The peach house was designed specifically for both the growing and ripening of peaches. Whilst high temperatures were not essential, some form of artificial heat was. If early forcing was required then a lean-to structure similar to the lean-to vinery, with a steep pitched roof, was advised. Typically, sufficient width was required to allow two rows of plants to be grown without interference; one against the back wall and another climbing up a curved support just inside the sloping roof. Peach houses were normally long structures, often divided into partitions, anything up to 50 feet. Typically, the roof sloped down almost to ground level with the front wall built on piers to permit the roots to venture outside into the prepared border running along the front of the house.
A variation of the peach house is the peach case whereby peaches are grown up a wall, with protection being provided by what appears to be a very narrow half-hipped structure with roof and frontage, with or without ends. The front is either vertical or sloping and typically used standard rook lights with supports. Thomas Messenger produced another variation, where heat was not required, which he suggested have more widespread usage for any fruit gown along a wall and marketed as a self-ventilating peach or fruit wall. It was essentially a standard peach wall with a series of iron gratings along the base, in place of front lights and another of perforated zinc under the upper lights which was placed flat, instead of at an angle. Additional ventilation could be obtained by placing grills in place of glass in the end doors.
The first recorded peach house that Thomas Messenger was involved with was in February 1867 for J. Mitchell of Bangors, Iver, Buckinghamshire. This was a 43ft. by 16ft. heated almost span roof (one was 15ft. and the other 16ft.) structure divided into an early vinery and a peach house. In April 1867, Mr. Mitchell requested a peach wall.
In early 1868, Earl Fortescue of Castle Hill, Filleigh, Devon purchased, amongst other items, both early and late peach houses. In August the following year, Thomas Messenger was contracted to paint the outside of the existing vinery, peach houses and greenhouse at Castle Hill. He also altered one of the peach houses in the lower garden, termed the long peach house, which was 316ft. long. The work involved a new 316ft. long front light, new ventilation apparatus to the whole length of the roof and a 250ft. by 6ft. peach trellis. This peach house appears to have been a lean-to structure facing almost due south sitting against the wall of the upper walled garden. At the same time, Thomas Messenger also undertook alterations to a smaller 131ft. long peach house, again supplying and fitting a new front light, ventilation along the whole roof and a new 131ft. by 6ft. peach trellis.
In August 1869, Alfred Waterhouse, the architect, on behalf of his client J.J. Richardson, purchased a heated 45ft. by 21ft.3in. ¾-span peach house, together with a 45ft. long vinery and 36ft. long plant house.
It appears that many of the peach houses that Thomas Messenger was involved with were often incorporated into ranges, albeit sometimes of just 2 houses, with the other house usually being a vinery.
In December 1869, William Bashall received an estimate for a 172ft. long heated range consisting of an 81ft. long vinery and an 81ft. long peach house, the remaining 10ft. may have used an entrance hall. William Bashall a partner in Messrs Bashall and Boardman, cotton spinners at Farmington Mill, lived at Farington Lodge, Farington, Lancashire a little north of the mill. However, the range, if built, may have been constructed in the grounds of Farington House, about 200 metres north of the Lodge.
Mr William Blott of The Poplars on Gold Street, Wellingborough received seven estimates, three of which were peach related. The first was for a 99ft. by 7ft. peach house with gable entrance; the second was for 2 sets of peach trellis, one 46ft. by 6ft. and another 64ft. by 6ft.; the third was for heating an early peach house.
Joseph Whitwell Pease, M.P, a wealthy Quaker, of Hutton Hall, Hutton Lowcross, Yorkshire enquired about the price of various sizes of peach walls. The price given for an 8ft. wide wall with slate front and trellis was £1 5s. per foot and £1 10s. per foot if 10ft. wide. Joseph Pease engaged Thomas Messenger on at least two other occasions, requesting estimates; the first in 1871 for providing heating to an existing conservatory; the second in 1872 with an amendment for a new heated 72ft. by 14ft. 9in. lean-to peach house.
Later in the year, Thomas Messenger built a 70ft. by 11ft. lean-to peach house for Mr. Abraham Brierley of Ashfield House, Lepton, near Huddersfield.
