The Range

 A range simply implies several houses that adjoin one another and normally but not necessarily have the same roof shape, if not the same profile. The individual houses may be of any one single type (e.g. early, late and Muscat vineries) or a combination of two or more types (e.g. orchard, vinery, stove, forcing, orchid). The tendency, certainly later, was to build very elaborate and decorative ranges, often with projecting wings and fancy central houses, even with different roof types.

Thomas Messenger was involved with well in excess of fifty identifiable ranges[1] before he sold up and they were important because by their very nature they tended to be “big ticket” items.



The earliest recorded was in 1866 when Samuel William Clowes of Woodhouse Eaves, near Loughborough requested an estimate for 35ft. by 16ft. heated span roof range capable of being easily dismantled, if required and probably divided into four houses. The whole range was to be heated using a new boiler and the fittings included both slatted and slate stages, together with 2 iron finials. The price for the range was estimated at £152 complete including brickwork. An alternative estimate of £125 10s. was also submitted for the range being only 25ft. long.


Duke of St. Albans

Site of Bestwood Lodge walled garden


In 1867 the Duke of St. Albans requested estimates for three variations on a large range The first, which appears to have been implemented, was for a range consisting of central house with projecting gable entrance and on either side two 96ft. by 17ft. 6in. ¾-span roof houses. Each of which was to be divided into three houses, 32ft. long. It appears that four of the houses were destined to be used as vineries, another as a peach house and the last as a plant house. It was probable that the central house was to be used as a show house and with its gabled projection would have helped break-up the uniformity of the long and low fronted growing-houses on either side. The location of the range was to be against a long wall probably about 10ft. high, hence the ¾-span roof and the only logical place was in the walled garden, which was located on Gaunt’s Hill a little north of the Bestwood Lodge, Nottinghamshire, the Duke’s new residence.


Bestwood Lodge – The Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener and Country Gentlemen, 12 October 1876


The estimate, submitted in July, for the whole range was £840. This included, in excess of 7,000 superficial feet of framing for the structure, five sets of 32ft. by 2ft. 6in. iron grating, eleven plant stages, totalling in excess of 500 superficial feet, a 32ft. by 18ft. peach trellis (to be strung along the long roof of one of the houses), wiring of one wall, measuring 31ft. by 10ft. Each of the four vineries were to have both roofs (24ft. in total) strung with vine wire, fourteen sets of ventilation apparatus (probably along both the apex of the roof and along the front), 204ft. of cresting and three finials (probably one at each end of the long range and one above the gables entrance). The estimate also included heating the whole range (the two boilers were subject to a separate estimate of £59) which included 466 yards of 4-inch, 44 yards of 3-inch, 56 yards of 2-inch hot water pipes and 350 cement joints. It was also estimated that it would take 55 days each, for a team of 2 men (a fitter and labour) to install the heating system.


Bestwood Lodge with walled garden to north – 1882 OS Map

The other two estimates was one for the whole range omitting the plant house and another omitting both the plant house and peach house. These omissions reduced the price of the range by £119 and £232 respectively.

In August, another estimate was submitted by Thomas Messenger, for a much smaller 64ft. by 17ft. 6in. ¾-span roof range, comprising of two 32ft. long vineries. The estimate of £259 included creating along the whole roof, although with no finials; two sets of iron grating, each 32ft. by 2ft. 6in, one for each house; vine wire for each house; heating apparatus (although no boiler), with 50 yards of 4-inch, 24 yards of 3-inch, 4 yards of 2-inch heating pipes and 100 cement joints. The estimate included an allowance of 36 man-days for installing the heating system.

It appears that Duke of St. Albans’ gardener was suitably impressed with the new vineries (and a conservatory, erected in 1867) that he wrote the following testimonial, which appeared in Thomas Messenger’s 1870 catalogue:

Sir-I am glad to be able to speak in the highest terms of the Vineries and Conservatory you have erected here for His Grace the Duke of St. Albans. Both in appearance and construction they are superior to any I have previously seen, being so much lighter than is usual in vineries of large span; this, I suppose, you are enabled to do through using tension-rods under the rafters. The ventilating Apparatus is wonderfully easy to work, considering the length of light it had to open. Your Patented Boilers I find very powerful, and at the same time economical in the fuel consumed. Altogether the Heating System is very complete and effective, and is, especially easy to regulate by means of your Patented Valve…

Looking at the 1882 Ordnance Survey map for the area, it shows a south facing range with a central house with projecting to the front and 2 equal length houses on both sides, the whole sitting against the south side of the north wall of an almost square walled garden. Measurements appear to confirm that the complete range, as described in the first estimate submitted in July was build. The complete range existed to beyond 1940 when the estate was out up for sale. The range was shorted on one side before 1966[2] and today nothing remains of the range, although the walls of the walled garden still exist.



