In 1870, Messenger’s High Street horticultural business premises, was being described as very extensive. He also reputedly had premises in Horsefair Street, Leicester[1], described as horticultural builder and general builder. Apart from this single directory entry, no other references can be found for Thomas Messenger either having an outlet in Leicester or being described as a general builder.

In February, he offered a new shop, with plate glass windows and attached dwelling house, fronting onto High Street Loughborough, for let[2]. Whether this was attached to his horticultural business, is unknown.


Mr. Ayres and his Patent


Advertisement – The Nottinghamshire Guardian, 30 August, 1867

How much Thomas Messenger collaborated with other people in the development of his horticultural business is unclear.

However, what appears to be an unusual incident was reported in The Nottinghamshire Guardian on 15th July 1870. Thomas Messenger was building a greenhouse both for and to the design of William Port Ayres (1815-1875), a consulting landscape gardener and horticultural architect, who at the time was residing in Nottingham[3].

Mr Ayres had just submitted a patent[4]of horticultural and other buildings or erections, or structures, and in the means and appliances for heating the same[5]. The design, known as an “Imperishable Hothouse”, was unconventional with the roof apparently being formed without sashes, sash bars, putty, paint or any external woodwork. The house consisted of a framework of rafters and mullions, placed 6 to 8 feet apart. They were connected by cross pieces of iron, or wood at such distances apart to take the glass, which was laid on in much the same way as tiles on the roof of a house, and held fast by small clips of brass or other material[6]. The floor, plant stages, sidewalls and partitions were made with strengthened cement concrete slabs, perforated to allow air to circulate. The heating system was also distinctive in that it comprised of a stream of either dry or moist air, which was directed into the soil. His design could either use high strength flat glass joined using a transparent cement or glass with bent up edges. Amongst the claimed advantages was that structure was relatively cheap to build, portable and extremely durable.

RHS – Oxford Exhibition

Thomas Messenger actually exhibited Mr. Ayres Imperishable Hothouse, at the Royal Horticultural Society meeting, held in the grounds of the Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford, between 19th and 22nd July.

Thomas Messenger also displayed two structures to his own-patented design, one a well-ventilated, curvilinear conservatory and the other a vinery. Both structures had rafters which were supported by iron uprights, braced by tension rods, which Thomas Messenger, claimed combined strength with lightness and durability. Both houses had standard Messenger-style, although unusual finishes, including neat wrought-iron cresting along the ridge, and end finials. Besides these two structures, he also exhibited a number of his other horticultural related products, including ordinary and flanged valves, his triangular tubular boiler, pumps and garden engines[7].

Why Thomas Messenger displayed Mr. Ayres Imperishable Hothouse is unclear but it was obviously with Mr. Ayres’ consent, as he actually advertised the fact in The Nottinghamshire Guardian[8]. Where it stated, “Mr Ayres begs to announce as the above meeting the EXHIBITION of a HOUSE manufactured with his Patent appliances by Mr. MESSENGER, of Loughborough”.

The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 29 June, 1871

The Imperishable Hothouse was generally well received at the show, with one extremely enthusiastic write-up appearing in The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette[9]: –

For some time past our readers have been asking how frequently horticultural buildings ought to be painted, and with what materials. We know this is a vexatious question. It is a matter which is costly if done at the proper time and in a proper manner, and still more costly if neglected. We therefore think those who have still to build will hail with pleasure the “imperishable hothouse and other roofs,” which, under a recent patent, Mr. W. P. Ayres, of Nottingham, is about to introduce, and which were exhibited here for the first time. These are free from sashes, sash bars, putty, or paint; and when manufactured in galvanised iron, as they may be in the most elegant manner, they will wear for a lifetime without further attention. For this purpose, ordinary glass jointed with transparent cement may be used, or instead “rough plate glass turned up at the sides,” or any other form of bent glass may be substituted. In this manner a roof of any size can be formed without any projecting rafters, further than such as may be necessary to carry scaffolding for repairs ; and consequently, even when wood is used in the construction, the painting will be reduced to a mere fraction of what it has been under the ordinary system of building. The glass is held in its place by clips at the comers, and a square can be taken out and replaced by any careful person in as little time as it takes to record the fact. Then tile floors, plant stages, and side or partition walls are formed of cement concrete, strengthened in a peculiar manner, so as to bear any amount of pressure that may be placed upon it, and yet admitting of being perforated for the air to pass through, panelled to hold water for evaporation or for the plants to stand in, or both perforated and panelled. These slabs can be manufactured of any required strength, and, consequently, are suitable for fire-proof floors, partition walls, tabling or shelving for shop, office, or warehouse fittings, or for any situation where slate or marble slabs have hitherto been used; they can be left rough for ordinary use, or be finished plain or in columns with the face of polished marble. Thirdly, Mr. Ayres introduces a new system of heating, dispensing with plunging or fermenting material for bottom-heat, and brings forward a system by which a stream of warm air. moist or dry, is constantly passing through the centre of the earth containing the roots of the plants, as well as impinging upon the sides of the pots, thus securing a supply of heat which can be regulated at the will of the cultivator. The advantages claimed are economy in first construction and subsequent repairs, perfect portability (when required), and when manufactured of iron, galvanised with the slab fittings, so imperishable as to wear for a lifetime without further cost. This may be considered to be taking the horticultural world by storm.


