Vinery / Ground Vinery

In the mid- to late-nineteenth century, the grape was probably the most exotic fruit cultivated in England. In most cases, they were grown in specifically designed houses, normally part of a range. Typically these were lean-to structures with the pitch of the roof dependent upon whether they were early, middle or late maturing varieties. The sharper the pitch the earlier the variety; a sharp 45-50 degree pitch was used for early forcing and a flatter 40 degree pitch with longer rafters for main and later crops[1].

A. F. Barron, a leading Victorian grape authority, identified three distinct types of vineries, dependent upon whether they were to be used for early, middle or late varieties. Firstly, the simple lean-to with a solid back wall for heat retention was thought best for early forcing varieties. Ventilation was provided by an opening close to the top of the roof and along the front. Early forcing required a heat source, which was normally provided by standard 4-inch low-pressure heating pipes. The vines were planted between the outside wall and the heating pipes and trailed up on the inside of the roof using wire framing, allowing the grapes to hang down for easy inspection and gathering. Secondly, the ¾-span was seen as the ideal general-purpose structure, suitable for Muscat grapes, which required high temperature, and for late varieties. Heating and ventilation was similar to that of the lean-to, with the advantage that the opening top lights were on the smaller back roof, therefore not interfering with the vines climbing up the front roof. The ¾-span has advantages over the lean-to in that it was lighter and over the span roof in that, it was warmer. Thirdly, the span roof structure was good for mid-season vines but unsuitable for very early or very late crops, because there is a relatively larger surface area of glass, making it difficult to maintain sufficiently high temperatures. A variation on the standard span roof structure was to increase the pitch of the roof by removing the sidewalls and dispensing with the upright lights replacing them with near ground ventilators.



At the time, that Thomas Messenger was running his horticultural business the growing of vines was a very popular past time particularly for a certain group of the population. He had dealings with in excess of 130 clients between 1867 and 1874 regarding vineries. The work ranged from repairing and refurbishing existing vineries, fitting-out new and existing, heating new and existing through to building new vineries. Geographically clients were spread across the country from County Durham and Westmorland in the north, to Devon and Surrey in the south and from Caernarvonshire in the west to Norfolk in the east. A third of the clients or potential clients were located in the three counties surrounding the Loughborough works, namely Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, although the highest concentration in any country was the West Riding of Yorkshire, which accounted for almost 20 per cent.




In his 1870 catalogue, Thomas Messenger displays all three types of vinery, namely, lean-to, span and ¾-span. He was an advocate of the use of arches in the outside wall, to allow the roots of the vine to work through the arches into the open border at the front. He also recommended using an iron diamond-pattern walkway set upon piers to avoid walking on the soil. Concerning heating, in the lean-to he advocated two sets of pipes at the base of the iron muntins below the front lights and two sets running at floor level beside the door and running alongside the central walkway. In the span–roof vinery, he used two sets of pipes at the base of the iron muntins below the front lights. Whilst on the ½- or ¾-span there were two sets of pipes at the base of the iron muntins below the front lights, although this time there were four sets of pipes running at floor level beside the door and running alongside the central walkway.

He also claimed to have a unique method of fixing training wires; this consisted of an arrangement of longitudinal iron rods, resting upon the cast-iron muntins and iron pendants that hang from both the rafters and ridge. The iron rods were perforated every 9-inches through which wire was threaded running from the muntins up to the ridge and then down the other side wither to a wall plate in the case of a lean-to or ¾ span or down to another muntin in the case of a span-roofed vinery. Tension adjustment was provided by a screw was inserted into the carrier on the muntin.





The earliest recorded estimate for a vinery was in 1866 to Mr. Stobbert, a nurseryman of Staindrop, County Durham, for an unknown number of lean-to vineries, priced by the foot, complete with vine wire and ventilation apparatus.

