Ventilation Apparatus

Providing adequate and manageable ventilation to the majority of horticultural buildings is of fundamental important in that it permits temperatures to be regulated, fresh air to be introduced and to an extent allows humidity to be regulated. However, the amount and type of ventilation required is dependent on the plants under cultivation and the structure in which they are being cultivated. For example, peach houses and vineries normally require more ventilation than do plant and particularly stove houses.

The basic principle of ventilating systems is that cold air is heavier than warm air and therefore has the tendency to move downwards, whilst the warmer air moves upwards. Where ventilation is required, it was, at the time, normal for there to be opening at the top of the roof, typically near to the apex. Dependent upon the type of structure, side or front ventilation was also used. Occasionally wooden door ventilators fixed into the front and/or back walls were used, this was particularly useful if the air could be made to pass over the heating pipes, thus warming it before making contact with the plants.

At the time, there were a wide range of systems available for ventilating the various types of structures and not all were necessarily mechanical controlled using levers, etc. These ranged from simple framed sliding lights, framed hinged (normally at the top) framed lights, centrally hinged framed lights, window sashes, sliding shutters, “hit-and-miss” grating, suction ventilators[1], throttle ventilators[2] and permanent openings.

As seen previously, Thomas Messenger designed a number of patented ventilation systems all based upon mechanically controlled hinged framed lights. A characteristic of all his systems was the use of simultaneous gear, whereby a number of lights were opened simultaneously and sometimes along the entire length of the structure.


First Ventilation Apparatus Patent (1859/1777)


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His first ventilation apparatus patent was incorporated into his ‘Divisionless Horticultural Structure’ patent (1859/1777) submitted on 1st August, 1859 and sealed the following January. In this particular patent, the ventilation system was capable of opening either the front or roof lights, along the whole length of the structure, from a single location normally situated at each or either end of the structure. It worked by using two wheels; the first was placed at a convenient location, normally at working height close to the door at one or both ends of the structure; the second is location closer to the lights that are to be operated. An endless chain connects both wheels, so that when the first is rotated by means of the handle, the second also rotates. The second wheel was normally smaller than the first, resulting in an amount of gearing. A rod is attached to the smaller wheel that in turn is connected to a screw, with further rods connecting the lights. Rotating the wheel one way undid the screw thereby closing the lights; turning in the opposite direction tightened the screw that had the effect of opening the lights. It appears from the patent application that separate mechanisms were required to operate the front and roof lights.

One of the smart things that Thomas Messenger did was to uncouple his ventilation system from his greenhouse patent design. Thus, he was able not only to supply ventilation systems fitted to almost his entire range of structures but it allowed him to sell the apparatus separately either for the customer to fix themselves or to be fixed by his own workmen.

In 1867, he quoted Mr. Thomas E. Partridge of Hillesley, Gloucestershire, £98 10s. for fixing an existing 108ft. long structure with new roofs, ends and two large sets of ventilation system charged at £2 each. A month later, he quoted Mr. William Wood of Hoo Ash Farm, Ravenstone, Leicestershire, £2 5s., for a top ventilation apparatus capable of pulling using a cord with rods for a set of bottom lights. Another month later, Mr. T. Hamilton, of Botcherby, Cumberland requested an estimate for an 81ft. by 16ft. 6in. structure with ventilation apparatus. Thomas quoted £160, which included six sets of ventilation apparatus at £1 10s. each.

In 1868 Mrs. C. Roberts, of Bicester House, Bicester, Oxfordshire received a quote of £100 for a heated 35ft. by 15ft. structure, with staging together with two sets of ventilation apparatus, priced at £1 10s. each, capable of opening each side of the 35ft. long structure. The same month Thomas Messenger quoted Mr. John Bramley-Moore of Langley Lodge, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire £136 10s. for a 70ft. by 15ft. structure operated by four sets of ventilation apparatus. It appears that at this time Thomas Messenger’s standard length of ventilation apparatus was 35ft.

Towards the end of 1868, the architect, Alfred Waterhouse, ordered a set of conservatory components, for his own house, which included seventeen short muntins; seventeen long muntins; seventeen 18ft. long transverse rods, fourteen 13ft. long transverse rods along with twelve sets of ventilation apparatus.


Second Ventilation Apparatus Patent (1868/2139)


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In January 1869, Thomas Messenger received approval another patent (1868/2139) in which the ventilation system was the key feature. This was essentially a significantly improved version of his 1859/1777 patent and was probably one of Thomas Messenger’s most successful inventions. The importance of this invention probably lay in the design of ventilation system rather than that of being able to build a structure “to any shape”. The mechanism still used a toothed wheel with a handle to operate the opening and closing. This toothed wheel was again connected via an endless chain to another toothed wheel which is in turn connected via a series of screws, rods and worms. Turning the screw activates a travelling nut connected a rod which is then connected to the hinged light. The use of worms achieved the transfer of horizontal into vertical movement, allowing several sets of lights one above another to be operated at the same time.

One of the spin-offs of this new system was that it was capable of providing opening greater than 35ft. in a single set. Another was that he could charge more for each set of apparatus.

