Forcing Houses

These are greenhouses used for growing or “forcing” plants at other times than at their natural seasons; this normally being in winter and early spring. In order to create an artificial climate that is required, heat is usually used. Early forcing-houses were normally lean-tos, with sheds or garden-offices at the back. In the 1860s, the optimum length for a winter forcing house was considered to be between thirty and thirty-five feet[1]. Practically all houses used by commercial florists and vegetable growers were forcing houses.



From 1866 until he sold the horticultural business, Thomas Messenger was involved with over 60 forcing houses. Not all were new, some were for heating existing forcing houses including: Mr. Baker in 1866; Ambrose Lisle March-Phillipps de Lisle of Garendon Park, Loughborough in 1867; Thomas Fletcher Twemlow of Betley Court, Betley, Staffordshire in 1868; John T. Bowden of Kennebec No. 2, The Avenue, Beckenham, Kent in 1870; Edmund Hannay Watts of Devonhurst, Duke’s Avenue, Chiswick, London in 1871 and 1872; Thomas Cordes of Bryn Glas House, Brynglas Road, Malpas, Monmouthshire in 1873.

Other work included painting existing forcing houses including William Frederick Webb of Newstead Abbey, Newstead, Nottinghamshire in 1869 and 1871; Duke of St. Albans of Bestwood Lodge, Arnold, Nottinghamshire in 1871.

Among the new forcing houses was a partitioned 48ft. by 6ft. 6in. heated lean-to for Cecil Thomas Molyneux Montgomerie of Garboldisham Manor[2], Norfolk. In 1873, a 60ft. by 13ft. heated span roof partitioned forcing house for Count Edmund Batthyany of Eaglehurst, Fawley, Hampshire. The same year a 64ft. 6in. by 13ft. partitioned span roof house for Earl of Stamford and Warrington at Enville Hall, Staffordshire.

It appears that he initially followed the standard practice of the time, where top heat was also used to help provide the necessary heat. However, by 1870, Thomas Messenger had made what he claimed to be significant improvements, which he described in his 1870 catalogue:

….an entirely new principle which the use of pipes for top-heat is dispensed with, and the frequent injury to the foliage by burning is avoided, besides a considerable saving in expense. The bottom heat is arranged as usual under the bed, which is supported on by brick wail built with every other brick omitted, and therefore full of perforations. This allows a general diffusion of the heat, which, escaping by air flues in the walls as shewn, effectually supersedes, the use of pipes for top-heat. The bottom of the bed is formed of slates, and by a new arrangement since the Plate was in the press, ¾ inch slate slabs are substituted for the brick, retaining wall forming front of bed. These slates, being secured by cast-iron brackets to the 1intels, are much more secure than the brickwork, and by taking less space give a larger bed. The whole has a very neat appearance. A cold air drain, fitted at each end with sliding ventilators, runs the entire length of each bed under the pipes, and keeps up a constant circulation of fresh warm air. I can strongly recommend this for any House requiring high temperature. I have also recently introduced into my Forcing Houses an improvement in the shape of the sash-bar and rafter, which can be applied to other descriptions of Houses, if desired; by forming a gutter on each side of bar, and rafter in the solid wood, and glazing the House with diagonally-cut squares, all condensed water is effectually conducted from time glass to the rain water gutter outside; thus preventing any possibility of water dripping from the glass upon the plants. Ventilation is effected by means of lights opening with my patented apparatus.

Thomas Messenger Forcing House
Thomas Messenger Forcing House – 1870 Catalogue



Thomas Cutts



In late 1874, Thomas Messenger provided a 44ft. by 6ft. 6in. heated partitioned lean-to roof forcing house with finials for Thomas Butler Cutts, a wealthy Nottingham lace manufacturer, who had recently purchased a three-acre site fronting Mapperley Road, Elm Bank and Redcliffe Road (originally Red Lane). Here Thomas Cutts built a large Gothic revival grade II listed residence, known as Malvern House[3], designed by the architect Henry Sulley[4]. Sulley was probably also responsible the layout of the small estate, as he ordered the 44ft. long forcing house, which was erected at the northern end of the site close to Redcliffe Road and almost adjacent to the gardener’s cottage[5]. The structure of the forcing house, delivered unglazed and un-painted except for two coats on the wood muntins, cost 10½d. per superficial foot, this with various additions, gave a total price of £60. An additional £17 10s. was spent on a complete run of slate beds and ventilation apparatus, with the house being heated using an existing boiler, 154 yards of 4-inch, 15 yards of 2-inch heating pipes and 149 patent joints. A little over three years later in early 1877, Thomas Cutts engaged Messenger & Co., directly, to install a set of ventilation apparatus along with additional slates to the forcing house.



The grounds, which were laid out by Messrs Fulham and Son, No. 71, Newman Street, London, included tennis, lawns, terraces, pleasure gardens and a rockery. The area around the gardener’s cottage included three small stables, harness rooms, loosebox, cart shed, piggeries, cow-house and loft, fitted out by Messrs Musgrave of Belfast. There was also a kitchen garden with two span-roof 30ft. long vineries, an orchid house, a greenhouse, and fernery. Following Thomas Cutts death in 1886, Malvern House and grounds was offered for sale, in three lots, by the mortgagees; the accompanying advertisement[6] revealed that in 1880[7] Foster and Pearson Ltd., horticultural engineers and iron founders of Beeston installed a large conservatory, which extended to over 85ft. in length; appearing to almost equal the footprint of the main residence. The sale notification made no specific mention of either Messenger’s forcing house or any indication of who supplied the other horticultural buildings, although it is likely to have been Pearson and Foster Ltd.

Malvern House, Mapperley Road, Nottingham
Malvern House, Mapperley Road, Nottingham



  1. Practical Treatise of the Construction, Heating, and Ventilation of Hot-Houses; including Conservatories, Green-Houses, Graperies, and Other Kinds of Horticultural Structures, page 40.

  2. Demolished about 1955.

  3. Now No 41 Mapperley Road it is a GP practice.

  4. 1845-1940, born in Brooklyn, Long Island, USA to English parents. He was responsible for a number of buildings in Nottingham.

  5. Now No. 66 Redcliffe Road.

  6. The Nottinghamshire Guardian, 8th October 1886.

  7. Nottinghamshire Record Office; Ref: Building Plans, Volume 1/4, Page 213.