The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 29 June, 1871

Subsequently William Ayres displayed his own-patented greenhouse at other exhibitions, including the Royal Horticultural Society’s exhibition in Birmingham in 1872 (which Thomas Messenger also attended), where it received mixed reviews. However, he did receive one enthusiastic report, which appeared in the Garden Magazine on 29th June: –

Mr. Ayres showed capital examples of his houses. The walls and stages are formed by enduring cements, and the roof of iron and glass; the iron being nearly wholly covered with the glass, thus reducing the painting surface to a minimum. The glass also overlaps sideways, so that drip is thus disposed of, dirt under the laps is impossible. The glazier and the bricklayer are dispensed with; the ventilation is most perfect; and when the houses are perfected, they seem to merit the name of imperishable applied to them. Several examples were given, and they were also shown as frames, but for the latter they are too heavy; unless the frames are deep enough, or a sunk path is formed (as in Mr. Smee’s “poor man’s house”) to allow the workmen to walk under the glass, rather than lift it for watering, &c.

Why Thomas Messenger should become involved with Mr. Ayres, who was essentially a competitor, is unknown. Particularly as almost none of the construction techniques or materials were necessarily familiar to Thomas Messenger, unless of course that was precisely why he undertook the venture.


Advertisement – The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 29 June, 1871

There appears to have been somewhat more of a commercial relationship between the two. In 1867 William Ayres had ordered a 15ft. by 10ft. lean-to structure, with gas boiler heating (£40 10s.), whilst living at Walmer Terrace, Park Side, Nottingham.

Four years later, Mr. Ayres gave an interesting insight into the sort of dangers that can be encountered even by the so-called knowledgeable and experienced person[10]:

For four years I have been working one of Messenger’s triangular tubular boilers, and at the first nothing could be more satisfactory. Eighteen months ago it went wrong, and though the sweep and bricklayer were called in, nothing like effective action could be restored. At last, in a fit of desperation, for we were sitting up with it until midnight regularly, I put on an old suit, and took a turn at it myself. Clearing the fire away, I found the only escape for the flame was by the side of the tubes, instead of at their ends, and examining it more closely I found the throat of the fire-place as completely stopped as if filled in with cement, so firmly as to require a crowbar to break it out. Removing this the action of the fire was perfect, so much so that we can now leave the fire on the coldest nights 12 or 14 hours with perfect safety, though both Grapes, stove plants and Orchids, are dependent upon it. I mention this to show the imperative necessity of young gardeners being made acquainted with the setting and action of a boiler, and how much trouble little care and forethought may save…………..

In 1870, William Ayres ordered several other horticultural buildings, including an 80ft. by 14ft. range, with heating (using a No. 5 boiler) and either a span roof or lean-to 35ft. by 15ft. conservatory on behalf of a client in Retford, Nottinghamshire. It appears that these structures were normal Messenger designed building rather than any designed by William Ayres.

However, later the same year he made enquiries regarding Thomas Messenger constructing for a 40ft. by 12ft. structure, apparently to his own-patented design, for a Mr. Strachan, who was presumably a client of Ayres. The components included a significant amount of ironwork, including twelve 6ft. long 4-inch by 1-inch uprights, four 6ft. long 6-inch by 1-inch angle uprights. Seven 5ft. 6in. by 2ft. 6in. cement side panels and four 4ft. by 2ft. 6in cement end panels. To ensure it was imperishable all the ironwork was galvanised, at a cost of £25 8s. 3d. For this Messenger quoted an all in price, including fixing (15s 6d.), of £118. At the same time, Thomas Messenger quoted £75 for constructing it as normal, in wood (970 superficial feet of framing) and iron, although interestingly still proposing to use concrete slabs.

Advertisement – The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 18 May, 1871

William Ayres went on to form the Imperishable Hothouse Company, based at Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire and sourced several heating systems from Thomas Messenger, on behalf of clients. Whilst at Newark, William Ayres, describing himself as a horticultural engineer and architect, patented another invention for “improvements in the construction of horticultural buildings[11].

William Ayres was the son of a gardener and trained at Chiswick, following which he worked as a gardener for Mr. J. Cook of Blackheath, Kent. He then became a nurseryman, dealer and chapman, still living in Blackheath, but fell into bankruptcy in 1853[12]. He then apparently moved to Nottingham and sometime later his involvement with Thomas Messenger, when he was describing himself as a consulting landscape gardener and horticultural architect[13].

He was a regular contributor to number of horticultural magazines and author of a book on the cultivation of the cucumber. He was also joint editor of a short-lived magazine known as “The Gardeners’ Magazine of Botany, Horticulture, Floriculture, and Natural Science”, first published in 1850.

He died on 14th January 1875, at home at No. 2 Carisbrooke Villas, St. German’s Road, Lewisham, Kent and his estate was valued under £100[14].


