Stove House

The term stove house is an old one, originally applied to any greenhouse used for keeping plants that required a high temperature, such as tropical plants. These houses were sometimes partitioned to be able to provide for collections of plants that required differing temperatures. Otherwise, the heating could be so arranged as to provide a variation in temperatures along the length of the house. The best type of structure was found to be the span roof type, which provided plants with light from all sides. Heated plunge beds were often another feature of stove houses. Whilst ventilation was a necessity, it had to be so arranged such that in-coming air was warmed before reaching the plants therefore the ventilation was often in the form of side ventilation grills low down close to the heating pipes. Solid staging rather than slatted staging was often used, this enabled moisture to be maintained, particularly if the beds were covered with moisture retaining material, on which the plants could be placed. Another feature was shading, particularly roller blinds on the roof for easy of adjustment.

Thomas Messenger was involved in around 40 stove houses ranging from paining existing, building new, heating, and providing new staging and shading.


Span roof greenhouse with fittings

In 1867, as part of a number of estimates he quoted William Dabbs of Town Grange, Rothley, Leicestershire, for painting a number of horticultural buildings, which included a stove house, whose roof measured 196 square feet, together with providing and arranging for the laying of Minton tiles to both the conservatory and stove house. The price of the tiles to cover an area of 13ft. by 4ft. was £1 16s., whilst to lay the tiles in both the conservatory (an area of 18ft. by 12ft.) and the stove house was £12, including carriage. The tile laying was sub-contracted to William Moss, a Loughborough-based builder who charged Thomas Messenger £9 15s., with Thomas Messenger adding £2 5s. commission for himself.

In July 1867, Major (later Colonel) Thomas Thorneycroft[1] of Tettenhall Towers, Wolverhampton, a partner in the firm of Messrs J.B. Thorneycroft.and Co.[2], was in the process of making improvements and enhancements to both the house and gardens. He requested an estimate for new plant and stoves houses, including staging, ventilation and heating (although no boiler) for which Thomas Messenger quoted £122, which included £86 17s. 9d. for the framing and staging for the two houses.

In December 1868, he quoted Mr. West, gardener to Sir William Vernon Guise of Elmore Court Gloucestershire, for a large number of items, including providing 25ft. of slate staging at 1s. per foot, for the centre of a stove house. This was probably one of the partitions of the 56ft. long by 20ft. house quoted for at the same time.

In 1869, Edward Finch Dawson, Launde Abbey, Launde, Leicestershire requested an estimate for heating various houses, including a stove house. The estimate that also included slate staging and a striking box came to £41.

In July 1870, the Duke of St. Albans received an estimate for a stove house, which included 1,074 superficial feet of framing, charged at 1s 6d. per superficial foot. Whilst the exact dimensions of the structure are unknown, it was probably 32ft. long (as it had 32ft. of cresting, priced at 1s. 6d. per foot) and a lean-to or ¾-span (as the estimate included 360 superficial feet of wiring to the back wall). The proposal was to heat the house, with an existing boiler, using 80 yards of 4-inch, 2 yards of 2-inch hot water pipes, with 60 cement joints. The estimate also included a substantial amount of slate staging, amounting to 300 superficial feet in total, consisting of one 32ft. by 3ft. 9in., one 20ft. by 6ft. 6in. and another of 10ft. by 2ft. 6in. The house was obviously meant to be an elaborate structure and probably a show piece because not only did it have cresting along the roof, there was also a finial and some of the staging had 4in. high, ¾in. thick ornamental iron edging, together with 2ft. long iron ornamental legs. The total estimate came to £155, which included 18 man-days (8 for labourer and 10 for fitter) for installing the heating system and 30 man-days of a fitter’s time to set-up the staging. Interestingly an adjunct to the quote indicted that if the ornate iron and slate stages was replaced by wood, slate and sand stages then the price was fall by only £16.

In October 1870, Thomas Messenger gave Samuel Roberts[3] of Queen’s Tower[4], East Bank Road, Sheffield, an estimate for a 60ft. by 12ft. 9in. span roof plant and stove house; each house being 30ft. long divided by a partition. The roof was intended to have three finials and a full length of cresting. There were also 173 superficial feet of staging and 125 superficial feet of slate bearers. The heating which was to have been provided by an existing boiler, comprised of 194 yards of 4-inch, 2o yards of 3-inch, 13 yards of 2-inch hot water pipes, together with 110 cement joints. The estimate of £242 included an option, costing an additional £65. (including heating, staging, cresting, etc.), for increasing the overall length to 80ft. (50ft. plant house, leaving the stove at 30ft.).