Richard Harris, who lived in Knighton House, Stoneygate, Leicester and a partner in hosiery manufacturing firm, purchased an unheated 55ft. by 9ft. 9in. lean-to peach house complete with a 358 superficial feet of peach trellis. The peach house was built onto a new brick wall by Mr. Moss of Loughborough, who charged £15 10s. to which Thomas Messenger added 2½ per cent commission. Knighton House originally stood in a 13-acre estate changed hands several times between 1880 and about 1914 when Godfrey Stibbe bought it. Godfrey Stibbe was the managing director of G. Stibbe and Co., hosiery machinery builders. Following World War One, when the house was used as a hospital, George Stibbe re-engaged Messenger and Co., on at least six different occasions between 1921 and 1934. In 1926, 52 years after Thomas Messenger built the lean-to peach house, Messenger and Co., were tasked with repairing and altering it. This work included cleaning it down and giving it two coats of paint both inside and out; re-roofing and re-glazing; providing a new door; re-wiring the 55ft. by 11ft. peach trellis; alterations included installing an additional partition. The total cost of the repairs and alterations amounted to £116 16s. 4d.
Sir Edmund Buckley who lived at Y-Plas, Dinas Mawddwy, Merionethshire, engaged Thomas Messenger to build a 165ft. by 8ft. lean-to peach house containing an extra deep roof vent, together with an extra wide entrance with folding doors. Despite the long length, Sir Edmund Buckley only purchased 6ft. of cresting and a single finial. The only fixture installed was a 165ft. by 2ft. 3in. iron walkway with a 330ft. run of 4½in. by 3in. rebated kerbs to the grates. The price of the house and fixtures amounted £279 1s. with £231 5s. for the structure and the £47 16s. for the fixtures. Later the same year Sir Edmund Buckley re-engaged Messenger to build several heated span and hip-roof pineries, at a total cost of £429 2s.
In late 1873 or early 1874 William Ford Hulton of Hulton Park, Over Hulton, Lancashire purchased an unheated 76ft. by 14ft. lean-to peach house. The house was built on an east-west alignment facing south, a little distance south of hall. The price of £191 included a 76ft. by 2ft. 6in. iron walkway and a 76ft. by 11ft. peach trellis. All three items were subject to price increases; the peach house attracted a ⅜d. per superficial feet increase on manpower and 20 per cent on materials. The iron walkway attracted a 40 per cent increase and the trellis 30 per cent. In 1875, Messenger and Co. installed a 40ft. by 12ft. span roof cucumber house using wide lights. Today, nothing remains of either the peach or the cucumber houses.
The Escot estate lies a few miles north of Ottery St. Mary, Devon and has been owned by the Kennaway family since 1794 when it was bought from Sir George Yonge.
In September 1873, Sir John Henry Kennaway, the third Baronet and Member of Parliament for East Devon and Honiton, purchased at 30ft. long peach wall from Thomas Messenger for £44 3s. The Ordnance survey map of 1889 shows a lean-to range about 150ft. long located in a 3.4 acre walled garden, on a south-facing slope, several hundred yards south-west of Escot House. A tall brick wall borders the trapezoidal shaped walled garden, which still exists, as does the residence, with stone coping with gateways to the east and west along with other smaller access points. The south facing range, which lies towards the north of the plot, is on an almost east-west alignment and has a corresponding row of bothies or sheds behind, on the northern side. At one time there were two other glass roofed structures, each about 30ft. long, close to the western end of the range; the first just behind the range, built against a wall had disappeared prior to 1905; the second just to the south of the range was still there in 1959, but no longer exists.
It appears that the range originally consisted of five houses, each about 30ft. long, arranged symmetrically around the central house, which has a small gabled entrance at the front and indeed the only access from the front. The central three houses all have the same front alignment, sharing a common low brick wall. The outer two being 31ft. long and about 14ft. wide whilst the central house is 30ft. long and a little over 20ft. wide, which includes a former display area at the rear. The two houses on the extreme outside were 3oft. long but narrower at about 10ft. The eastern house having been removed, only four of the original five houses remain and all have been subjected to at least one set of renovations at differing periods; the two on the western side as recently as 2011 by Build Care Plus of Exeter. This sympathetic restoration replaced all the structural woodwork with complete re-glazing using modern techniques. However, it appears that the woodwork was a “like for like” replacement, apparently keeping most if not all of the internal fitments.
The house on the extreme west of the range is the presumed peach wall purchased by Sir John Henry Kennaway from Thomas Messenger and restored in 2011. The form with its long sloping roof, top and front opening lights, the latter resting on a low brick wall is characteristic of a peach house but not a peach wall as noted in Thomas Messenger’s contract book, which simply states “peach wall, 30ft. long as per letter Sept 26/73”. Neither is there any other reference within the Messenger records as to any work undertaken at Escot.