Workload and Customers

Country County Town Customer
England Cheshire Lymm? George Crosfield
    Stockport Benjamin Whitham
  Cumberland Scaleby Robert Andrew Allison
  Derbyshire Bakewell Edward Ward Fox
    Borrowash William Barron
  Devon Barnstaple Charles Henry Williams
    Cornwood Mr. Pode
  Durham Darlington Mr. K. Robinson
  Gloucestershire Cirencester Mr. Jefferies
    Owlpen Thomas Anthony Stoughton
  Hampshire Selborne Sir Roundell Palmer
  Kent Beckenham John T. Bowden
  Lancashire Farington William Bashall
    Leyland Mr. Batherton
    Manchester Elliott & Alston
  Leicestershire Birstall Harold Lees
    Gumley Capt. Thomas Charles Douglas Whitmore
    Knipton Hon. & Rev. A.G. Campbell
    Leicester Mr. Wheatley
    Leicester Samuel Frisby & Son
    Leicester Thomas Swift Taylor
    Loughborough Ambrose Lisle March-Phillipps de Lisle
    Loughborough Committee of Swan Street Chapel
    Loughborough G. White
    Loughborough Messenger & Perkins
    Loughborough Mr. Harding
    Loughborough Mr. Taylor
    Loughborough Wood Gate Baptist Chape
    Maplewell Charles Ashton
    Netherseal Capt. Moseley
    Overseal Major George Thomas Mowbray
    Whitwick Rev. H. A. Tatehills
  Middlesex London Alfred Waterhouse
  Middlesex London Charles Jocelyn Parnell
  Middlesex London J. Henry Johnson
    London John & James Girdwood
  Norfolk Chedgrave Sir Thomas William Brograve Proctor-Beauchamp
  Northamptonshire Broughton Green Philadelphus Jeyes
    Wakerley William Gill
    Wellingborough William Blott
    Wellingborough William Blott and
William Woolston
  Northumberland Hexham C.J. Maling
    North Shields Rev. R.T. Wheeler
  Nottinghamshire Arnold Duke of St. Albans
    New Basford Ward & Cope
    Nottingham Committe of Carrington Chapel
    Nottingham Committee of Stoney Street Chapel
    Nottingham Henry Farmer
    Nottingham Manlove Alliott & Co.
    Nottingham Mr. Hawksley
    Nottingham S. Limpenny
    Nottingham Thomas Forman
    Plumtree Rev. Burnside
    Retford William Port Ayres
  Staffordshire Stafford R.J. Griffiths
    Whittington Edward Holmes
  Surrey London E. Hunt
  Warwickshire Birmingham Mr. Hinson
    Birmingham William Mills
    Wilnecote George Skey
  Westmorland Casterton John Gibson
    Kirkby Lonsdale Alfred Harris, junior
    Kirkby Lonsdale Henry Thomas Welch
    Kirkby Lonsdale Mr. Wilson
    Kirkby Lonsdale Thomas Harper Whitaker
  Worcestershire Birmingham John Cartland
  Yorkshire, East Riding Middleton-on-the-Wolds A. Brooksbank
  Yorkshire, North Riding Guisborough Joseph Whitwell Pease
    Scarborough Mr. Waters
  Yorkshire, West Riding Bingley Alfred Harris, junior
    Bingley Henry Harris
    Farnley Tyas Rev. Cutfield Wardroper
    Huddersfield E. Hirst
    Ranmoor Henry Hutchinson
    Rossington Mr. Rowbotham
    Rotherham J. A. Young, Guest & Chrimes
    Rotherham Mr. Heppenstall
    Sheffield J.B. Jepson
    Sheffield James William Harrison
    Sheffield Mr. Stephens
    Sheffield Samuel Roberts
  Unknown Unknown James Pulham
    Unknown L. Secham
    Unknown Mr. Allen
    Unknown Mr. Curtis
    Unknown Mr. Robinson
    Unknown Neville Ward
    Unknown R. Green
    Unknown R. Tinkler
    Unknown William Port Ayres
Wales Caernarfonshire Porthmadog Owen Morris Roberts


The geographical spread of customers in 1870 was remarkably similar to 1869. Although the actual number of customers or potential customers was down, the number of orders or enquiries was up by about twenty per cent, to around the same figure as in 1868. About twenty per cent were for horticultural structures products only, compared with over fifty per cent the previous year. Heating only, was up to fifteen per cent compared with less than five per cent; those for a combination were down to less than thirty per cent.


J. Henry Johnson

In March, Mr. J. Henry Johnson, a solicitor, patent agent and author[15], whose offices were at No. 47, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, requested three estimates.

The first for a 27ft. long span roof structure, including carriage to the Bricklayers’ Arms Station[16], southeast London, but not fixed (£69 10s.).

The second for a range of slatted and slate staging, again including carriage to the Bricklayers’ Arms Station but not fixing (£15 5s.), although a figure of £6 was also quoted if fixing was required.

The third estimate of £37 10s., that included installation (10 man-days of a fitter’s time and 8 man-days of a labourer’s time), was for heating the span roof structure using a No. 4 boiler, 86 yards of 4-inch, 20 yards of 2-inch pipes and 70 cement joints.


