1858 – The Start of the Horticultural Business

1858 appears to have been a relatively quiet year for Thomas Messenger, who appears not to have attended any of the national shows, such as the Horticultural Society’s Grand Garden Show at Chiswick, held on 9th and 10th June. Unlike his rivals, he also appears to have reduced his advertising budget, whilst his main competitors such as Messrs John Weeks and Co. and Gray & Ormson were still advertising and attending shows. Whether he was concentrating on his other plumbing and glazing business or on developing the embryonic horticultural building side is unclear.

1858 appears to be the year in which Thomas Messenger began his move into the horticultural building business. In his patent application for the garden engine he describes himself as a “Horticultural Builder, and Plumber[1], interestingly not “Plumber and Horticultural Builder”. How much of his overall business enterprise, at this time, was targeted at the horticultural element is unknown. To use the term horticultural builder implies that he was actively constructing buildings rather than merely providing heating apparatus and was probably a natural extension of his glazing activities, the importance of which is often either forgotten or underestimated. No known records exist for this period, neither are there any known examples of his buildings. There is always the possibility that in describing himself as a horticultural builder he is referring to his heating side of the business rather than the horticultural buildings.

By this time, a number of his competitors had been in business for many years. Messrs John Weeks & Co., of King’s Road, Chelsea, London, had been established for well over ten years[2]. They were not only “architects and builders of hothouses, greenhouses, conservatories, conservatories, pits, etc.”; they were also selling their own patented hot-water apparatus. Furthermore, they had their own ornamental nursery, seed department and a register of gardeners whom they could supply. By 1858, the firm were describing themselves as horticultural builders and hot water engineers. They were offering conservatories, greenhouses, pits, garden frames, etc., with a “grand winter garden and show establishment” on King’s Road, Chelsea[3]. Also in 1848, Gray, Ormson and Brown of Danvers Street, Chelsea, were in business selling and erecting “every description of Building connected with Horticulture[4]. By 1851, the firm had become Gray and Ormson[5] and in early January, they ended their partnership, both going their separate ways[6]. Henry Ormson moved to Stanley Bridge in the King’s Road, Chelsea, where he continued his trade offering “plain, inexpensive, practical erections of Pits, Orchard Houses, Greenhouses, Vineries, &C., as to the more elaborate and architectural erections of Conservatories, Winter Gardens, &C., either in wood or iron”. He was also marketing his patent jointless tubular boiler-based heating systems[7].

Another long established horticultural builder was James Watts, of Claremont Place, Old Kent Road, London; who in 1848 was describing himself as a “hothouse builder” was offering conservatories, greenhouses, hothouses, cucumber and melon boxes and lights[8]. By 1858, still based in Claremont Place, he was still describing himself as a “hothouse builder”, offering both greenhouses and hothouses from 16ft. to 100ft. in length and in widths up to 14ft[9].

At a horticultural manufacturers’ exhibition held on 9th and 10th June, as part of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Grand Fete at Chiswick Gardens, a number of these established horticultural builders exhibited their products[10]. Mr. Ormson exhibited a 58ft. by 30ft. conservatory, with Roman façade, semi-circular arches between the capitals, and moulded spandrels with ornamental scrollwork, topped by an enriched capital. Whilst the interior was less ornate, it had pilasters matching the exterior columns and an ornamental iron roof. In the centre, was a lantern equally ornate, which also provided the ventilation. Mr. Ormson also exhibited his upright tubular boiler as well as an ingenious system for ventilating hothouses linked to hot-water pipes. Mr. Gray, now trading on his own from the Danvers Street site, also demonstrated a conservatory. It was much plainer that Mr. Ormson’s, being 30ft. by 20ft. with a span roof and three doors, surrounded with pink stained glass. Ventilation was supplied by means of alternate roof sashes being able to slide downwards under their own weight. The opening and closing mechanism was, compared with Thomas Messenger’s later system, a cruder arrangement using ropes worked by a wheel and windless placed at each end. Messrs Weeks & Co. exhibited several models of their conservatoires together with their upright tubular boiler.

Competitors’ Advertisements


  1. The London Gazette, 3rd September 1858.

  2. The Gardeners’ Chronicle & Agricultural Gazette, 1st January 1858.

  3. The Gardeners’ Chronicle & Agricultural Gazette, 20th February 1858.

  4. The Gardeners’ Chronicle & Agricultural Gazette, 27th May 1848.

  5. The Gardeners’ Chronicle & Agricultural Gazette, 19th April 1851.

  6. The Gardeners’ Chronicle & Agricultural Gazette, 23rd January 1858.

  7. The Gardeners’ Chronicle & Agricultural Gazette, 13th March 1858.

  8. The Gardeners’ Chronicle & Agricultural Gazette, 1st January 1858.

  9. The Gardeners’ Chronicle & Agricultural Gazette, 2nd January 1858.

  10. The Gardeners’ Chronicle & Agricultural Gazette, 19th June 1858.