Charles Augustus Johnson


In February 1868, Charles Augustus Johnson of Witham Hall, Witham on the Hill, Lincolnshire received an estimate for a 60ft. by 16ft. lean-to range, with a small 7ft. 6in. projecting lobby. The quoted price of £205, included an allowance of £42 12s. against salvageable material from an existing structure, it was replacing. The range appears to have been divided into two houses, although the estimate included one 60ft. by 2ft. 6in. iron grating walkway, one 60ft. by 5ft. stepped stage and two 6oft. by 11in. strawberry shelves. While there was to be no cresting there was to be a single finial, presumably above the lobby. The range was to be heated using a No 7 boiler with 81 yards of 4-inch, 58 yards of 3-inch, 26 yards of 2-inch heating pipes and 100 cement joints. It appears that the range was subsequently built against an almost south facing wall to the north of the Hall. The exact use to which the two houses were put is unknown, but in 1881 Messenger & Co., extended the range for Mr. J. Griffith Dearden, adding a new vinery[3]. In 1907, Messenger’s, under instructions from the then owner Walter Fenwick, renewed the range, then described being used as a vinery and peach house[4].

Witham Hall – 1884 OS Map


William Whetstone

Also in 1868, Thomas Messenger gave William Whetstone, the owner of the Mosaic tile works in Coalville an estimate for three structures, a plant house, a peach house and a 130ft. by 14ft. range, divided into 5 houses to be built at Broom Leys, Whitwick Waste, Leicestershire.



Capt. Joshua Cunliffe Ingham

In 1871, Capt. Joshua Cunliffe Ingham[5], a coalmine owner[6], living at Overthorpe Hall, Thornhill, Yorkshire, had three structures built by Thomas Messenger at a cost of £710.

Firstly a 100ft. by 18ft. ¾-span roof centre range, divided into 5 houses, each 20ft. long with a 22½ft. projecting central house possibly with a hipped roof. One the west side of the range was a 32ft. by 8ft. partitioned lean-to roof forcing house and on the east a 135ft. by 8ft. partitioned lean-to roof peach house. All three houses were built in the grounds, just east of Capt. Ingham’s residence. The forcing and peach houses being slightly separated from the centre range although on the same alignment, all facing almost due south. The total amount of framing required for the three structures was almost 7,200 superficial feet costing nearly £420. The range had cresting to the roof and three finials; several of the houses were used as vinery, which appears to have been 60ft. long, with 1,284 superficial feet of vine wire and 150 superficial feet of iron walkway. The peach house had a trellis along the whole length, together with 1,290 superficial feet of wire along the back wall, together with slate fronts to the beds, again along the whole length. All three houses were heated using two No. 8 boilers, with 506 yards of 4-inch, 65 yards of 2-inch pipes and 330 cement joints. The estimate allowed for 48 man-days for a fitter and labourer to install the heating system. The range and other houses appear to have been demolished and removed prior to 1907, with the grounds and gardens by this time become overgrown. The Hall and grounds were subsequently purchased by the local council who demolished the residence to make way for a leisure park, known as Overthorpe Park[7].



James Alexander Jackson



In 1871, Thomas Messenger was engaged by James Alexander Jackson who had made a fortune from blockade running during the American Civil War and was in the process of building Thurnby Court in Leicestershire. The residence that was built in an elaborate Renaissance style, reputedly cost £250,000 and even had its own gas plant. James Jackson asked Thomas Messenger to build a 96ft. by 16ft.3in. heated ¾-span roof range partitioned into four houses, one of which was to be used as an orchard house and another as a vinery. It is reported[8] that James Jackson went bankrupt due to his extravagance and the Court was purchased by a builder in 1914 and largely demolished[9].