John Jefferies & Son

Messrs John Jefferies & Son were nurserymen and seedsmen with a retail outlet Market Place, Cirencester[17], who ordered an almost skeletal structure, measuring 100ft. by 21ft.

Whilst Messenger erected the structure, it had neither glazing nor internal fittings and only had two coats of paint. It was almost identical to the one Messenger supplied the previous year to Messrs Fisher & Holmes, nurserymen and seedsmen of Handsworth Nurseries, Sheffield.


Benjamin Whitham

Another commercial nurseryman that Thomas Messenger had dealings with was Mr. Benjamin Whitham of Reddish Nurseries, near Stockport.

Firstly, in mid-February he submitted an estimate for an un-partitioned 69ft. by 13ft. span-roof forcing house with two 69ft. by 4ft. stages “prepared for slate and sand”.

This was followed at the end of March by a 30ft. by 12ft. span roof plant house.

At the end of May, Thomas Messenger submitted an estimate for a partitioned 90ft. by 19ft. span roof house, with front- and back-lights.

At the end of June, another estimate was forthcoming, this time a heated lean-to structure, including ventilation apparatus, a No. 11 boiler, 310 yards of 4-inch, 7 yards of 3-inch, 14 yards of 2-inch hot water pipes and 130 cement joints.

Messenger received several other requests from the nursery over the following few years; one in 1871 for 90ft. run of pit lights; at the end of 1874, he won an order for a 60ft. by 15ft. lean-to partitioned vinery, a 36ft. by 15ft. half-span roof peach house and a 36ft. by 18ft. span roof plant house.

Finally, in February 1875 (Messenger & Co.) a 60ft. 6in. run of pit frames and 3ft. 5in. wide lights. This appears to have been the last occasion the two firms conducted business.


Capt. Thomas Charles Douglas Whitmore

In the autumn of 1870, Thomas Messenger won an order to build a conservatory at a cost of £235 for Captain Thomas Charles Douglas Whitmore of Gumley Hall, Gumley, Leicestershire.

Captain Whitmore has just purchased the Hall[18] from Sir William Cradock Hartopp, whose daughter he had married, a few years earlier, in 1867. Apparently, he spent a considerable sum (into the thousands[19]) upon making numerous changes, including many structural alterations, which obviously included a new conservatory.

The record books give no indication of the size of the conservatory, although it does give an extensive list of materials, which included forty-eight linear feet of 6-inch by 4-inch wood sills; sixty-one linear feet of 9-inch by 6-inch cornices; sixty-one linear feet of 6-inch by 4-inch transoms; sixty linear feet of 6-inch by 4-inch muntins; one hundred and eight linear feet of 10-inch by 5-inch angle muntins; fifteen linear feet of 6-inch by 4-inch transoms for over the doors; forty-nine linear feet of 10-inch by 5-inch plate to the inner walls; 478 superficial feet of glazing to the front and 1,146 superficial feet on roof framing.

The size and complexity of the conservatory can be deduced by the fact that 120[20] man-days was allowed for installation in total price of £236.

A separate heating system estimate was provided, which included a No. 5 boiler, 114 yards of 4-inchs, 8 yards of 2-inch pipes and 95 cement joints, priced at £48.

At the end of the year, presumably following the completion of the conservatory, Thomas Messenger received an order to furnish it. This included standard items such as 800ft. copper wire for training, 53ft. of iron grating, 3 semi-circular iron stages and 4 straight stages. It also contained some more unusual items including stuccoing the inside of the conservatory, which was subcontracted to Mr. Moss[21]; flooring the conservatory in Hopton Wood stone[22], which was provided by Mr. Hull[23]; six small wire baskets and one large with chains and hooks for hanging from the conservatory roof. The most unusual item of all was two mirrors, 75in. by 36in. in plain frames, priced at £6 5s., including fixing.


Ecclesiastical and Public Buildings

The provision and subsequent maintenance of heating systems in ecclesiastical and public buildings was buoyant in 1870, although exceedingly variable, year on year. Over the following seventy years ecclesiastical related work was to prove a lucrative business for the firm.

During 1870, Thomas Messenger was involved in installing several heating systems in various chapels, including at Carrington Chapel, Nottingham; New Connection Methodist Chapel, Wood Gate, Loughborough; Methodist Chapel, Swan Street, Loughborough.

In May, he won a contract to install a heating system into the Corn Exchange[24], Market Hill, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire. The order being placed through J. Ludds, No. 4, Chapel Street, off Grosvenor Place, London.

The work at Stoney Street Chapel in Nottingham probably typifies the approach of both parties whereby an iterative process can ensue, pitting requirements against options against affordability. The result can be that a non-optimum solution is adopted initially, only for later additions/alterations to be made, pushing the total price over and above, the original estimate.

The Committee of the Stoney Street General Baptist Chapel, situated on Plumptre Place, first approached Thomas Messenger is the middle of 1870 regarding a heating system for the Sunday School, built in 1811. The resulting estimate was £45 10s., which included a No. 6 boiler, 135 yards of 4-inch, 44 yards of 3-inch hot water pipes and 90 cement joints.

