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23 Sep 2015

History Of the Conservatory

History of the Conservatory

Although these days we use our conservatories for relaxing, enjoying our garden and entertaining, the conservatory has a strong heritage in the UK for preserving food, scientific studies and exhibiting foreign treasures imported from overseas. Read on to find out more about how the conservatory has developed over the past few centuries.  

Origins of the Conservatory

The word conservatory originates from the Italian “conservato” which means preserved and the latin word “ory” which means a place for storing food. It follows that the early conservatory originated from a greenhouse as a place for preserving food during winter. In fact, orangeries were originally places where orange trees and other Mediterranean fruit trees were kept during winter. Conservatories then started to be used to house foreign plants as either botanical laboratories for the science community or as status symbols. However, it was during the industrial revolution which led to the most impressive advancements in modern conservatories. It was a time when steel was beginning to be used to build conservatory structures which led to the more grander conservatory roof designs.  

Renaissance Period – 1800’s

During the centuries where the black plague was rife, Shakespeare was creating plays and elderly ladies were being hunted for being suspected witches, there were also important architectural and horticultural developments taking place. Some of these developments include the construction of the first few conservatory-like buildings. The first greenhouse and orangery structures were reported to be constructed of timber masonry which made them dark and heavy, so they did not look like the sleek modern conservatory designs we know today. These conservatories would be used to house foreign plants as either botanical laboratories for the science community or as status symbols for the aristocracy. 

1800’s: The Industrial Revolution sparked new advancements in manufacturing processes which made it possible to build more grand glass buildings at a faster pace.

1825: Josh Nash designed four conservatories for Buckingham Palace.

1836: During a period whereby thousands of plants were being imported from all over the British Empire, it was becoming popular in aristocracy to exhibit these foreign treasures as symbols of wealth. Joseph Paxton’s first designed Chatsworth’s “Great Stove”. Paxton developed a “Ridge and Furrow” roof, a design which places the roof panels at right angles to the morning and evening sun to maximise the light, so giving Mediterranean and tropical plants the climate they need to survive. At the time, “The Great Stove” was the largest glass building in the world.

1840’s: Hampton Court Conservatory was built by the design of Sir Joseph Paxton. Chatsworth Lily House: Using the new cast plate glass method developed by James Hartley in 1848, Joseph Paxton was able to take larger sheets of cheap but strong glass to construct Chatsworth’s Lilly House. Chatsworth Lily House used a flat roof version of the ridge and furrow design Paxton used on the Great Stove. Paxton also used a curtain walling system which allowed hanging verticals of bays of glass to be hung from beams.

1844-1848: Palm House: Decimus Burton and iron-maker Richard Turner designed the Palm House in Kew Gardens. It was the first time engineers had used wrought iron to make such large beams and columns. Much of the techniques used in the designing of Palm House was from the ship building industry which gives the design its distinctive shape of an upturned hull of a ship. The frame is constructed of 16,000 panes of glass and 2,000 tonnes of Iron. Palm house is said to be the most important surviving Victorian iron and glass structure in the world as it hosts the world’s oldest potted plants. 

1850’s: Crystal Palace was also designed by Sir Joseph Paxton. Crystal Palace was over 990,000 square feet. In 1851, more than 14,000 exhibitors from around the globe gathered to display examples of the latest technology developed in the industrial revolution.

1859: Kew Gardens Temperate House: Decimus Burton was also the architect who designed the Temperate House in Kew Gardens. The Temperate House is today the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world. It took 40 years to complete the building.

1867: Ludwig II’s Winter Garden Reports show that Ludwig II had a winter garden built on the roof of his his Munich Residenz and only accessible through his main quarters. The garden had a small lake, plants and a painted vista of the Himalayan Mountains.

1874: It is believed that Peter Christian Bonecke designed the Palm House Glass House at Copenhagen’s Botanical Garden. Much of the inspiration of the Palm House was taken from Crystal Palace. (Picture from Tumblr) Royal Greenhouses of Laeken were also constructed in 1874. The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken are a vast and complex range of more than 20 heated greenhouses in Brussels. They were originally commissioned by King Leopold II and designed to be a royal chapel. The inspiration of much of the details on this building came from Kew Gardens. 1900’s: New waves of technology in the 1990’s lead to the commercialisation of the conservatory.

1941: Crystal Palace was bombed. 1960’s: Timber Framed Conservatories became widely available to homeowners. 1970’s: Polycarbonate material was manufactured to be a translucent material rather than with a brown tint which led to the commercialisation of polycarbonate conservatory roofs. 2000’s: Advancements in weatherproofing, glass technology, flooring, lighting, heating and cooling have made conservatories more usable as an extension of the home rather than part of the garden. 2001: The Eden Project is now the biggest conservatory in the world. The aim of the project is to encourage visitors to understand why the rainforests are so important to life.

2014: Launch of new conservatory roof options such as the Duo Conservatory roof makes conservatories in the home seem more like an extension of the home than part of the garden. The word conservatory originates from the Italian “conservato” which means preserved and the latin word “ory” which means a place for storing food. This suggests that a conservatory was originally a place for preserving food. Conservatories have been used for many different uses throughout time, yet is seems that the use of conservatories as a place for food, using the modern duo conservatory more like a kitchen, and history is repeating itself.

2015- Beyond? What do we predict to happen to the conservatory? We think that there will be more opportunities to personalise your conservatory with different roofing materials, more fascias and cornices. We also predict that there will be demand for bigger glass panes conservatories being built, such as Refresh extra large glass roof panels.


Conservatory Facts: 

Roland Moody from Southampton in England heard hundreds of small, solid objects hitting the glass roof of his conservatory attached to his home. Turns out the objects were seeds coated in jelly. It did the same for several days. To this day, they still do not know what caused this phenomenon.

The Palm House structure at Kew Gardens panes of glass were all hand-blown. 

Conservatory Timeline



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History of Conservatory

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