In early 1869, he supplied and fitted three sets of apparatus (of unknown length) to a previous customer, Mr. John Bramley-Moore of Langley Lodge, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire. The order include three sets of apparatus costing £2 each; 15s. for preparing the accompanying sashes; £4 15s. for carriage and £2 for fixing the apparatus and sashes.

A few months later, he sold eight sets of ventilation apparatus to Mr. W. Barrow of Bilbrook House, Codsall, Staffordshire. Each set was 25ft. long and cost a total of £14 (£1 15s. per set), which included delivery to Loughborough Railway Station. At almost the same time he sold four sets of apparatus at £2 15s. each[3] to Messrs Lowe & Co., of Queen Square, Wolverhampton. Each set was capable of controlling lighths 52ft. long.

Very few specific records exist which specifically references patented ventilation apparatus. Once such occurrence was in March 1869, when Mr. J.L. Dowling, a builder, of No. 8, Addy Street, Upperthorpe, Sheffield ordered two sets of patented apparatus to be installed in the roof of an existing greenhouse belonging to John Brown, an industrialist, at Endcliffe Hall, Endcliffe Vale Road, Norton, Sheffield. The quote for the apparatus was £5 15s. un-fixed and £7 fixed. The greenhouse may have been the 175ft. long structure that that Messenger quoted for a month earlier.

In early 1872, he supplied two sets of ventilation apparatus for opening both front and roof lights of a 36ft. long structure, for Messrs Beckley and Holmes, of No. 67, St. George’s Road, Camberwell, London.

The longest length of lights opened by a single set of ventilation apparatus was that ordered by John Stevens, a, nurseryman, seedman and florist, of The Nurseries, Warwick Road, Coventry. He ordered one set of ventilation apparatus, to operate 10 top lights of a 74ft. long house, for £3 10s.; fixing was £1; carriage 19s.

Another reference to patented ventilation apparatus appears in 1872 when Henry Simpson, of Pond Street Brewery, Sheffield ordered four sets of patent ventilation apparatus for a set of continuous lights. Messenger charged £8 for the set. Presumably the lights which one of Thomas Messenger joiners travelled up to fix were installed at the brewery. It appears that the joiner was charged out on a time and material basis at 6s. 6d. per day, including board and lodgings.

Thomas Messenger’s standard ventilation apparatus was manufactured of iron and only on a very few occasions did he use other materials. Twice in 1872, he provided apparatus with brass fittings. Firstly for Abraham Briggs Foster, of Northowram Hall, Northowram, West Yorkshire, a partner in the firm of John Foster & Son, alpaca, mohair and worsted spinners and manufactures of Black Dyke Mills. Here as part of a much larger order which included a 50ft. long vinery and plant house, he supplied ventilation apparatus that included working joints made of brass with brass lined bearings and brass nuts at an additional cost of £1 15s. The second occasion, at almost the same time, was again for a set of ventilation apparatus using brass components, similar to that supplied to Abraham Briggs Foster. On this occasion, it was part of a considerably large order from Alfred Waterhouse for Albert Brassey of Heythrop Hall (see page 67).

There is further no indication that Thomas Messenger was moving to brass components for his ventilation systems.

As one would expect, with relatively few exceptions, the ventilation apparatus supplied by Thomas Messenger was fairly standard, using his own designs and only occasionally modifying it to meet specific customer requests. Once such occasion was an order for an unknown customer from Zephaniah King[4], an architect, with offices at No. 50, Pall Mall, Westminster, London, SW1, The order which appears to consist mainly of iron components for a new roof, included two sets of ventilation apparatus priced at £2 4s. each and two sets of apparatus for front lights of double quadrant, with wheel and worm apparatus, costing £2 each.

Most references to ventilation apparatus in Messenger’s record books simply indicate the number of sets of apparatus, occasionally the length and specific use but almost never any indication as to the number of lights the apparatus was intended to operate. One notable exception was in 1873, when Messrs Dromore Heating Co., of 40, Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin, ordered six sets of apparatus, at 10s. each, capable of opening seven lights each. Another example was in 1874, just prior to Thomas Messenger selling his horticultural business, when James Goddard, an architect, working on behalf of his client, Mr. G.L. Vaughan, of Victoria Road, Leicester. The order included a new house, several stepped stages, heating apparatus and four sets ventilation tackle for an existing conservatory. Two sets, costing £2 each, were to open five lights each and one set, also costing £2, was to open three roof lights.

There are very few records of Thomas Messenger providing any other types of ventilation systems, other than his own. One such occasion was one for Charles Joseph Parke of Henbury House, Sturminster Marshall, Dorset, who ordered a 25ft. by 14ft. lean-to vinery with five ventilating doors and frames. The total price was £78 2s. included £1 10s., for the five ventilation doors.



  1. These tended to use either a revolving pitch screw in a hollow cylinder or by the use of fixed deflection plates. They and were generally used for ventilating public buildings and rarely used in horticultural structures.

  2. These were occasionally used in flower rooms and conservatories.

  3. The price included delivery to Loughborough Railway Station only.

  4. Zephaniah King (1834/35-1906), trained at the Norwich School of Art and by the 1880s practised in London, in partnership with his son, Charles Oury King. In 1887, he became a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was responsible for many of the present houses in Holkham village.