In November, the Committee approached Thomas Messenger again, this time regarding replacing the heating in the Chapel, built in 1799 and capable of seating 1,300. This approach resulted in three estimates; the first recommended a new No. 8 boiler, 56 yards of 3-inch pipes to the coils and 40 cement joints. The total of £30 10s. included an allowance for the old boiler, pipes, etc., of £2 10s. 5d.. The second estimate was for two coil cases stained as if deal, with ornamental ivory panels to both front and top. The third, several weeks later, was for a modified version of the first estimate, again it used the same size boiler, but replacing the 3-inch pipes with 30 yards of 4-inch, with only two 4-inch siphons compared with twenty-four 3-inch siphons in the original estimate. These changes brought the overall price down to £25 15s., but only allowed £1 10s. against the old boiler, pipes, etc. In addition, the estimate noted that if additional pipes were required it would be charged at 4s. per foot.

In early December, Thomas Messenger submitted another two estimates; the first of £7 7s. 6d. involved providing heating to the gallery in the Sunday School, by laying additional 3-inch pipes. The second of £9 13s. was for the Chapel itself, again for additional heating pipes, connections, etc.

In January 1876, after Thomas Messenger had sold the business, Messenger & Co., submitted an estimate for installing a No. 6 Boiler. The component price, including eight man-days installation time was £22, but was offered at £20. In the event a No. 5 boiler was installed in February, costing £15, with £1 allowance made for the old material. The committee, which in May had debts of £400[25], settled their account nine months later[26]. The last recorded order was in November 1877 for goods to the value of £4 3s. 2d. with the account not being settled for almost three years[27]. The Chapel closed in 1887, with the last service being held in September[28]. At the time, a new Chapel was planned for in the Meadows between London Road and Arkwright Street[29]. The Stoney Street Chapel and schoolroom had already been advertised for sale by private treaty[30]. The Chapel occupied about 653 square yards and the schoolroom 684, although later it was noted that the schoolroom was unsafe and the material would be used in building a new schoolroom, also in the Meadow area[31].


Kirkby Lonsdale and Alfred Harris Junior

During 1870, Thomas Messenger was involved with three possible clients in Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmorland. It is likely to be more than coincidence that he should be involved with three clients in such a small area over 120 miles from Loughborough in such a short time period.

The first occasion was on 3rd March involving three estimates for Thomas Harper Whitaker, a surgeon, of Beck Head. The first estimate was for a 55ft. long heated vinery, 504ft. vine wire, 28ft. by 2ft. 10in. iron walk, numerous flat and stepped stages (£169 10s.). The second estimate was for a 17ft. long heated forcing house (£51 10s.) and the third of £6 10s. if a covered way was added to the vinery and forcing house.

The second potential client was Henry Thomas Welch of Leck Hall, which lies a few miles southeast of Kirkby Lonsdale. On 14th March, he received an estimate for a 60ft. by 15ft. lean-to structure, probably a vinery, with 1,050 superficial feet of vine wire and a full-length iron walkway. The structure was to be heated using a No. 4 Boiler, with 92 yards of 4-inch, 6 yards of 2-inch hot water pipes and 40 cement joints. The total price of £154 10s. excluded a £15 allowance, if the iron walkway option was not taken-up. It is unknown whether Henry Welch placed an order, although there were a number of greenhouses[32], including two lean-tos built in the kitchen garden to the north of the Hall, close to High Leck Farm. However, none of them seem to be the correct length; one appears to be around 80ft. long and the other about 25ft.

Lunefield, Kirkby Lonsdale – 1898 OS Map

The third potential client was Alfred Harris junior[33], a banker[34], who was in the process of moving from Bingley, Yorkshire to live at Lunefield, which was then on the eastern edge of Kirkby Lonsdale. Almost certainly, Alfred Harris introduced the other two Kirkby Lonsdale residents to Thomas Messenger. He had been a customer, a couple of years earlier, when living in Yorkshire.

In 1869, Alfred Harris junior commissioned Alfred Waterhouse, the architect, to replace an older house on the site, also known as Lunefield. The new house was built in typical Gothic Revival style, with a large square tower on one corner, steep roofs, at least six tall chimneys and numerous pinnacles.

The first order Thomas Messenger was received in March 1869, whilst the residence was still being built, for a galvanised tank[35], pump and associated pipe work, which astonishingly required 11 man-days to install (7 days for a fitter and 4 for a labourer).

In March, 1870, Alfred Harris ordered a heating system for the conservatory (Thomas Messenger was apparently neither responsible for either building the conservatory or providing any of the components) and entrance hall, which included one No. 5 boiler, 79 yards of 4-inch, 35 yards of 2-inch pipes and 70 cement joints. Also included in the order was one coil radiator for the entrance hall, consisting of twenty-six 6ft. long 2-inch diameter pipes, with the option of a coil case (the price of which was slightly less than the radiator £7 10s. compared with £7 15s. for the radiator). The price allowed 14 man-days’ installation for a fitter and labourer. At about the same time a Mr. Wilson, presumably the gardener ordered an unheated forcing house, consisting of 312 superficial feet of framing, for £19 10s.

