Whilst basically a plumber and glazier, Thomas Messenger was obviously expanding both his skills and trade, because in a local directory of 1861 he was described as a plumber, glazier, gas fitter, patent hot water apparatus manufacturer and horticultural builder, adding hydraulic engineer to list two years later.
In the 1861 census he described himself as a “Plumber and Horticultural Builder”, employing six men and two boys. However, this does not appear to be consistent with the 1859 advertisement, which indicates that he had at least five separate departments. There is no indication of how these eight people were allocated across the various disciplines.
The standard model adopted later was for there to been a team of two, normally a fitter and a labourer, responsible for installing the heating systems on site and a separate team of two for erecting the horticultural buildings. These teams tended to be dedicated to one or the other. Added to this the growing expectancy of an increase in customers from further afield, requiring long distance travel and overnight stays to be factored in, as well as potential warranty, service or maintenance related visits. One way around this was for the customer to provide the labour, which happened on a number of occasions.
There was also the up-front design work for heating systems and horticultural buildings that would, on occasions, require visits to the customers’ site. There would also be a need for the normal ‘back-office’ activities.
The heating equipment, such as boilers, pipes, valves etc. had to be manufactured and the horticultural structures necessitated constructing prior to shipment to site. It is unlikely that all, if any, of these items were bought in, therefore these required workers to manufacture them. It is possible that some of the heating apparatus, such as pipes, etc., were bought-in, possibly using local iron foundries. Glass was another component that was obviously bought-in. There is no indication from whom Thomas Messenger purchased the glass, nor whether, as later, it was purchased ready cut to size and shipped direct to site or delivered to the works in larger sheets and sent off with the structure.
In addition, the other three departments – glazing, gas fitting and plumbing also required a workforce. Presumably, there must have been an amount of multi-skilling amongst his small workforce, with glazing and plumbing having obvious overlap with horticultural structures and heating respectively.
Valve Construction Patent (1861/1754)
As would be expected in early years of his horticultural business Thomas Messenger was keen to grasp any opportunity that arose to boost his business, including selling second-hand structures. In August 1861, he was offering a second-hand hothouse roof, measuring 45ft. by 11½ft., for sale. He also appears to have been speculatively building greenhouses and garden lights for sale, rather than building bespoke to customers specific requirements. Of course, these possible speculative structures may have been development or experimental pieces that he decided to sell.
Glazing without Putty Patent (1861/2235)
An interesting article appeared in 7th March 1865 issue of The Journal of Horticultural, Cottage Gardener and Country Gentlemen, which identified the only known record of Thomas Messenger selling and erecting a greenhouse using his ‘glazing without putty’ patented technique. The structure, a span roof greenhouse with finials and cresting with a double door half-way along the front, was built for Pryse Loveden (1838–1906) at Plas Gogerddan, about 3 miles east of Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire.
The reference to Pryse Loveden means that it was purchased prior to July 1863, because on 28th July 1863 Pryse Loveden was granted permission to revert to using the old family name of Pryse. The baronetcy of Gogerddan was revived on 28th July 1866 for Pryse Pryse.
Thomas Messenger undertook two further pieces of work for Sir Pryse Pryse. The first in 1873 when he erected a 121ft. by 7ft. heated lean-to structure. The second, the following year, involved alterations to the heating “in the old house”, probably meaning the structure built prior to 15th January 1860, the date Pryse Loveden sent a testimonial to Thomas Messenger, regarding a Hot House he had built for him, which appeared in Thomas Messenger’s 1870 catalogue ‘Horticultural Buildings, Hot Water and Hydraulic Appliances’. The boiler referenced presumably refers to a triangular tubular boiler that was installed to heat the hot house. Interestingly, Thomas Messenger only sent one fitter, a Mr. Pearson, to make the alterations, with Sir Pryse Pryse providing a labourer.
Subsequently, Messenger & Co., also undertook work at Gogerddan; this time for the second baronet, Sir Edward John Webley-Parry-Pryse. In 1906, they installed a new boiler and altered the heating system along with installing new ventilation tackle. It is uncertain as to whether the new boiler was a replacement for the boiler installed in the late 1850s.