This was followed by an order from William Frederick Webb of Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire for two ¾-span roof vineries. It appears that these were ordered prior to October 1866, with installation starting in February 1867[2]. These vineries appear to have been positioned along the south boundary wall, which already had a vinery and small fig house. Typically, either modifications were made during the installation or additional work agreed. In March, it was decided to install an iron walkway in the two vineries in lieu of wooded slats. In April, Thomas Messenger won another order to paint the outside of the existing 47ft. by 18ft. vinery charging 6d. per superficial yard for painting and an extra 15s. for cleaning. Later the same year he won a significantly order, totalling £179, for 70ft. long heated forcing houses with ventilation apparatus, finials, cresting, etc. Two years later, he submitted a number of estimates including one of £13 17s. for painting the outside of the two new(ish) vineries and forcing houses, including repairing the glass; one of £7 5s. for painting the outside of old vinery; one of £5 14s. for painting both sides of the 40ft. by 11ft. 6in. “old pit with old lights to be stepped”; one of £4 10s for extending the existing pit. It appears that some of these estimates were not accepted as two years later in 1871 Thomas Messenger submitted another set of estimates including one of £13 17s. for painting the outside of the two “half-span” vineries and forcing houses; one of £6 2s. for painting the outside of the pits; one of £3 12. for providing a 62ft. long run of cresting to the vineries; one of £3 12s. for new spouting; lastly the significant estimate of £76 5s, for alterations to the radiator coils within the abbey itself.



In the first half of 1867, Thomas Messenger was asked by several potential customers for estimates for either painting or dismantling and re-fixing existing vineries. In early February J. Mitchell, of Iver Lodge, Iver, Buckinghamshire who was moving, requested an estimate for dismantling his existing vineries and re-fixing them at his new residence at Bangors, less than a mile away. A few weeks later Thomas Messenger submitted another estimate to Mr. Mitchell for an early vinery and peach house at Bangors[3]. Again, the vinery was probably a lean-to measuring 43ft. by 16ft. The estimate of £216 included both houses; two iron walks, measuring 42ft. by 2ft. 9in. in total; heating to both houses, with an extra size boiler; brickwork by Mr. Hardy.

In early March, he submitted an estimate of £82 to Mr. J. Wood of West Kirby, Cheshire for painting a number of vineries.

In April, William Dabbs of Town Grange, Rothley, Leicestershire requested an estimate for painting his existing conservatory, stove house and vinery, including all the stages. Thomas Messenger’s price was 7d. per superficial foot for painting the structures and 9d. per superficial foot for the stages.

In May, Thomas Messenger submitted an estimate of £57 10s. to Mr. F.C. Hall of Alfreton, Derbyshire. The work involved 36 man-days for a joiner and labourer to dismantle and re-fix a vinery. Providing two new 7ft. by 4ft. gable roofs, a 6ft. by 4ft. gable front and a new 20ft. by 8ft. end compartment. Numerous other alterations were to be undertaken, including removing an existing door at one end, supplying and fixing new lead lined guttering, 116 superficial feet of new iron walks, replacing all the broken glass, painting with 2 coats and supplying and fixing 40 new cement joints, etc.

In October 1867, Edward Chatterton Middleton[4], a partner in the banking firm of Middleton, Cradock and Middleton[5] of Market Place, Loughborough, requested an estimate for a 50ft. by 14ft. ¾-span roof structure, partitioned to form two vineries. The structure had at least three doors, four sets of ventilation apparatus and a 5oft. by 2ft.6in. iron walkway. The vineries were to be heated using a new boiler to replace an existing boiler, 114 yards of 4-inch, 60 yards of 2-inch heating pipes and 84 cement joints. The total estimate was £207, included £49 for the brickwork for the vinery and stove house. The structure was almost certainly built almost adjacent to Thomas Messenger’s factory, in the rear garden of the bank[6] on Market Place, which was owned by Edward Middleton.



William Whetstone of the Mosaic Works, Coalville, Leicestershire requested an estimate for a ¾-span roof range partitioned into several vineries in March 1869. The structure was 54ft. 6in. by 16ft. 9in., with 2 finials, a 54ft. by 2ft. 9in. iron walkway and was to be strung with 1,145 superficial feet of vine wire. The quote of £137 included access via a door from the adjoining orchard house. A month later, Thomas Messenger submitted an estimate of £53 for heating the two vineries that included a No. 6 boiler, 108 yards of 4-inch, 24 yards of 3-inch, 8 yards of 2-inch heating pipes and 70 cement joints.

In May, Breedon Everard[7] of Bardon Hill House, near Coalville, Leicestershire requested an estimate for a pair of partitioned vineries. Again, the structure had a ¾-span roof, this time being 57ft. 4in. by 17ft., with just a single finial and strung with 1,290 superficial feet of vine wire. The two vineries were to be heated using a No. 5 boiler, 120 yards of 4-inch, 15 yards of 2-inch pipes and 80 cement joints.

