Thomas Messenger’s Conservatories

Thomas Messenger was evidently building conservatories prior to 1863, because in that year his advertisement[1] contained a wood-cut of a 4-bay by 2-bay conservatory, which is more reminiscent if not of a stone-built orangery, then of the very early conservatories built around the early few decades of the 19th century. His first recorded conservatory was built before November 1866 at Newton Mount House, Newton Solney, Derbyshire, closely followed by one of a similar design for John Mitchell.

It is often difficult to determine the exact shape of many of Thomas Messenger’s conservatories, as there are almost no detailed designs, descriptions, drawings or sketches available. Most of the information available comes from Messenger’s early contract books that simply list all the components along with their sizes or dimensions and price. For example, in 1867, he executed a conservatory for Mr. J. Hawgood, the contract book simply lists ‘quantities for Conservatory’, which comprised of 1,120 superficial feet for framed front including cornice priced at 2s. 6d per superficial foot; extra on door in front; 820 superficial feet of roofing including ridge and ventilator at 1s. 6d. per superficial foot; three pairs thrust principals in roof at 30s. each; 32 linear feet of 7-inch by 3-inch trussed beam moulded at 1s. per linear feet; 16 linear ft. of 5½-inch by 3-inch plate on cantilevers, moulded at 6d. per linear foot; 32 linear feet of square iron gutter at 2s. per linear foot; 16 linear feet angle iron gutter at 1s 9d. per linear foot; 16 linear feet of flashing at 6d. per linear foot; 54 linear feet of cresting at 1s 3d. per linear foot; six No. 6 finials at 12s. each; 1 set of ventilation apparatus at £3; ventilation apparatus to front at £1 10s.; 170 superficial feet of framed stages and bearers at 9d. per superficial foot; 48 feet of conductors at 6d. per foot.

As these structures are typically more complex than normal greenhouses, it is not always possible to obtain an accurate picture even when the dimensions are available. For example, in 1868, he gave an estimate to William Edward Everitt, of Finstall House, Alcester Road, Tutnall, Worcestershire. The dimensions included one ‘all round’ upright measuring 72ft. by 7ft.; five roof elements, two measuring 24ft. by 12ft., two 5ft. by 4ft.; three 12ft. by 6ft. each. The conservatory had at least one gable, two doors, two finials, 21ft. of cresting, 24 feet of flashing; 14ft. of lead valleys.

However, occasionally it is relatively easy to visualise the structure from the Messenger’s component descriptions such as an eight-sided one in 1867 he planned for Mr. Hoban, of No. 8, Prospect Place, Deal, Kent. The component description being 8 sides of conservatory, measuring 6ft. 6in. by 5ft. and 8 sides to roof measuring 8ft. by 3ft. with a finial.

How much of the designing work he undertook himself is uncertain for in March 1867, he gave an estimate to Mr. John Mitchell for a 22ft. wide conservatory, to the design by a William King.

Messenger did not limit himself to building new conservatories; he also undertook the renovation and alteration of existing conservatories. In 1867, he was involved in dismantling, re-fixing, painting and enlarging the conservatory, including re-glazing the roof in ground glass, fixing new ornamental pilasters for Leicester-based Archibald Turner, an elastic web manufacturer[2]. He was moving from Bow Bridge house to a new property West Leigh, about half a mile to the south. Thomas Messenger also moved his orchid houses as part of the relocation.

In 1868, Thomas Messenger altered an existing conservatory for the owners of Quenby Hall, Hungarton, Leicestershire (see page 71).

The majority of conservatories built by Thomas Messenger appear to have been constructed of wood with cast-iron support rather than purely of cast-iron. One of the earliest references for Messenger supplying a mainly cast-iron conservatory was in 1868 when he quoted for a conservatory for a Miss Ellen Dart, of Marine Villa, Upper West Terrace, Budleigh Salterton, Devon (see page 51). Later the same year he executed another conservatory “in the same style as for Miss Dart”, this time measuring 30ft. by 20ft. with glass ‘all around’, built for John Nembhard Hibbert[3], of Chalfont Park, Chalfont St. Peter, at a cost of about £330.