The peach house, like the other three is a lean-to structure, 30ft.long, 10ft.wide and about 11ft.high at the rear and built against a brick wall, which is probably contemporaneous. There is only one entrance and that is on the western side adjacent to the back wall. There is no evidence of any heating system and internally the layout appears to have been altered over time and it is impossible to determine the exact internal arrangements of walkways, heating, beds, etc.
The low front brick wall contains four small brick arches equally spaced, along its length. This would indicate that one set of peaches would have been grown at the front, probably on a curved trellis (which has not survived). A second set of peaches may have been grown against the back wall as a trellis arrangement, which is probably original and consists of several horizontal perforated flats rods with vertical wires threaded through. This arrangement of perforated rod and strong wire is very similar to that described in Thomas Messenger’s 1870 catalogue, when describing a vine support. The peach house still contains Messenger’s original tension rods that run up along the principle rafters from the original iron muntins, which also exist, up to the top of the rafter, passing through the original iron supports, screwed into the rafters. Elements of the original top and front light ventilation system remain, all part of Thomas Messenger’s 1859 patent, which he further enhanced with another patent in 1868, when he included the iron muntins/mullions.
The top light ventilation system is complete example of Thomas Messenger’s 1858 patent and is the only example known to exist. The winding wheel, with its handle is stamped with “MESSENGER PATENT” on the iron frame is mounted onto the doorframe. The endless chain, which is presumably also original, runs vertically up to the top smaller wheel, which is mounted onto the rod, which in turn is attached to the frame of the house. This rod is attached to the screw and sling, which also appears to be original, which then connects to another rod that runs the length of the house and operates the set of six top lights. The front lights originally operated in a similar fashion although today only the winding wheel and handle remain, again stamped with “MESSENGER PATENT” on the iron frame is mounted onto the door frame on the other side. As mentioned above the use of iron muntins was introduced by Thomas Messenger in 1868 and five remain, although the lower third have been encased into the front wall, topped with cement. This probably happened at the time of restoration and it appears that the front lights might have been narrowed at the same time as there is a large wood facia below the windows on the outside. Presumably the original front lights would have been deeper, with the iron muntins on the inside showing their full height. Only about one third of the front lights currently open and these are operated by a simple window stay mechanism.
Another feature of Messenger greenhouses was the use of tie rods along the length of the roof and this peach house has two. These may be original, although could have been added/replaced as part of the renovations.
Another feature of this particular peach house is that it is not built directly in line with the back wall of the other houses; instead, it is set back several feet, which means that the back wall of the peach house is built against the “bothy” sidewall. The reason for this might be more accidental than planned. The next house has a side opening near the front instead of being adjacent to the back wall as is normal. If the peach house was ordered and built at Messenger’s works to a certain width then it would probably have fouled the door. The obvious way around that problem was to move the peach house back a foot or more, whilst maintain the full width. If true, this would also suggest that the peach house is a later addition to the range.
Looking at the other three houses from west to east, they (for the sake of argument they are referred to as greenhouses 2, 3 and 4) appear to have been built at the same time to form a single range of three greenhouses. The lower 6-8 courses of brickwork along the front are of English bond with a ledge along the top, this may have been to secure a row of unheated frames. Interestingly the six or so courses above different, which could mean that all three houses may have been raised during one of the restorations or they might have been built on the site of an earlier set of structures. Greenhouse 4 has a series of vertical bricks inserted and could be evidence that it was used as a forcing house, if these were block ventilation holes.
The top light ventilation apparatus, in Greenhouse 2, assuming they are original is a very simple push rod mechanism, typical of early greenhouses.
Greenhouse 3 has one top light ventilation system operating the whole length and two independent front light mechanisms, operating the lights on either side of the door. All three are nominally by the Exeter firm of George E. Saunders and Biss. The firm was formed in about 1900, initially operating out of Nos. 68-72, Howell Street in Exeter and later at No. 172, Sidwell Street. Initially they were operating as horticultural builders and by 1904 had patented their own glazing system. By 1933 they had expanded into heating engineering, contracting, motor wing and radiator manufacturing. They appear to have gone out of business around the mid-1950s. It appears that the “extension” at the back of greenhouse 2 was for display purposes with a series of stepped stages.