For a period, the demand for vineries forming a range, as those above, appeared to be very buoyant. In October 1869, Thomas Messenger took instructions for three such vineries. Firstly, from Henry William Ripley, of Holme House, Lightcliffe, Halifax priced at £1,190. Secondly, from William Howson[8] of Tapton Park, Ranmoor, Sheffield, for a 56ft. by 16ft. partitioned ¾-span roof, with vine wire, iron walkways and heating for £112. Thirdly. from John King of Fern Bank, Palatine Road, Withington, Manchester for a range of vineries or plant houses, costing £223, with associated ironwork costing £91.



During the year, Thomas Messenger was involved with around nineteen requests involving vineries.

The first in February was from Henry Hutchinson of Storth Lodge, Fulwood Road, Sheffield who requested a couple of estimates for varying sizes of vineries. The first for a heated 60ft. long partitioned vinery and the second a heated 48ft. long, probably lean-to roof structure.

Also in February, John Gibson of Whelprigg House[9], Bents Lane, Casterton, Westmorland requested an estimate for a heated 50ft. by 20ft. partitioned vinery and plant house, with vine wire, iron walkway, flat and stepped staging. It appears that the structure may well have been built along an almost north-south axis near the centre of the walled garden towards at the rear of the house.

The Revd. Cutfield Wardroper of Farnley Tyas Parsonage, near Huddersfield, requested an estimate for a combined 30ft. by 14ft. lean-to roof vinery and plant house, complete with vine wire and heating.

In August, Charles Henry Williams M.P[10]., of Pilton House, Barnstaple, Devon requested an estimate for a heated 70ft. by 20ft, lean-to roof structure with two partitions to be used as a vinery and plant house. It appears that the plan was to use 50ft. of the structure as vineries and the remaining 20ft. as plant house. The estimate included cresting along the whole length with two finials. The fittings included vine wire along the whole length of the vinery roof, together with a 2ft 6in. wide iron walkway along the entire length of the vinery. The plant house was originally to be furnished with a 10ft. by 8ft. stepped stage and 112 superficial feet of flat staging. Heating was to be provided by a No. 7 boiler, with 190 yards of 4-inch, 20 yards of 2-inch hot-water pipes and 120 cement joints. A structure of the correct size appears on the 1889 town plan, lying a little to the north-east of the house it was south facing built on the south facing slope against the brick wall of the walled garden. The structure of a similar size appears on the 1957 OS Map, although sometime later it was either been replaced by a larger structure or enlarged. Today, the site is a occupied by a residential property. Thomas Messenger was re-engaged in 1872 to replace a peach trellis in an existing peach house, with two sets of vine wire, amounting to 520 superficial feet. One set stretched along the roof and the other probably against a back wall. The opportunity was also taken to apply vine wire to the plant house, presumably the one built two years earlier.

Mr Owen Morris Roberts, an architect from Porthmadog, Caernarvonshire, ordered a heated 41ft. 6in. by 19ft. 6in. ¾-span roof vinery, together with cresting, finials, vine wire and iron walkway.



In 1871, Thomas Messenger received 14 enquiries from potential customers that included John Lewis of Hill Grove, Kidderminster, Worcestershire; Edmund Hannay Watts of Devonhurst, Duke’s Avenue, Chiswick, London; Thomas Anthony Stoughton of Owlpen Manor, Gloucestershire; Capt. Ingham of Thornhill, Dewsbury, Yorkshire.

In 1872, there were 25 enquiries from potential customers that included John Dearman Birchall, a Yorkshire woollen merchant and manufacturer of Bowden Hall, Upton St. Leonards, Gloucestershire; John Lewis, a carpet manufacturer of Savile Hall, Halifax, Yorkshire; Samuel William Clowes of Norbury Manor, Derbyshire; Edward Sharp of Park Road, Bingley, Yorkshire.

Thirty-two enquiries were received for the two years covering 1873 and 4. Prospective clients included Colonel John Wilson-Patten of Winmarleigh Hall, Winmarleigh, Lancashire; Earl of Jersey of Middleton Park, Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire; Cecil Thomas Molyneux Montgomerie of Garboldisham Manor, Garboldisham, Norfolk; Hustler Whitehead of Norwood House, Bradford Road, Shipley, Yorkshire; Sir John Henry Thorold of Syston Park, Syston, Lincolnshire; D. Waller, of Calton Lodge, Morecambe, Lancashire; John Warren, of Handcross Park, Crawley, Hampshire; John Wright, of Osmaston Manor, Osmaston, Derbyshire.