Thurnby Court – 1886 OS Map


Henry Steel



In July 1871, Henry Steel of Westbourne, Whitham Road, Sheffield purchased a 200ft. by 16ft. 3in. ¾-span roofed range divided into six houses together with cresting and 2 finials. It appears that half of the range was used a vinery with vine wire strung across the whole roof area. Another 76ft. was used as a peach house, which was wired along the whole of the 9ft. high back wall and had 10ft.6in. high peach trellis along the whole length. There was a 2ft. 6in. wide iron walk along the vinery and peach house, which were presumably adjoining. The remaining 24ft. of the range was probably filled with staging and shelving used for growing items such as strawberries, as amongst the list of fittings were a 24ft. by 4ft. 6in. set of stepped shelves specifically for strawberries. Other shelving and staging included a 13ft. by 2ft. shelve and two flat stages, one 15ft.6in. by 4ft, the other 24ft. by 2ft.6in. The whole range was heated using two new No. 9 boilers houses in an enlarged stokery, 351 yards of 4-inch, 42 yards of 3-inch, 70 yards of 2-inch heating pipes and 260 cement joints. The total price £775 8s. included Mr. Moss’s estimate of £200 7s. for the excavations, foundation, brick and stonework.

Westbourne, Whitham Road, Sheffield - 1890 Town Map
Westbourne, Whitham Road, Sheffield – 1890 Town Map

In November, it was found that the 176ft. iron walkway was presumably not sufficiently strong as Henry Steel requested an estimate for an “extra strength” walkway. He must have been pleased with his range because the following February he requested an estimate for a new 25ft. by 10ft. 6in. heated span roof forcing house.


Lady Bacon

In 1873, Thomas Messenger built a large ¾-span roof range for Lady Bacon of Thonock Hall, near Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Typically, with a large structure of this type there were several estimates prior to the final design being agreed.

The first estimate in late 1872, of £310 10s., was for an unheated 102ft. by 17ft. range divided into three houses, with cresting and finials. It appears that one of the houses, 60ft. long was planned to be used as a vinery as 1,425 superficial feet of vine wire to roof was quoted for; another was planned to be a peach house, with 231 superficial feet of wire attached to the back wall, together with 21ft. by 12ft. of peach trellis. Unusually there were no quotes for either staging or strawberry shelves. Separately there was an estimate of £21 10s. for an 81ft. by 21ft. 6in. iron walkway.

In January 1873, there was another estimate of £216 10s. for heating the whole range with two No 8 boilers, 296 yards of 4-inch, 136 yards of 3-inch heating pipes and 286 cement joints. The estimate also contained a quote of £13 10s. 9d. for two conservatory pumps, lead suction pipes and two 70-gallon tanks. An allowance of £65 5s. 2d. was made against an amount of old material, including three old boilers, 230 yards of 4-inch pipes, three tanks and two pumps. The allowance reduced the estimate for the heating and pumps down from £230 4s. to £165. (rounded up by Thomas Messenger).

In March, Thomas Messenger submitted yet another estimate this time for a revised design to the main range and for a separate peach house. However, the only difference in the design of the range from the original estimate was replacing the intended 21ft. long peach house with another vinery. Therefore, the peach trellis and wiring were removed and replaced by vine wire to the whole roof ( 23ft. 9in.). The overall reduction in the price was minimal, down by only £1 15s. The new peach house was planned to be significantly larger than when it was going to be incorporated as part of the range, now being 47ft. by 12ft. with a ¾-span roof, cresting, finials and a 3ft. wide iron walkway down the whole length. Interestingly whilst the peach house was to have an 8ft. high peach trellis along the whole length there was to be no separate wiring. The estimate for the new peach house was £134.

In April, the missing wiring in the peach house was remedied, along with wiring of the complete back wall of the range, which was then being used as vineries and plant house.


Thonock Hall – 1906 OS Map


Roger Dutton Miles



Again in 1873, Thomas Messenger built an unheated 80ft. by 20ft. span roof range for Roger Dutton Miles, of Keyham Hall, Keyham, Leicestershire. Robert Johnson Goodacre of architects, R. J. and J. Goodacre and Goodacre, No. 5 Friar Late, Leicester ordered the structure on behalf of the owner.

The range, which was built on an almost north-south alignment, had cresting along the roof and a raised entrance with eagle door. It appears that the range was used as part vinery, with two sets of 38ft. long vine wire being installed across both sides of the span roof. There was an iron walk through one half of the range and a large number of flat, stepped and slate and iron stages, totalling 464 superficial feet. Thomas Messenger also provided six 90 gallon galvanised tanks and a conservatory pump with 15ft. of suction pipe.



Royal Botanic Institution of Glasgow



The last significant range that Thomas Messenger sold prior selling the business was a 272ft. long ¾-span roof range to the then Royal Botanic Institution of Glasgow.