Alfred Harris junior had engaged Thomas Messenger on four separate occasions between 1868 and 1870 whilst living at Ashfield, which was a small ten acre estate lying just south of Bingley, in the Aire valley.

The first occasion in mid-December 1868 resulted in three separate estimates being submitted. The first of £372 included a heated ¾ span roof 96ft. by 17ft. range to be partitioned into four houses; two to be used as vineries, one as a plant house and the other as a stove house. The estimate also included three iron gratings, one measuring 48ft. by 2ft. 9in. and two measuring 48ft. by 1ft. 6in.; two stepped plant stages, both measuring 17ft. by 8ft.; two flat plant stages, both measuring 24ft. by 3ft. and 1,032 superficial feet of vine wire. The heating system included a No. 12 boiler, 180 yards of 4-inch, 41 yards of 3-inch and 30 yards of 2-inch heating pipe with 136 cement joints. The second estimate of £176 was for two heated 27ft. by 13ft span roof. forcing houses, joined together to form a 54ft. long structure; the heating system was to use the range boiler along with 144 yards of 4-inch, 63 yards of 2-inch heating pipe and 90 cement joints. The third estimate of £254 was for two heated 40ft. by 19ft. span roof structures; one to be used as a peach house and the other as an orchard house. Whilst the components list four roofs and four ends, there are only two sides, which would suggest that they might have been placed together side by side, although there is no other evidence to support this. Also included in the estimate were two 40ft. by 2ft. 9in iron grates and a 40ft. by 24ft. peach trellis. Again the heating system was to use the range boiler, along with additional 107 yards of 4-inch, 45 yards of 2-inch heating pipe and 60 cement joints.

There was obviously some discussion over the use of only one boiler to heat all these houses, as Thomas Messenger submitted two further estimates less than two weeks later. The first of £5 10s. included four additional 4-inch valves in a revised heating system design that allowed for the provision for an additional boiler. The second of £16 provided for two No. 10 boilers instead of a single No. 12 boiler as per the original design.

It appears that at least one of the estimates was accepted, as an attached note in the record book states that a small amount of unused material was left on-site. One indication that the work could have been completed at Ashfield was when Alfred Harris junior, having moved to Lunefield, placed the property up for auction in June 1870, it was described as having “……an extensive range of glass divided into vinery, stove and conservatory, peach house….[36].

In October 1869, a time when Alfred Harris obviously knew that he was going to leave Ashfield and was having Lunefield rebuilt he approached Thomas Messenger for another set of estimates. The entry in the record book references Arthur Harris junior as being at Ashfield, although it is probable that the estimate refers to Lunefield. The first estimate was for a range of heated forcing and peach houses. Although no actual dimensions are given, there is reference to 3,843 superficial feet of framing, 1,119 superficial feet of vine wire, 900 superficial feet of vine wiring against a back wall, 700 superficial feet of peach trellis, 60 feet of slate front and 330 superficial feet of iron walkway. The structure was obviously not a straightforward lean-to or ¾ span roof because there is reference amongst the component list to a 16ft. length of lead for a valley. It might have been a long structure with a central porch, as there were three finials. However, the second estimate a modification of the first structure to an ‘L’ shape range to accommodate a late vinery, a peach house and two forcing houses. The overall size was significantly smaller as it required 1,500 superficial feet less framing, 600 superficial feet less wiring along the back wall, 450 superficial feet less of peach trellis, 165 superficial feet less of iron walkway. Another interesting but unexplainable fact is that whilst both estimates have a detailed list of heating components, neither of them refer to a boiler. The only known mention of a boiler at Lunefield was an estimate by Thomas Messenger regarding heating the conservatory that included a No. 5 boiler, several months later. The 1898 Ordnance Survey map for the area shows an ‘L’ shaped horticultural structure against a back wall located to the north of the house and could be the L’ shaped range referenced in the estimate.

There is always the possibility that all references to Ashfield is merely because Alfred Harris was living at the time and all the estimates refer to Lunefield. That explanation would make some sense of the information contained across the estimates. Besides the ‘L’ shaped structure at Lunefield, three other glasshouses appear on the 1898 Ordnance Survey map. One attached to the house, which is presumably the conservatory. Another is approximate 100ft. by 18ft. sized structure with a south facing aspect, sitting against a back wall to the west of the house. This may be the ¾ span roof 96ft. by 17ft., partitioned range, referenced in the December 1868 estimate. This estimate also contained a large No 12 boiler (a later estimate allowed for two No. 10 boilers, all of which would be capable of heating the both the range and ‘L’ shaped structure. The latter may have been a late alternative for the second and third estimates given in December 1868. The third glasshouse on the map is an approximately 17ft. square structure lying between the range and the ‘L’ shaped structure.