In 1869, George Maples Fox, an ironmonger with a shop at No. 206, High Bridge, Lincoln, ordered a heated iron conservatory on behalf of Mr. Field Uppleby, the County Court Registrar, who was living at No 14, Minster Yard, Lincoln, having moved there a few years earlier. The components included 2 pillars, 10 curved ribs, 1 ‘Z’ shaped girder, 8 ‘H’ shaped girders, 585ft. 1” ‘T’ shaped girders, 81ft. of red deal for the sills, 1,030 superficial feet of glazing, 45 feet of cresting, together with heating apparatus. The price of £165 included carriage to Lincoln and 160 man-days (fitter and labourer) preparation and fixing time.

 

No 14, Minster Yard, Lincoln

A year earlier, Thomas Messenger has given George Fox a series of five estimates relating to an iron-framed conservatory. The list of components, some of which were to be provided by The Star Foundry Co. Ltd., included seven 7ft. 3in. long cast-iron columns; two 19ft. long girders; 101 feet of 2½-inch T-shaped iron ribs; 68 feet of 1½-inch horizontal ties; 490 feet of 1-inch sash bars; 60 feet of 1½-inch L-shaped iron bars for the sills and walls; 20 feet of cresting; 66 feet of 11in. by 3in. wooden sills; 247 feet of 4in. by 3in. wooden purlins; 45 feet of 7in. by 4in. rafters with moulded ends. Interestingly most the ironwork was priced up by weight, at 11s. per hundredweight[4]. The estimate allowed for 85 man-days for making and fitting the conservatory, with a separate estimate of 2o man-days for on-site fixing. The third estimate was glazing the 666 superficial feet of 21oz. sheet glass using best-boiled oil putty. The fourth estimate was for painting inside and out with three coats and the last estimate was heating.

Thomas Messenger gave a quote of £392, to E. Hunt, Wood Lodge[5], Streatham, London, in 1870, for a heating 46ft. by 16ft., 12-bay conservatory with partition. The conservatory was to be constructed mainly of iron supplied by The Star Foundry Co. Ltd., at a cost of £6 15s. per bay, with Messenger charging the customer £8 per bay.

As conservatories were often bespoke and quite complex structures, frequently being seen as natural extensions to the dwelling-house, the owners and their agents often applied more exacting standards than to greenhouses they may have purchased. This normally resulted in not only more exotic components being used but also the cost and timescale for constructing them increased accordingly.

Another estimate, this time, for John Cartland of The Priory, Kings Heath, Birmingham, again of unknown design and dimension. The groundwork (brickwork and cementing) by William Moss, a builder, of Loughborough was priced at £32 15s. 6d. Mr. Hull, also Loughborough-based was to be responsible for the stonework, priced at £6 8d. The preparatory work was of such significance that a surveyor’s charge of £10 10s. was included. The intention was that The Star Foundry of Loughborough would provide the ironwork and Thomas Messenger all the woodwork, etc. The price for constructing the conservatory, whilst low in comparison with today’s standards, still appears high for the late 1860s. The material costs, excluding brick and stonework, amounted to £168 3s., whilst labour costs were a little over £45, around 26 per cent of the material costs. The total construction time in man-days effort was estimated at 180, charged out at three rates 3s., 5s. and 5s. 6d. per day. Eight man-days (four for a joiner and four for a labourer) were allowed for fixing the ironwork, four days for preparing and fixing the oak curbing around the grating, four days for fixing all sashes with mouldings inside with gothic heads one and a half days for hanging doors; fourteen days for fixing spandrels at foot of rafters and one hundred and thirty six days for framing and fixing the whole conservatory.

Probably, the first photographic evidence of a Thomas Messenger conservatory exists for one he built for Henry Edmund Watson[6], a solicitor, of Shirecliffe Hall, Shirecliffe Lane, Sheffield. In 1869 Henry Watson received an estimate of £280 (the component costs amounted to £263 10s.) for a hexagonal shaped conservatory containing a lantern, 19 cast iron 2¼-inch diameter columns (weighing 58cwt.[7]), pilasters, cresting and even a fountain. The lantern, also being hexagonal was about 12ft. by 6ft., and included a cornice. The conservatory which lay at the back of the house, abutted up close to an existing span roof conservatory, to which it was connected, by a very short glass corridor and door. The new conservatory was a rather complex structure, taking a fitter an estimated 90 days to prepare and fix. The estimate also allowed for plastering 25 yards of old wall, together with 165 yards of outdoor and indoor painting. The structure was to be glazed in 1,134 superficial feet of best 26oz. sheet glass, with sheet lead covering at least part of the roof. Shirecliffe Hall no longer exists, being demolished after 1938, with Messenger’s hexagonal conservatory having been removed sometime earlier.

