Business Interests up to 1875

This section, presented chronologically, embraces both his business interests and his remarkable patent designs in the years from 1856 to the beginning of 1875.

As seen previously, Thomas Messenger was born at Ratcliffe on the Wreake, Leicestershire in 1828. Later he moved to Loughborough and worked for his uncle, Joseph Gains[1], a plumber and glazier. Based in Garden Row, Loughborough around 1822[2], Joseph Gains had relocated by 1833[3] to the High Street, where he ran his business until his death in July 1850, aged 49. The following year in the 1851 census, Thomas Messenger was living with his aunt, Elizabeth Gains, her four daughters[4], an apprentice and a servant, in the High Street. Elizabeth and Thomas were both describing themselves as plumbers and glaziers.

It is apparent that Thomas took over his late uncle’s business, as there is reference to Thomas Goode Messenger, being in business as a plumber and glazier in the High Street, as early as 1854[5]. A year later, he is recorded as being a plumber, glazier and gas fitter[6], still in the High Street, where it resided for the next 30 years. The site was behind No. 24 High Street, running back from behind the ‘backyards’ of the High Street properties extending to the Police Court on Town Hall Passage. This elongated plot essentially ran parallel with Wood Gate, with access off High Street.

Over the next twenty years, as will be seen, he continued running the plumbing, glazing and gas fitting enterprises, whilst launching, then expanding a horticultural building and heating business until becoming almost too successful, he decided to sell-up. During this period, Thomas Messenger ran the businesses that were intrinsically intertwined from both a skills and knowledge perspective. It can be argued that horticultural building and heating businesses were little more than a progression of his glazing and plumbing businesses, although maybe not that natural a progression, otherwise many more would have the same transition. It is understood how he became involved in the plumbing and glazing trades but there is little or no evidence as to why he should move into horticultural building and heating.

The 1850’s saw a real surge in domestic glasshouse and conservatory building, particularly for the middle classes, brought about by a combination of events. Firstly Paxton’s revolutionary and audacious enormous cast-iron and glass structure, which became known as the Crystal Palace. Built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, showed amongst others the advantages of using cast-iron to cover large areas. Secondly, glass technology had advanced to allow plate glass to be produced. Thirdly, glass tax was abolished when Sir Robert Peel’s government repealed the ‘excise tax’ in 1845. This allowed English glass manufactures to invest in the new technology, to produce larger volumes of even finer and larger glass at significantly lower cost. Fourthly, the rise in interest, mainly through journals and magazines, prompting people to see conservatories as exciting spaces for entertaining or even function as dining rooms, music rooms or indeed billiard rooms. Fifthly, the Country’s sustained industrial success, which markedly improved the prosperity, particularly of the middle classes who, as a result, had increasingly more leisure time available to them in which to indulge their new found passions. Above all, no doubt was the desire to possess plants, including exotic species that was simply not achievable without protection from the British climate.

All that was required was for entrepreneurs to come forward to fill the need by designing and manufacturing the right products for the new market place. Thomas Messenger, along with a host of others, including W. Richardson and Co., Darlington[7]; Foster and Pearson, Beeston; Henry Ormson, Chelsea, London; W.H. Lascelles, Bunhill Row, London; St. Pancras Iron-work Company, Old St. Pancras Road, London; Fletcher, Lowndes and Co., Westminster, London; Deane and Co., London Bridge, London, all rose to the challenge.

Besides providing physical protection for the plants, in the form of greenhouses, conservatories, etc., there was a general appreciation that artificial heating was also required, if successful result were required. Again, the second quarter of the nineteenth century saw a step change in the approach to heating horticultural structures. The use of hotbeds, hot air stoves, flues, and steam, as methods of providing heat were in decline and being replaced by more efficient and controllable hot water heating systems. These typically used solid-fuel boilers coupled to a system of low-pressure, typically 4-inch diameter[8] hot-water pipes, The initial capital outlay of installing a hot water system was generally higher than that of other forms, but proved cost effective due to its durability, relatively low running costs and heating capabilities. Amongst the advantages of a low-pressure system was that it is simple, safe, and reliable. An even temperature is relatively easy to obtain and maintain. It was economical with most kinds of fuel, available at the time, being able to use coal, coke[9] and slack[10]. The risk of fire was relatively low with pipe temperatures rarely exceeding 88ºC (190ºF), resulting in a mild and humid heat. Finally, a relatively unskilled workforce could install it.

No formal records for Thomas Messenger’s businesses survive before the end of September 1866. Therefore, it is very difficult to obtain an accurate insight into any of his business activities prior to that date. Most of the information that is available is indirect and interpretative, mainly coming from newspaper and magazine articles. Thomas Messenger first started recording his horticultural and heating orders and estimates in Contract Books from the end of 1866. The records for relevant period from 1866 until 1875 are held in two Contract Books located at the Leicestershire Record Office, Wigston Magna, Leicester. The first DE2121/41[11] covers the period from 26th September 1866 up to 11th October 1871 and the second DE2121/42[12] from 11th October 1871 up to 25th February 1875. These two books form the basis of both this section and the following two sections. Rather than keep referencing these two Contract Books throughout these three sections in the form of repetitive endnotes, references will only be made to additional information not obtained from either of these two books.


  1. Joseph married Thomas’ aunt, Elizabeth Hobill Goode in 1829.

  2. Pigot’s Directory of Leicestershire 1822.

  3. Pigot’s Directory of Leicestershire 1828.

  4. Elizabeth Hobell, Mary, Sarah and Fanny.

  5. Melville and Co.’s Directory and Gazetteer of Leicestershire 1854.

  6. Post-Office Directory of Leicestershire and Rutland, 1855

  7. Established in 1874.

  8. Internal measurement.

  9. The solid residue of impure carbon obtained from bituminous coal and other carbonaceous materials after removal of volatile material by destructive distillation.

  10. A mixture of coal fragments and coal dust.

  11. Leicestershire Record Office Reference No.

  12. Leicestershire Record Office Reference No.