In 1874, the Institution, for various reason, was in financial difficulties when William Euing (1788-1874) a very successful Glasgow-based underwriter[10], following his death in May 1874, bequeathed them £3,000[11], A special meeting of the proprietors, of the Institute, was held on 9th December 1874 to discuss how best to use the legacy[12]. The outcome was that the Directors were authorised to spend part or all of the £3,000 “in the erection of new forcing houses, and accessories thereto, or in such other way in the improvement of the garden or buildings as to the directors may seem fit.” [13] Therefore, they engaged Thomas Messenger “for the erection of a handsome range embracing all the latest improvements.”[14]. The intention was to build the ¾-span roof range against the south side of an almost north-west-south-east aligned wall, close to the then curator’s house. The planned site was being occupied by a series of bothies, stables and potting sheds, which were to be removed and rebuilt on the north side of the wall, at an estimated cost of £2,000. This would free up space between the wall and an existing range of greenhouses[15] to allow Thomas Messenger’s range to be erected. Whilst it appears that the Directors only received authorisation to proceed on 9th December, they had in fact engaged with Thomas Messenger as early as September, with the first estimate being submitted on 2nd October. A new estimate to a revised plan was laid-out on 3rd December, for a 272ft. by 17ft. ¾-span roof range divided into 5 houses, with 272ft. by 3ft. 6in. pit lights, alongside. The range had a full length of special cresting and 2 finials; the propagating houses were to be furnished with 94ft. of slate fronted beds in wooden bearers and 284 superficial feet of slate bottom beds. The range was to be heated (exclusive of boiler) using 13 yards of 5-inch, 713 yards of 4-inch, 51 yards of 3-inch, 60 yards of 2-inch hot water pipes and 394 cement joints. The total price of the revised plan was £875 3s., comprising of £640 7s. for the structure; £18 guineas for the beds; £15 15s. for trough pipes; £191 for the heating system; £11 for 155 square feet striking box. The estimate was changed a few weeks later to £907 12s. an increase of £32 9s. This was caused by replacing the 394 cement joints with patent joints, costing an additional £19 12s., and using rough plate glass for the roof, an additional £12 18s.

Glasgow Botanic Gardens – 1896 OS Map

Whilst Thomas Messenger won the contract, the new firm of Messenger and Co., under the direction of Walter Burder and Adolphus Bumpus completed the erection and fitting-out by the autumn of 1875.

A report of a visit to the Botanic Garden’s was published in The Gardeners’ Chronicle, on 11th September 1875 and made the following comment on Messenger’s new range:

The new range has been erected by Messrs Messenger, of Loughborough, and does that firm great credit. The mechanism for opening and closing the lights is remarkably efficient and simple; the heating is on a plan of Mr. Bullen’s[16] own, and a decided improvement upon most of the older and usual methods. A fourfold boiler heats 1,000 feet of pipe.

At the fifty-eighth meeting of the Royal Botanic Institute of Glasgow, held on 13th December 1875, it was noted, “the forcing houses had been constructed to the entire satisfaction of the directors, and these were now the finest in Scotland”.[17]

The partitioned structure, which still exists, is currently known as the Euing Range, named after the benefactor. The utilitarian range, which has a red brick base, was originally used for propagating plants, lies to the rear of a series of more ornamental although later greenhouses. There is a later similar utilitarian extension to the west. Unsurprisingly the structure has been altered over the years. In 1987, the original wooden roof was replaced by one in aluminium[18], although this replacement does not follow Messenger’s original roofline. Internally the original heating pipes and iron floor grilles remain in situ, as probably do some of the tables and water troughs, although all the doors are replacements[19].



  1. Not all ranges were specifically identified as such in the records books.

  2. Ordnance Survey Map.

  3. Leicestershire Record Office ref: DE2121/48.

  4. Ibid.

  5. He was a captain in 57th Regiment and served in the Crimea.

  6. Ingham Pit also known as known as Combs Pit, at Thornhill.

  7. Mirfield Reporter, 17th June 2011.

  8. Victoria County History – A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 5: Gartree Hundred: J.M. Lee, R.A. McKinley; 1964.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Particularly marine insurance. He was also a great philanthropist and supporter of the arts.

  11. The Glasgow Herald, 20th May 1874.

  12. The Glasgow Herald, 15th December 1874.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Ibid.

  15. These were eventually replaced by a new range built in Burma teak, in the early 1880s. This range was itself restored between 1988 and 2004.

  16. The Garden’s Curator.

  17. The Glasgow Herald, 14th December 1875.

  18. Historic Scotland correspondence.

  19. Ibid.