Stages are simply structures erected in greenhouses and other horticultural structures in order to place plants, normally in pots, at a convenient height for growing and/or exhibiting. At the time the simplest stages were built of wood, although where more substantial structures were required, a combination of iron framing and slate shelving were used. The normal arrangement was for broad flat table-like stages erected along one or both sides of the house with a walkway down the middle. Where plants were to be exhibited then a stepped structure was often employed.

Although Thomas Messenger did not provide stages with all his horticultural structures, when required he provided both flat and stepped stages, in wood and iron with or without slates. Stages were quoted for or provided in almost exactly 25 per cent of all orders and estimates[1].Where stages were included in an order or estimate they were usually (over 90 per cent) part of a larger order or estimate that included one or more horticultural structures. Typically, like the structures themselves, stages were to an extent bespoke ensuring that they fitted the relevant structure. Slate stages accounted for a little under 25 per cent of orders and estimates for stages.

The earliest recorded order for staging was in late September, 1866, from Revd. John Fuller of Thurcaston Rectory, Thurcaston, Leicestershire, who ordered a 21ft. long heated lean-to structure with a gabled entrance, together with 4 plant stages, one measuring 17ft. 6in. by 6ft.; one 3ft. by 2ft. 3in.and two 8ft. 6in. by 3ft. He was charged 1s. 5d. per superficial foot for the structure and 7d. per superficial foot for the staging. The next order was two weeks later, from Mr. William Haigh of Coventry House, Streatham, London. The order consisted of a heated 32ft. by 14ft. ¾-span partitioned structure, together with five stages (two measuring 19ft. by 5ft; two 11ft. by 5ft; one 4ft. by 5ft.), again charged at 7d. per superficial foot

The earliest known example of Thomas Messenger providing slate stages was in December 1866, when Samuel William Clowes of Woodhouse Eaves, Leicestershire ordered a heated 35ft. by 16ft. partitioned span roof structure. The accompanying staging consisted of 220 superficial feet of ordinary slatted staging, four slate stages, comprising of one measuring 1oft.6in. by 3ft. 6in, two measuring 6ft. by 3ft. 6in. and one 8ft. 6in. by 3ft. 6in. The structure was charged at 1s 3d. per superficial foot, the slatted staging at 7d. and the slate staging at 1s.

Due to the method of construction, stages could be provided in almost any length. In March, 1867, he provided two 100ft. by 15ft. structures for Mr. W. Barnett of Decker Hill, Shifnal, Shropshire, together with two 93ft. by 4ft., two 50ft. by 2ft. 6in. and two 100ft. by 2ft. 6in. flat stages.

The earliest known estimate for a stepped stage was in late August 1867, when Mr. William Wood of Hoo Ash Farm, Ravenstone, Leicestershire requested a heated 20ft. by 10ft. lean-to with two sets of stages. The first set consisted of 2 standard table stages, measuring 19ft. by 3ft., the other 3ft. by 3ft.; the second of a single stepped stage measuring 18ft. by 4ft. Presumably the stepped stage was intended for the back wall of the lean-to, the long plant stage for the front and the small square plant stage for one end of the structure. The table stage was charged at the normal rate of 7d. per superficial foot whilst the stepped stage was charged at 1s, the same as for slate staging. Apparently William Wood was not entirely happy with the estimate because a week later Thomas Messenger quoted for a heated (using a second hand boiler) 16ft. by 10ft. lean-to. Again the estimate included both the table and stepped stages reduced to match the smaller size of the lean-to. Whilst Thomas Messenger continued to charge the plant stages at 7d. per superficial foot he reduced the cost of the stepped stage from 1s. down to 9d. The original estimate for the 20ft. long lean-to including heating, staging, etc., was £42 1os; the revised estimate for the 16ft. long lean-to was £28 10s. At the same time, Thomas Messenger also gave Mr. Wood an estimate of £25 for a 12ft. 6in. long structure.

In early 1868, Thomas Cross, a wealthy industrialist and banker from Bolton, who had Ruddington Hall, Ruddington, Nottinghamshire, built in 1860, asked for three estimates, one of which was for a set of seven slate stages. All were to be ¾ self-faced in slate, one measuring 36ft. 6in. by 5ft, two measuring 46ft. 4in. by 3ft. with the other four being 3ft. square. The basic price for these was quoted at 9½d. per superficial foot In addition, the estimate included 100 feet of 3½in. by 3in. wooden legs at 2½d. per linear foot and 330 feet of 3in. by 2in. bearers at 1½d. per linear foot. The estimate also included eight man-days of a joiner’s time, at 5s. per day, to prepare and fix the structure. Painting, nails, etc., were also included in the estimate along with £6 6s. 5d. to cover carriage, contingency and an unknown quantity of strawberry shelving. The stages were intended to fit a 46ft. 8in. by 18ft. structure, running down both sides as down the centre. An allowance of £3 15s. was made in case Mr. Cross required a standard wooden stage down the centre, instead of slate.

Occasionally Thomas Messenger was asked to provide a set of non-standard stages. One such instance was in 1870 when he built a conservatory for Captain Thomas Charles Douglas Whitmore of Gumley Hall. The shape of the conservatory dictated that three of the seven stages were to be semi-circular and made of iron. The three, each 6ft. wide were priced at £4 each. The other four iron stages were all straight, measuring 4ft. 6in. by 2ft. 6in and priced at £2 10s. each.

In 1872, Thomas Messenger supplied 23 stages priced at £38 17s. to fit a heated range purchased at the same time, by Mr. J. Rowland, a cotton manufacturer, living at Thorncliffe House, Royton, Lancashire. The stages were a combination of fifteen flat wooden stages, totalling 350 superficial feet, costing 9d. per superficial foot; two stepped stages totalling 92 superficial feet, costing 11d. per superficial foot; one 35 superficial feet slate stage costing 1s 6d. per superficial foot; five flat slate stages, totalling 177 superficial feet, costing 1s. 6d. per superficial foot. The range and stages were subject to a 5 per cent price increase, whilst the heating attracted a 30 per cent increase.

Another large order came from architects Messrs Hill & Swann on behalf of William Stones, a brewer living in Sheffield. The eleven stages, which were again designed to fit a heated range, comprised of one measuring 23ft. 6in. by 5ft. 6in. stepped stage at 11d. per superficial foot; five flat stages, totalling 275 superficial feet at 9d. per superficial foot; five wooden slate stages, totalling 352 superficial feet, again at 9d. per superficial foot. In addition, the order included 18ft. of slate fronts (1s. per linear foot.) and 34 superficial feet of slate bottoms (2¾d. per superficial foot). The customer was given the option of having the 352 superficial feet of slate stage frames made of iron instead of wood, at an additional cost of 7d. per superficial foot Again, the structure and stages were subject to 5 per cent price increase whilst the heating was again increased by 30 per cent.

By the time, Thomas Messenger sold the business the price of staging had not changed significantly. Flat stages were being charged at 9d. per superficial foot and stepped at 11d. per superficial foot The exception was iron and slate stages which, whilst still making a premium and being charged at 1s. 6d. per superficial foot, were also subject to price rise due to the increasing cost of materials. In early December Dr Thomas Pigg of Parsonage Nook, Parsonage Road, Withington, Manchester, ordered a 13ft. 3in. long by 5ft. 6in. wide and 2ft. 6in. high iron stage which attracted a 30 per cent price increase.



  1. Which included non-horticultural structures, such as heating systems.