Alfred Harris junior stayed at Lunefield until 1889 when he moved to Wharfenden, Frimley Green, Surrey, where he died in 1901[37]. Lunefield then an estate of 53 acres was not put up for sale until 1899[38]. The estate was subsequently purchased by Countess of Betide and following her death in February 1928[39], was again put up for auction[40], but with only 12 acres of land and subsequently leased to Cooperative Holiday Association. The horticultural structures were still extant at the beginning of World War Two[41], when Lunefield was requisitioned by the Army. The estate was flattened during the 1960s and 1970s and given over for a residential development.


Henry Harris


Alfred Harris junior’s Uncle, Henry Harris, a banker, lived at Longwood[42], a 20-acre estate[43] next to the River Aire just north of Bingley.

In early 1870, when aged 80 and probably encouraged by his nephew, he ordered a heated 118ft. by 17ft. lean-to roof range divided into two houses. This was an unusual combination of a 62ft. long orchard house and a 56ft. long vinery. The price of £586 14s., which included £216 for Messrs Bean land[44] tender for all the brickwork and stonework, 1,246 superficial feet of vine wire along the whole length of the vinery, 105ft. by 2ft. 10in. iron walkway and 651 superficial feet of wiring along the back wall of the orchard house. The heating system included a No. 9 boiler, 218 yards of 4-inch, 12 yards of 3-inch, 82 yards of 2-inch heating pipes and 130 cement joints. Also included within the price was a potting shed with a 6ft. by 3ft. window.

Henry Harris died, unmarried, aged 82, on 16th March 1872[45], leaving a personal estate valued at close to £350,000[46]. When the estate was put up for sale in June, 1873 it was stated that the mansion had recently been “enlarged and beautified[47], so perhaps the long range was part of this beautification process. Included amongst the outbuildings were a conservatory, greenhouse, peach house and vineries included in the park, gardens and pleasure grounds[48].

The 1893 Ordnance Survey map of the area shows a glasshouse of a corresponding size a little to the south of Longwood House, with another greenhouse a very short distance away and lying at right angles to the range. These two houses remained up to at least the 1980s and from sometime prior to 1962[49] they being used commercially as part of Longwood nurseries[50].

Longwood House, Bingley – 1893 OS Map

By 1988, the governors of Bingley Grammar School, which occupied the site to the east and northeast, had purchased the nursery site and adjoining house, following the retirement of the owner,. The governors subsequently sold off the house[51] and nothing remains of the horticultural structures.


Expanding Horizons

By late 1870, Thomas Messenger must have been confident in his horticultural business because not only was he offering his customary practice of preparing plans and estimates from a potential clients own instructions but was willing to travel to the customers site to discuss their requirements. This became normal practice for the Company well into the middle of the twentieth century. Visiting potential clients not only enabled Thomas Messenger to engage directly with them, therefore provide both a more personal service and an opportunity to ensure that site specific issues or problems could be identified. The consequence of providing a more personalised service was the additional cost, time and effort required by the visit or visits.

Whether Thomas Messenger undertook the work himself, employed full-time representatives or engaged local agents is unknown. How the client paid for this additional service is also unclear. Nothing obvious can be gathered from the existing record books, although there are enough places where such costs could be contained, such as carriage, contingency various mark-ups or may be spread across the general component costs. Thomas Messenger must have thought that the benefits significantly outweighed any disadvantages otherwise; he would not have offered the service.

Another approach that he adopted was to state formally that he no longer restricted himself to producing horticultural structures that were reliant upon one or more of his patented methods of construction, but was willing to build to a client’s own requirements. This was specifically aimed at architects, where he was willing to construct such structures to an architect’s own design. This was no doubt a planned move to try to attract more work from architects, as he appears to have only received a apparently insignificant number orders from architects during the year.

As seen above, in March, Alfred Waterhouse ordered a number of garden frames for his garden at Foxhill.

In June, Charles Jocelyn Parnell of Vernon Chambers, No. 50, Pall Mall, Westminster, London, ordered a heated greenhouse, probably 32ft. long, on behalf of an unknown client. The components included 1,060 superficial feet of framing, 180 superficial feet of stepped and 114 superficial feet of flat staging. The accompanying heating system comprised of a No. 3 boiler, 65 yards of 4-inch, 18 yards of 2-inch heating pipes and 50 cement joints.

In September, he received an order for a heated 41ft. 6in. by 19ft. 6in. ¾-span roof vinery, together with cresting, finials, 976 superficial feet of vine wire and 104 superficial feet of iron walkway from Mr. Owen Morris Roberts[52] of Porthmadog, Caernarvonshire for a client also living in Porthmadog.

Two orders were received from Messrs John and James Girdwood of No. 49, Pall Mall, Westminster. The first, in September, was for a 30ft. 9in, long conservatory for an unknown client. The second, a month later, was for heating the conservatory.



  1. J. G. Harrod and Co.’s Directory of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland and Staffordshire, 1870 (2nd edition).

  2. The Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury, 26th February 1870.

  3. The Nottinghamshire Guardian, 25th November 1870.

  4. Patent 1870, petition recorded 1st July 1870

  5. The London Gazette, 11th November 1870.

  6. The Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener and Country Gentlemen, Vol. XIX (New Series), 29th July,1870.