Greenhouse 4 has one front light ventilation system nominally by Saunders and Biss operating all the front lights and one unnamed top light ventilation system operating all the top lights.
The two top light ventilation systems in greenhouses 3 and 4 are to a patent design of 1895 (no 21677) by Messenger & Co. and all three front lights are also Messenger & Co. designed, although without iron muntins. Messenger & Co actively sold their ventilation systems separately although there is no documented evidence of Messenger & Co. making a set of apparatus with another firm’s name stamped on it. They are Messenger components as at least three of the components have Messenger part numbers on them. The two rocking shaft.brackets above the door in greenhouse 4 has part number 651 stamped on them. One or more of the double arm levers (the mechanism between the actual light and the metal rod that runs along the whole length) on the top light ventilation system in greenhouse 3 has the part number 247A stamped on them. Interestingly at least another one of these levers has Saunders and Biss stamped on it. All five of the spring levers (the parts with the handles for actually opening the lights) are known as cramped frame levers and come in two sizes small and large. The cramped design is a later improvement introduced sometime after the initial patent but prior to 1925.
The roof glazing of greenhouses 3 and 4 is not by Messenger & Co but might be by Saunders and Biss to their own patent design. It is probable that Saunders and Biss were engaged sometime between around 1910 and 1930 to alter greenhouses 3 and 4, at that point re-glazed the roof, and installed new ventilation systems.
As previously mentioned there is no documentary evidence for Thomas Messenger having been engaged at Escot, other than to build the peach house. There is only one reference to Escot in any of Messenger & Co.’s, (they were formed in 1875 when Thomas Messenger sold-out) record books or catalogues and that is in their 1925 catalogue when they list a large number of customers during the previous 70 years (which includes Thomas Messenger’s work), this refers to the Thomas Messenger peach house.
There is evidence in Messenger & Co.’s invoice daybook for 1923 that Saunders and Bliss were customers, purchasing ventilation equipment. It appears that the two firms came to a commercial arrangement for the Saunders and Biss name to be stamped on the Messenger’s spring and double arm levers.
The house still exists currently with access of Gold Street. In the 1880s it occupied the space between what is now known as The Avenue and Park Road. The grounds of the house ran back away from Gold Street for about 120 metres, with a drive access off Park Road. ↑
He was created a baronet of Hutton Lowcross and Pinchinthorpe in 1882. ↑
Hutton Hall was designed by the architect, Alfred Waterhouse and built for Sir Joseph Whitwell Pease between 1866-7. Hutton Hall was sold off in 1948 and part of it was turned into flats. ↑
He purchased the 13 acre site in 1857 and had Knighton House built. ↑
Now London Road. ↑
With factories in Braunstone Gate and King Street, Leicester and at one time offices at No. 2 Monkwell Street, Cripplegate, London. ↑
Including Alfred Donisthorpe of Messrs F.O. Donisthorpe, wool top makers, worsted mohair and lambswool spinners, based at North Mill, Frog Island, Leicester. William Thomas Thompson of Messrs Thompson and Son, worsted and lambswool spinners, of Frog Island and Alexander Street, Woodgate, Leicester. ↑
They were based at Nos. 11-15 Newarke Road, and Mill Lane, Leicester. ↑
Sir Edmund Buckley (1834-1910) was born Edmund Peck and was the illegitimate son of Edmund Buckley of Ardwick in Manchester. He assumed the surname and arms of Buckley, in lieu of Peck by royal licence in 1864. He was elected Member of Parliament for Newcastle-under-Lyme at the 1865 general election and re-elected in 1868, holding the seat until 1878, when he resigned. Edmund Buckley of Gratton Hall, Yorkshire, and Ardwick, Lancashire, purchased the estate and lordship of Dinas Mawddwy from the Mytton family in 1856. The estate and lordship of Dinas Mawddwy passed to Sir Edmund Buckley during the lifetime of Edmund Buckley; whilst the Gratton Hall and Ardwick estates passing to Sir Edmund on the death of Edmund Buckley.He was created baronet, 1st Baronet of Llandovery, in December 1868 and was a Deputy Lieutenant and J.P. for Merionethshire. ↑
Hulton Hall was demolished in 1958. ↑
Leicestershire Record Office ref: DE2121/43. ↑
Ordnance Survey Map. ↑
Leicestershire Record Office ref: DE2121/321, Invoice Day Book, February 1923-October 1923. ↑