Only one reference is made to a vinery built specifically to grow a single grape variety. In 1873, Sir John William Cradock-Hartopp, who had recently acquired The Kingswood Warren Estate in Surrey, was in the process of making improvements to both the house and gardens. The estimates include repairing an existing greenhouse, alterations and additions to two other houses and building a new Muscat Vinery. At the time, the recommendation was that Muscat grapes should be grown in dedicated vineries, mainly due to the fact they require constant high temperatures and have a long season, taking longer to ripen than other varieties. The estimate for the 40ft. long heated Muscat vinery, including the now almost mandatory cresting, finials, vine wire and iron walkway, was £156, with the 1,004 sq. ft. of framework accounting for £66 18s. 8d. The heating system, using an existing boiler, included 102 yards of 4-inch, 30 yards of 2-inch hot water pipes and 65 cement joints. Fixing the heating system was estimated at 9 man-days for a fitter and labourer charged at 11s. per day. All the components were subject to price increases including 56 per cent on the hot water pipes, 40 per cent on the heating valves, and iron walkway and 20 per cent on all the other material. Whilst it appears to have been common practice, this is one of the few records during Thomas Messenger’s time of paying commission to a gardener. Presumably, Sir Cradock-Hartopp’s gardener made the introduction because each of the three estimates includes a commission of about 2.5 per cent.


Ground Vinery

Another structure used for growing vines is known as a ground vinery, occasionally referred to as a curate’s vinery. At the time, it was targeted at amateurs and tenants who did not want or could not afford a full size vinery.

They could be of almost any form so long as they adhered to the fundamental principle of providing direct sunlight to the vine. The positioning of the ground vinery was almost more important than the form of the structure, a warm dry soil and an open sunny situation was essential. One advantage of the ground vinery was that the vines required relatively little maintenance, the glass being left on all the time. Sometimes slates were used to cover the ground on the inside of the vinery, with vines held on wire a little above the ground.

At its simplest, the ground vinery the structure comprised of a row of glass panes placed side-by-side, leaning against a back wall, 2ft. to 3ft. high, normally on bricks so the front was off the ground. They could be of any almost size, with sides but without bars, moved individually or hinged on the top[11] or side[12] removing the need for moving them.

In the mid-1860s, the most suitable size for one vine was thought to be 30in. wide, 16in. high to ridge and 20in. slope of glass; two vines required 42in., 20in. and 28in. respectively[13]. At the time, they were normally supplied in 7ft. lengths, with extensions added as required. To aid ventilation it was recommended that there were gaps between the front bricks, ranging from 2½-inches up to 4½-inches, depending upon the location.

Numerous forms of ground vinery emerged such as by Dr S. Newington, of Ticehurst who introduced one consisting of a ridge of glass placed over a furrow lined with slates, so that bunches of grapes were suspended in the furrow[14].

Mr Thomas Rivers, of Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, who around 1860, developed one based upon Dr S. Newington’s, whereby two rows of bricks were placed lengthwise about 4in. apart (for ventilation), with slates or tiles placed on the ground between the two rows of bricks. Two ridges of glass were then placed on the bricks and the vine planted in the centre of the span.

Mr Dennis[15], of Chelmsford, Essex, a competitor of Thomas Messenger, manufactured one made in both wood and iron that hinged at the side. It had the advantage of being light and therefore easy to manoeuvre, if required[16].

Mr Harrison Weir, Brenchley, Kent, introduced a span roof structure, with ventilation at ground level and wooden ends, which also included a form of ventilation that could be open and closed as required[17].

Mr Wells, of Southend, patented his improvement, which consisted of the complements being hinged together so that they could be folded into a flat pack for easy movement and storage[18].

Another advantage of the ground vinery was that it could, if required, also act as a generic plant protector. Around 1870 Mr. Looker, of the Norbiton Potteries, Kingston-on-Thames, introduced a new Garden Frame, or ground vinery, known as the “Acme Garden Frame and Ground Vinery[19]. It was marketed as more of a general plant protector than a ground vinery. It was recommended for protecting salad vegetables, violets, pansies, alpine plants etc. and for propagating and raising vegetable seeds and other flowering plants. The span frame had glass that rested on earthenware tiles at the bottom and at the top, upon a light, open wooden ridge. The latter was supported by angle pieces securely fixed on the inside of the tiles. Ventilation was achieved by removing and replacing earthenware caps that ran along the ridge fitting over the glass[20].