  7. The Gardeners’ Chronicle & Agricultural Gazette, 6th August 1870, page 1061.

  8. The Nottinghamshire Guardian, 15th July and 22nd July 1870.

  9. 23rd July 1870, page 996.

  10. The Gardeners’ Chronicle & Agricultural Gazette, 15th July 1871, page 908-9.

  11. The London Gazette, 27th December 1872.

  12. The London Gazette, 4th January 1856.

  13. The London Gazette, 15th November 1870.

  14. Probate Records.

  15. The Patentees’ Manual. — A Treatise on the Law and Practice of Patents for Inventions. By James Johnson, Esq., Barrister-at-Law; and J. Henry Johnson, Solicitor and Patent Agent.A Concise View of the Law connected with Letters Patent for Inventions. By James Johnson, Esq., Barrister-at-Law; and J. Henry Johnson, Solicitor and Patent Agent.Johnson’s Epitome of Patent Laws and Practice.

  16. The station was located on the north east side of the Old Kent Road, South East London; south of the junction with Page’s Walk on the edge of the built-up area.

  17. They later had a large nursery at Siddington.

  18. Having previously sold his residence at Apley Court in Shropshire.

  19. Annals of the Billesdon Hunt, by F. Palliser de Costobadie; 1914, page 132.

  20. 90 days for a fitter and 30 for a labourer.

  21. Builder of Loughborough.

  22. Hopton-Wood Limestone was first quarried about 1820 in Hopton Wood at the west end of Via Gellia, Derbyshire. The limestone was very fine, almost like marble and was used for over 100,000 War Graves, though now worked out. The western outcrop was quarried by Hopton-Wood Stone Co and the eastern by Killer brothers, beginning around 1870.

  23. William H. Hull was a stone and marble mason, Leicester Road, Loughborough.

  24. The Corn Exchange was converted into the Picture Palace cinema. In 1937, it was transformed into a ballroom and reportedly had the first properly sprung floor in the country. In 2011, it was a nightclub and restaurant.

  25. The Nottinghamshire Guardian, 26th May 1876.

  26. Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/04.

  27. Ibid.

  28. The Nottinghamshire Guardian, 24th September 1887.

  29. Ibid.

  30. The Nottinghamshire Guardian, 20th August 1886.

  31. The Nottinghamshire Guardian, 24th September 1887.

  32. Ordnance Survey Map.

  33. Alfred Harris junior was the son of Edward Harris a London shipbroker. At the age of 24 he joined his uncle’s bank, becoming a partner in 1850 and chairman in 1882, retiring in 1900.He was for many years chairman of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company, being a large shareholder; he was also a director of the British Steamship Investment Trust Limited and of the Ilkley Wells Hydropathic Company Limited.He was one of the earliest members of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce, taking an active and intelligent interest in the commercial affairs of the West Riding of Yorkshire. An amateur artist, he assisted in the formation of the Bradford School of Art, and also in the foundation of the local School of Design. In 1885 became High Sheriff of Westmorland, having previously twice contested Kendal, unsuccessfully in each instance. In 1889 he moved to from Lunefield to Wharfenden, Farnborough, Hampshire. In politics he was a Conservative. He was on the Commission of the Peace for the West Riding of Yorkshire and for Westmorland. He was twice married. He died at his residence at Wharfenden, aged of 76, was for a long time one of the leading bankers in the North of England. (from The Times, Monday, 18th November 1901).

  34. Peckover, Harris & Co. (established in 1803), the bank was founded by Edmund Peckover and his nephew Charles Harris both of Bradford. Prior to this the Peckovers were in business as woolstaplers but provided banking facilities to their customers out of whom the banking business grew. From 1823 the Harris family were the senior partners). It was known as the Bradford Old Bank Ltd from 1864 and was taken over by Birmingham District & Counties Bank in 1907 and then by Barclay & Co., in 1916.

  35. 5ft. x 2ft. 6in. x 2ft. 6in.

  36. The Bradford Observer, 26th May 1870.

  37. The Times, Monday, 18th November 1901.

  38. The Times, 27th May 1899.

  39. The Times, 27th February, 1928.

  40. The Times, 17th November, 1928.

  41. Ordnance Survey Map.

  42. Later known as Longwood Hall, it was divided into 2 properties and is still extant.

  43. The Times, 10th June 1873.

  44. Probably Messrs John and William Beanland, bricklayers, joiners, masons and contractors of 21 Horton Lane and Neal Street, Bradford.

  45. The Times, 26th June 1872.

  46. The Times, 25th April 1872.

  47. The Times, 10th June 1873.

  48. The Times, 10th June 1873.

  49. Ordnance Survey Map.

  50. Ordnance Survey Map.

  51. Friends of Bingley Grammar School newsletter – Torch, 1988.

  52. Owen Morris Roberts (1833-1896), was born in Birkenhead, the son of Edward Roberts, a Porthmadog joiner. Before taking over his father’s business he spent a period at sea. By 1880 he was firmly established at Bank Place, where he died after a long illness on 15 December 1896. His firm carried on at least until 1901 under the name of O. Morris Roberts and Son.