The walled gardens at Gogerddan were built just south of the mansion, on the south side of the road leading to Penrhyn-coch. By 1888 there were around eleven horticultural structures scattered around the gardens, which were about 3.5 acres in size. Little appears to have changed during the next few decades, when Messenger & Co., installed the new boilers in 1906. Parts of the estate were being sold off from around 1875 onwards, with Lodge Park, containing over 7,375 acres placed up for sale by auction on 21st July 1930, being purchased by the Forestry Commission. In 1948 the remaining estate, including the mansion, walled gardens and 3,839 acres was offered for sale. The whole estate was purchased by then Aberystwyth University College for £95,700. The intention was to use the mansion and the surrounding land to house the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, although they did not move there until 1955. Whilst the mansion still survived a the beginning of the twenty-first century, the walled gardens were not spared, making way for a more modern set of buildings. Today the whol site is occupied by University of Aberystwyth’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) Campus.
Late in the year, Thomas Messenger became involved in a small dispute directed through the correspondence pages of The Gardeners Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette.
On 20th November 1861, a Mr. John Pannall of Park Lane, Leeds wrote an inflammatory and stinging letter to the magazine, which was published on 23rd November, where Mr. Pannall stated that:-
I saw an illustrated advertisement in your Paper the other day from Mr. T. G. Messenger, of Loughborough, about his Patented Divisionless Horticultural Buildings, which he says are cheaper, more durable, and lighter in appearance than any other made, and that the ventilation is effected by a simple and much admired mechanical arrangement, every word of which may be true. But I would respectfully ask Mr. Messenger, what part of the building is patented, and when the patent was sealed ? If he cannot tell me that, I shall be disposed to think that it never has been done; and further, if Nelson’s motto, “Let him that earns the Laurels wear them,” was acted up to, I am strongly inclined to think that they would never encircle the brow of Mr. Messenger, for he can see five houses built and ventilated exactly on the same plan without going a dozen miles from Leicester.
This is a somewhat surprising letter, since the patent had been granted several years previously and the magazine had been carrying adverts for the ‘divisionless’ structure since May 1859, with the adverts stating from the spring of 1860 that it was patented. Whether something else caused Mr. Pannall to send the original letter is unknown, nor is how Mr. Pannall knew of five houses built in the Leicester area.
Thomas Messenger responded to the accusations in January 1862, which was probably both long and equally inflammatory, as the magazine chose to only print a one line response stating that Mr. Messenger affirmed that his patent is dated 1st August, 1859. Unsurprisingly Thomas Messenger must have complained because on 8th February the magazine printed the following:-
Messenger’s Glass-houses : Mr. M. complains that we do not insert a long letter he has sent us. If he will send us an answer—that is to say a real answer to Mr. Pannell—we will print it if short ; but he must excuse us fur saying that what he has favoured us with is merely a cloud of words conveying anything rather than an answer.
Taking up the offer, Thomas Messenger wrote a third letter to the magazine, which this time was printed, presumably in full:-
We have received from Mr. Messenger the following note : — “Rather than allow so cursory a notice of my answer to Mr. J. Pannall, of Leeds, as the one that appeared in the Gardeners’ Chronicle of Jan. 18th I will gladly shorten it to the greatest brevity as a mean of having it brought before the public, inviting at the same time any gentleman to correspond with me on the subject, when a more explicit and substantial reply shall be given. 1st. All I say of my buildings is true intrinsically true— and I challenge any one to contradict one point. 2nd. My patent was finally sealed Aug. 1, 1859. 3rd. I alone am the inventor of my patents, and will contest their originality.4th. I deny that anyone else has ever (unless surreptitiously) built upon my principles”.
The magazine penned a note at the end of the printed correspondence, which sums up the Thomas Messenger’s letter perfectly, stating “This is really an advertisement not an answer”.
Drake’s Directory of Leicestershire, 1861. ↑
White’s Directory of Leicestershire & Rutland, 1863. ↑
The Nottinghamshire Guardian, 8th August 1861. ↑
The London Gazette, 11th August 1863. ↑
The Leeds Mercury, 12th July 1866. ↑
Ordnance Survey Map. ↑
The National Library of Wales; Gogerddan estate records. ↑
The Times, 8th June 1950. ↑
The National Library of Wales – Welsh Biography Online. ↑
Pages 1027-8. ↑
The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 18th January 1862, page 48. ↑
The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 18th January 1862, page 120. ↑
The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 15th February 1862, page 144. ↑