Orchard House

The orchard house was invented in the 1850s, of Thomas Rivers a nurseryman, of Sawbridgworth, Hertfordshire. He wrote, what was at the time, the definitive work on the subject “The Orchard House; or, The Cultivation of Fruit Trees in Pots under Glass”, first published in 1853. It ran into numerous editions reaching the sixteenth by 1879. In the 1870 edition, which was the fourteenth edition, the book details the lean-to, small span roof, large span roof orchard houses; orchard houses as Sanatorium; forcing orchard house, hedge orchard house; tropical orchard house.


River’s Span-roofed Orchard House

The purpose of the structure was to house potted fruit trees, such as peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots, to provide protection to the blossom in spring and in autumn to aid the ripening of fruit and wood. In winter the house was typically used, unheated, simply to provide protection. Both lean-to and span houses were used, although the latter was much preferred. They were typically built of wood and glass with the lower part of the sides boarded with a ventilation shutter on top and glass up to the roof. Orchard houses built in the south of England typically did not require heating; however, those in the north required some form of heating to help ripening.

Unsurprisingly Thomas Messenger produced a number of orchard houses for various clients. However, his first known involvement with an orchard house was in 1867, when for Mr. Fletcher of Oxton Hill, Oxton, Birkenhead, Cheshire, he undertook a variety of remedial, refurbishment and new build work. One of them involved 2 joiners and a labourer removing and re-fixing the roof on an existing orchard house. The work was estimated at 8 man-days for the joiners, charged at 5s. per day[1] and 6 days of a labourers’ time at 3s. per day.

The next was in March 1868 for Samuel Stone, senior partner in the firm of Stone, Paget and Billson, solicitors, based in Leicester. Samuel Stone lived at Elmfield House, which was located behind London Road, Leicester, occupying a space between Stanley Road and Elmfield Avenue The estimate or quote of £8 5s. per yard was for a 16ft. wide, about 15ft. high orchard house, with glass sides, without trellis but including brickwork. Another estimate of £125 was submitted in July for a 43ft. by 23ft. span roof orchard house with 15oz. glass and four sets of ventilation apparatus. The accompanying estimate of £18 10s. for the heating system included 60 yards of 4-inch, 16 yards of 2-inch hot water pipes and 40 cement joints, although no boiler.

In June 1868, he undertook work for John Adams., a furniture polish manufacturer whose works were in Victoria Park, Sheffield[2]. The 40ft. by 22ft. span roof orchard house was partitioned and had 12 slide ventilators and at least 2 doors.

In March 1870, Mr. Batherton of Rimshaw Hall, Leyland, Lancashire requested a rough estimate for a 90ft. by 14ft. lean-to orchard house, with a 90ft. by 2ft. 3in. iron walk. The house was priced at 1s. 2d. per superficial foot and the iron walk at 1s 5d. per superficial foot, with carriage and contingency of £8 17s.

In 1872, Thomas Messenger built a heated orchard house for Edward Shipley Ellis[3] of The Newarke, Leicester. The site is now occupied by the Hawthorn Building (Health and Life Sciences), part of De Montfort University. The orchard house which cost £133 was 55ft. long, had cresting along the roof and a finial at each end. The framing cost 1s. 4d.per superficial foot, the cresting 1s. per foot and the finials 8s. each. The price included an increase for labour of ⅜d. per superficial foot of framing and the material attracted a by 15 per cent mark-up. The heating system that cost £47 15s. included a No. 6 boiler, 45 yards of 4-inch, 14 yards of 3-inch, 10 yards of 2-inch heating pipes and 37 cement joints. Included in the price of the heating system was 8 man-days installation time for a fitter and labourer, charged at 11s. per day, which included a 10 per cent mark-up. The pipes, boilers, etc, were subject to a 50 per cent increase in price, with the pipes attracting an additional 20 per cent on top of the 50 per cent. The heating pipes probably installed down the centre along the complete length of the house were partially covered using a 2ft. 6in. wide iron walkway.

The last apparent orchard house that Thomas Messenger was involved with prior to selling the business was in October 1874 but it was not actually an orchard house. The potential client, Edward Chapman Clayton[4], of Prebend House[5], Hunter Street, Buckingham, requested a cheap greenhouse in the style of an orchard house. The resulting span roof greenhouse was 25ft. by 13ft., glazed with 15oz. glass instead of 21oz. and painted with three coats, instead of the normal four and was not constructed using any of Messenger’s patented apparatus. Only alternate front lights were to open together with the occasional top light. However, it did have two 25ft. by 4ft.9in. pit frames with lights down both sides of the house. Again these were glazed with 15oz. glass and painted with three coats. The greenhouse pits and frames were priced at 1s. per superficial foot, compared with the normal 1s. 4d. However, it did attract a 25 per cent increase, which together with a ¾d. per superficial yard increase in the labour cost (for the greenhouse only) resulted in a final price of almost 1s. 4d. per superficial yard. The greenhouse was to be have been furnished with two 25ft. by 4ft. 6in. flat stages down each side, together with one 3ft. 6in. by 3ft. flat stage, presumably at one end. Heating was to be supplied using a second hand saddle boiler and a mixture of 3-inch and 2-inch heating pipes, instead of the normal 4-inch pipes. The boiler, even though, second hand was subject to 35 per cent price increase whilst installation was charged at the then normal rate of 11s. per day, did not attract any increase. There is no indication that Edward Clayton completed the purchase. The 1881 town plan shows no glass structure within the gardens of Prebend House; however, it is possible that Edward Clayton took the structure with him when he moved to Deanscroft, Oakham in 1876, although the OS map of 1885/6 again shows no glass structure.



Orchard House Interior


  1. The price for the joiners was actually £3 3s. 6d., instead of £3. This was probably done to ensure that the overall price was a round £88.

  2. The firm later moved to Victoria Park Works, Meersbrook. The firm were later known as Adams Polish Ltd, continuing until c.1958.

  3. (1817–1879), he was an alderman and J.P. He was a lime, coal merchant and became chairman of the Midland Railway Company.

  4. In 1871, he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Buckingham Yeomanry. He had left Buckingham by 1876 and in 1881 census he was living at “Deanscroft”, North Street, Oakham, Rutland.

  5. Now part of the University of Buckingham.