In 1872, Lord Ashburton of The Grange, Swarraton, Hampshire ordered a 45ft. by 19ft. stove house, with cresting and two finials for £132 15s. Also included in the order was a set of slate stages and beds for £36 18s., together with heating apparatus, excluding a boiler but including 203 yards of 4-inch hot water pipes and 107 cement joints for an additional £63 16s. At the time The Grange was described as “one of the finest places in Hampshire[5]. The River Itchen, which ran through the park, separated the house from the kitchen gardens and forcing grounds. A description of Lord Ashburton’s garden appeared in The Garden Magazine on 1st. November 1873 under ‘The Gardens of England’ series[6], in which the stove was described: –

The plant-houses, properly so-called, consist of two span roof structures placed in the fruit forcing department. One of these structures is 50 feet long and 22 feet wide, and is a light and elegant building, erected by Messrs Messenger, of Loughborough, two years ago. It is devoted to the growth of stove plants, and the other is an old-fashioned house, used for odds and ends.

In 1873, Thomas Messenger undertook an order for Lieutenant-General Sir Roger Palmer[7] at Kenure House, Rush, County Dublin, Ireland to provide and install heating and ventilation apparatus for an existing stove house. The actual order was placed on Sir Roger Palmer’s behalf by Beecher F. Fleming of Rush House. The heating system included a No. 5 boiler, 127 yards of 4-inch, 5 yards of 3-inch, 12 yards of 2-inch heating pipes and 72 cement joints. The price of £62 included carriage to Liverpool or Bristol of £7 2s. 8d. (including an allowance for contingency) and 13 days at 11s. per day (this included travel costs) for a fitter and labourer to install the heating system. The amount was reduced by £3 4s. (11 days at 4s. per day and £1 travelling costs) as the customer provided the labourer. The ventilation system comprised of two sets of ventilation apparatus capable of opening 6 lights on pivots on each side of the stove house, each set of lights being 38ft. long. The total cost of £6, included £5 for the apparatus, 10s., carriage of Liverpool and 10s. to cover the time for the fitter to supervise the installation by the customer.

Only one example is known of Thomas Messenger providing blinds specifically for a stove house and that was in 1874 for Francis Fortescue-Turville 0f Bosworth Hall[8], Husbands Bosworth, Leicestershire. As part of a much larger order that included a 67ft. by 17ft. range, conservatory and accompanying heating systems, he provided sets of blinds to the conservatory, stove house and plant house. The blinds for the stove and plant house (which was probably separated by a partition), was to the back roof, measuring 45ft. by 7ft. priced at £5, which included £3 18s 9d. for the blinds (3d. per superficial foot), a 20 per cent mark-up (rounded up to 16s.) and 5s. 3d. to cover carriage and contingency.



  1. The son of George Benjamin Thorneycroft, ironmaster, who went into partnership with his twin brother Edward, setting up the Shrubbery Ironworks at Horseley Fields and subsequently bought the Swan Garden Iron Works around 1858.

  2. Ironworkers and colliery owners,

  3. Samuel Roberts (1853-1926) attended Repton School, Trinity College, Cambridge and then Inner Temple, becoming a barrister in 1877.He was a director of Camell Laird and of the National Provincial Bank. He became Lord Mayor of Sheffield in 1900 and standing in the general election of the same year he was unsuccessful, as the Conservative Party candidate in High Peak. However, two years later he was elected at the Sheffield Ecclesall by-election. He was knighted in 1917 and made a Baronet in 1919, becoming a Privy Councillor in 1922 under the Conservative Government. He finally stepped down from Parliament at the 1923 general election.

  4. Queen’s Tower is a house in Sheffield, lying on East Bank Road in the Norfolk Park area of the city. It was designed by Woodhead and Hurst for Samuel Roberts, a local cutler, as a tribute to Mary, Queen of Scots, and completed in 1839. The two-storey building is in a Tudor style, with battlements and several turrets. Its grounds were designed by Robert Marnock and incorporated walls and a window from Manor Lodge, where Mary had been imprisoned. On completion, Roberts gave the Tower to his son as a wedding present. He enlarged the structure in the 1860s. His descendants, who lived in the Tower for several generations, included Samuel Roberts, the Member of Parliament for Sheffield Ecclesall, and his son, also Samuel Roberts, and also a politician.The Tower was converted to flats in 2004.

  5. The Garden – an illustrated weekly journal of gardening in all its branches – Volume 4, 1st November 1873, page 360.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Lieutenant-General Sir Roger Palmer (1832-1910), MP for Mayo, 1857-1865. He was the 5th Baronet.

  8. Now a hotel.