Between 1866 and 1870 Thomas Messenger built, what he described, in his 1870 catalogue as a conservatory for Charles Brook, at Enderby Hall, on the south-western outskirts of Leicester. Charles Brooks was member of the large banking and cotton-spinning firm of Jonas Brook Brothers at Meltham, near Huddersfield. On 7th June 1865 he purchased the Enderby Hall Estate for £64,000[8] and immediately set about making alterations and additions, which were undertaken by architects Messrs J. Kirk & Sons, of Huddersfield.[9]. Charles Brook eventually moved into the Hall in June 1866. At the time of the sale, the estate comprised of over 730 acres, which included the Hall, water corn mill, a miller’s cottage, several granite stone quarries, two farms and eight cottages. The Hall with numerous outbuildings, a courtyard, pleasure grounds, a conservatory, a kitchen garden, several hot houses, several vineries, an orchard, a gardener’s house, stables, etc., was set in 65 acres of grounds[10]. The sale notice described the conservatory has being “handsome” and “communicating with a walk leading to a large, well arranged, and walled kitchen garden”. In Thomas Messenger’s 1870 catalogue, he briefly describes the conservatory he built for Charles Brook as being:

situated upon a central walk leading from the terraced front of the mansion, and is divided by the walk (which is covered over by a Gothic arch) into two portions, one being fitted for ordinary Conservatory plants, and the other as a stove for tropical plants and ferns. It forms a very effective feature in the grounds.

The accompanying plate in the catalogue shows a tall structure, about 15ft. high, with central gothic archway being about another 6ft. higher. The structure was about 25ft. long and about 8-10ft.wide. Doors to the two portions on either side were through entrances located in the archway. Both side portions had span type roofs behind a little portico with cresting along the ridge line and a finial at each end. The roof of the gothic arch was curved with finials and cresting. Finials also adorned all four corners of the archway. In November 1867, Thomas Messenger gave Charles Brook an estimate of £73 for an unnamed structure and appears not to be alterations to the original conservatory to form the one Thomas Messenger described above. The components, do however, suggest alterations to an existing structure and include 12ft. of 6in. by 3in. sills; 24ft. of 9in. by 4in. muntins; 42ft. of 11in. by 6in. cornices, 74 superficial feet of 2½in. sashes; 2 finials; 60 superficial feet of ‘good’ 21oz. glass; 30 man-days for a joiner to prepare and fix the front; six sides of roof of three different sizes; a gable entrance; three seats, two plant stages; 44 yards of staining and varnishing. This appears not to be a standard horticultural structure but one with serious pretentions.

 

References:

  1. The International Exhibition; Remembrancer and Illustrated Forget-Me-Not; George Glenny; Publ Houlston and Wright, London 1863.

  2. The firm of A. Turner and Co., was at one time the largest manufacturer of elastic web in the country.

  3. John Nembhard Hibbert (1796-1886) was the third son of Robert Hibbert and Letitia, daughter of John Frederick Nnembhard of St. Mary’s, Jamaica. He also lived at Birtles Hall, Cheshire. He was a Major in the army and formerly captain in the Kings Dragoon Guards; he was a cornet at Waterloo; a Deputy Lieutenant, JP and High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire in 1838; he married Jane Anne daughter of Sir Robert Alexander, in 1833.

  4. 112 pounds in weight, equivalent to 50.802345 kgs.

  5. The residence no longer exists being replaced by Nos 24-32, Tooting Bec Gardens.

  6. He was knighted in 1886.

  7. 2946 kilograms.

  8. The Nottinghamshire Guardian, 9th June 1865.

  9. The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser, 30th June 1866.

  10. The Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury 3rd June 1865.