Ground Vinery
Ground Vinery

Thomas Messenger exhibited his ground vinery at the Nottingham Floral fete in 1866[21]. In one of his advertisements for a ground vinery suitable for two or more vines, it stated that:-

With strong wires for training same; can be thoroughly ventilated; and is so arranged, that it can be taken to pieces, packed together, and stowed away, or re-fixed in another situation in a few minutes. It can be made complete in 6, 12, 18, 24, or 30 feet lengths, by simply taking out one end, fixing the sides and top, and re-fixing the end to the additional length.

It can be used with great advantage as a Ground Vinery, or, as a protection to Plants, Vegetables, or Early Salads, &c.; &c.; and, if heated with one hot water pipe, it would be a garden, would be a great acquisition to the largest, as a protection from frosts, hardening off, &c., &c. And the price is such as to make it within the reach of the smallest Amateur, being:-

  • For one 6 feet long by 3½ feet wide £2 1os.
  • For one 12 feet long by 3½ feet wide £4 1os.
  • For one 18 feet long by 3½ feet wide £6 1os.
  • For one 24 feet long by 3½ feet wide £8 1os.

Only one customer is recorded purchasing one of Thomas Messenger’s ground vineries and that was Charles Pratt a wine merchant, of Stonebow, High Street, Lincoln. In 1869, he purchased four differently sized structures, which came complete with vine rods for tying the vines. All were 3½ft. wide and 6ft., 12ft., 18ft.and 24ft., long respectively. Interestingly the prices had not changed from that advertised three years previously.

No 297a, High Street, Lincoln

In his 1870 catalogue, there is an illustration of a portable ground vinery. It was essentially a portable garden frame resting on bricks, so as to allow ventilation underneath, with glass sides, back, front and top. The back of the structure being higher than the front with the top being hinged at the rear with a long stay to allow the top to remain open.



  1. Epitome of gardening – 1881 – page 75.

  2. Nottinghamshire Guardian, 15th February 1867.

  3. Later known as Bangors Park.

  4. Who lived at The Grove, Ashby Road, Lougborough.

  5. The bank failed in 1878 and was taken over by the Leicestershire Banking Co. Ltd.

  6. The site, 41 Market Place, is now occupied by a branch of HSBC Holdings plc.

  7. Breedon Everard who was originally from Groby, initially had interests as a coal merchant and then in granite. At some point he gave up farming and moved to Bardon Hill House.

  8. A partner on the firm of Harrison Brothers and Howson, General Merchants and Cutlery Manufacturers, located at 45, Norfolk Street, Sheffield.

  9. Whelprigg House, which still stands, was built in 1834 for the Gibsons, one of the local landowning families in Lunesdale.

  10. Charles Henry Williams (1834-1908) was the son of Sir William Williams, 1st Bt. and Caroline Eales. He was Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and became a Major in the Royal North Devon Hussars. He was MP for Barnstaple between 1868 and 1874. He married Harriet Mary Basset and changed his name to Basset in 1880. He also lived at Watermouth Castle, Devon.

  11. A design by Mr. Wells of Southend, who patented his invention.

  12. An improvement made by a Mr. Rendle.

  13. The Miniature Fruit Garden: Or, The Culture Of Pyramidal and Bush Fruit Trees; Thomas Rivers, page 125

  14. The Miniature Fruit Garden: Or, The Culture Of Pyramidal and Bush Fruit Trees; Thomas Rivers, page 121.

  15. A manufacturer of iron greenhouses.

  16. The Floral World Garden Guide; edited by Shirley Hibberd, ESQ., F.R.H.S., Volume 09, 1866, page 101.

  17. Vines and Vine Culture; Archibald F. Barron, page 80.

  18. The Floral World Garden Guide; edited by Shirley Hibberd, ESQ., F.R.H.S., Volume 09, 1866, page 102.

  19. The Floral World Garden Guide; edited by Shirley Hibberd, ESQ., F.R.H.S., Volume 14, 1871, page 57.

  20. The Floral World Garden Guide; edited by Shirley Hibberd, ESQ., F.R.H.S., Volume 14, 1871, page 28.

  21. The Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener and Country Gentlemen, Vol. XI (New Series), 1866, page 162.