumour[7].

Later, the Duke of Devonshire had one of his own, known as the ‘Great Conservatory’, built at Chatsworth, in Derbyshire, one of his country estates. It was designed by Joseph Paxton his head gardener and erected in the late 1830’s at a reputed cost of £33,000[8]. Whilst this used cast-iron pillars for structural support, it was mainly built of wood, a material that was soon to become outdated, due to the move to cast-iron. The Camellia House, at Wollaton Park[9], Nottingham is another early example of a cast-iron structure with fully glazed walls and roofs. It is a single storey polygonal plan building of 10-bays, with brick rear walls. It designed by Sir Jeffrey Wyatville in 1824 for Lord Middleton with heating by Harrison of Derby. It was apparently known at one time as a conservatory.

 

Boulton & Co., conservatory staging c. 1870

 

References:

  1. Diana, wife of Colonel Thomas Richard Beaumont, was the illegitimate daughter of Sir Thomas Wentworth. When Sir Thomas died in 1792 Diana inherited both her father’s Northumberland and Yorkshire estates.

  2. Said to have been the prototype for the Crystal Palace in London

  3. The Morning Post, 13th August 13 1831

  4. The Derby Mercury, 1st February 1832.

  5. The Hull Packet and Humber Mercury, 1st May 1832.

  6. The York Herald, and General Advertiser 2nd June 1832.

  7. The Sheffield Independent, and Yorkshire and Derbyshire Advertiser, 2nd June 1832.

  8. It was heated by eight boilers and over seven miles of 4in. iron pipes. The boilers were located beneath the conservatory and fed by a small tramway. The conservatory became derelict during the First World War was eventually demolished in the 1920s, because it proved too expensive to maintain, due to severe problems with the glazing.

  9. The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: Nottinghamshire: London: 1979: 279-280.