1880 Artistic Conservatories

In the late 1870s the firm commissioned two eminent architects, Edward William Godwin F.S.A. and Maurice Bingham Adams A.R.I.B.A. to design a series of artistic conservatories, which the firm included in their catalogue published in 1880.  Edward Godwin produced a series of rough sketches, whilst Maurice Adams produced 30 plates of designs and drawings. The conservatories ranged from the small and plain; lean-to’s; a series of combined conservatories, one with a fernery,  one with an aviary and another with an aquarium; winter gardens, a two-story conservatory; one detached; a first-floor conservatory. The designs extended to verandahs, an apiary, summer houses, even window conservatories and window boxes. It appears that Maurice Adams must have spent some considerable time in working on his designs and drawings as, presumably a spin off from the commission, he presented a paper in January 1880 to the Leeds Architectural Association entitled “Art in the Conservatory and Greenhouse“. The details of the paper were printed in both the Building News (which he edited) on 16th and 23rd January and the Gardeners’ Chronicle. The latter who printed the article over two editions, on 24th January and 31st January, also over the succeeding weeks printed a series of readers’ letters and replies.


Advertisement, which appeared in Every-Day Art, published by B.T. Batsford, 1882

In addition to printing the complete content of Adams’ paper, both publications reviewed the catalogue. The following Gardeners’ Chronicle review appeared on the 24th January, although the two page lithograph mentioned in the review was not present in my copy:

Art in the Conservatory. —The double page lithograph plate which we publish to-day includes a selection of a few of the smaller examples of picturesque garden architecture, constructed by Messrs. Messenger & Co., of Loughborough, from designs by Mr. Maurice B. Adams, A. R.I. B. A., of London. We give them as additional illustrations of Mr. ADAMS’ paper, printed on p. 104 of this number, on ” Art in the Conservatory and Greenhouse,” which was read last week before the Leeds Architectural Association. Our drawings are taken from the series of thirty designs referred to by the writer, and include two floral porches, an octagonal conservatory with aquarium, a summer-house, and a belvedere. The porches are adapted, the one for a principal entrance, and the other for a garden or side doorway of a country or suburban residence, both being arranged either for flowering or foliage plants. The space usually occupied by stages is planned as natural flower borders, with side shelves over. Tinted glass is introduced in quarry-glazing in the upper parts of the vertical lights, as in the octagonal conservatory, in the centre of which a tank in several compartments is fixed for a few fish and aquarium objects. Ventilation is here obtained in the central cupola side-lights, worked from below. The summer-house and belvedere are placed in the grounds of a rural villa, and are constructed of wood—the former being roofed with thatch, the latter with red tiles. White is used as the external finishing colour in all the instances illustrated.

In addition to printing Maurice Adams’ paper, the Builders News also published two of his designs, although their review of the catalogue (see below) only appeared on 16th April, almost three months after that of the Gardeners’ Chronicle. Of the two Adam’s designs they published on the 23rd January, one depicted a standalone octagonal conservatory and the other a small lean-to conservatory attached to a house in Chiswick designed by Richard Norman Shaw, R.A. It is possible that this house was the home of Maurice Adams, who at the time was living in Woodstock Road, Bedford Park, Chiswick. Whilst the two designs are pictured together in the magazine, they appear separately in the firm’s catalogue. The octagonal conservatory was on plate 19, together with a conservatory and attached aviary, whilst the lean-to conservatory was on plate 16 with two glazed and open verandahs by E.W. Godwin.

The Building News, described the two structures in more detail:

The two drawings included in the accompanying lithographic plate have been selected from the series of designs referred to by the lecturer in his opening- remarks, and are here given by way of illustrating some of the suggestions contained in the paper above referred to. The small Lean-to, from Chiswick, may be taken as an example of the sort of glasshouse or conservatory often required at the rear of suburban dwellings, where limited gardens are the rule, and where, for more reasons than that of expense, a simple treatment is necessary. The house, to which the illustrated lean-to adjoins, is one of a semi-detached pair of unpretending redbrick villas in the Queen Anne style, by Mr. Norman Shaw, R.A., letting at £60 per annum each, and this fact is named in order that the conditions which governed the designer of this conservatory, in preparing his plan, may be noted. Limited height in the front was ruled by the necessity of not obstructing more light than possible from the next house, and restricted depth was determined by the pantry-window, which shows on the view, while the lighting of the dining-room made it, above all things, necessary to keep the lean -to framing as unobstructive as possible. The building is about 14ft. by9 ft. on plan. The necessity of external doors corresponding somewhat in size to those in the dining-room suggested the gable, which is made somewhat large in outline, so as to bear comparison with the rather big dormer which connects the nursery on the first-floor with the balcony just seen on the left-hand of the sketch. The cornice inside corresponds with that of the exterior, and the upper part of the gable contains a carved oval light, with moulded hood on both sides. The two fan-lights under this are made to open, and so are the front-lights and ventilator in roof. The quarry glazing is by Shrigley and Hunt, of Lancaster, in greens and blues. The woodwork inside is finished in pale pea-green, and outside in dead white. The brass rim-lock and door fittings are by Elsley, of Great Portland-street, same as those throughout the house. The heating is by a gas-stove, reached from the outside, and three rows of hot-water pipes extend round two sides of the building, the floor of which is paved with 4in. red tiles, having natural flower borders for palms, camellias, &c., on either side, and shelves range round at a higher level. The building was executed with purpose-made mouldings and fittings, &c, by Messrs. Messenger and Co., of Loughborough. The small octagonal conservatory, which we also illustrate, was designed by Mr. Adams for this firm, and it is constructed on the same system as that just described. The front lights open all round, and the lights in the lantern are arranged for ventilation. It is quite detached, in a country garden, and is heated by gas and hot water.


The Building News, 23 January 1880
Plate 1 – A Small Plain Conservatory Exterior and Interior. It is a plain span-roof conservatory, constructed on our patent system of slight timbers, trussed and strengthened with ironwork. Ventilation is obtained at the front lights, and at those next ridge, which open simultaneously by means of gearing.

The following is The Building News 16th April review of Messenger’s catalogue:


WE have received a copy of an illustrated book, published by Mr. Batsford, of Holborn, for Messrs. Messenger and Co., of the Midland Horticultural Works, Loughborough, containing designs for “artistic conservatories and horticultural buildings.” The designs have been prepared from rough sketches by Mr. E. W. Godwin, F.S.A, and from designs and drawings by Mr. Maurice B. Adams, A.R.I. B. A., and are intended to show the application of the system of Messrs. Messenger. There are in all 20 well-executed photo-lithographs, ranging in subject from plain lean-to buildings to large winter gardens, and detached conservatories prefaced by an introduction, with descriptions of the different designs. In the preface the authors refer to the neglect of architectural considerations in our gardens and horticultural buildings; but we may venture to suggest that this negligence has been in a great measure that of the horticultural builder himself in adhering so persistently to traditional methods. The gardener himself has, we fancy, hitherto had most to say in the matter. The object of the work before us is rather to suggest than to supply information for those about to erect conservatories, and who of course prepare to adopt their own architect’s design instead of the stock pattern of the horticultural builder. The sketches may be taken as representative of what some of the Queen Anne revivalists can do to make conservatories artistic adjuncts to our houses.

Messrs. Messenger’s system consists in an economical arrangement of iron to strengthen the woodwork, and to transmit the weight of roof to the foundation; they adopt slight timbers to insure dryness and durability. The supporting uprights are of cast-iron, with bracket heads upon which the plate and rafters rest, while the rafters are trussed with iron tension-rods which enable small scantlings to be used. The designs show this arrangement of trussing rods, which may be made useful in the support of creeping plants. Plate 3 exhibits three different forms of lean-to conservatories, with circular and straight roofs, ventilating openings at the top, while one of them shows a gallery opening into it from the first floor; the greatest difficulty in these forms is to make the end unite agreeably to the house. Fig. 1 of Plate 4 is a somewhat happier arrangement, with a masked roof and balcony railings. Connecting arrangements are shown on Plates 5, 8, 9, and 10, opening from a drawing-room by a corridor, or from a staircase and gallery above. Plate 12 shows a group of winter gardens and palm-houses rather uncomfortably close to the house. The floral porches, shown on Plate 14, are picturesque, and seem to indicate the advantages of floral porches, forming a kind of lobby to the hall or parlour from the garden. The verandah designs are pretty, though, perhaps, hardly in keeping with the houses shown in conjunction with them. Designs for green-houses with aquariums are furnished; we may particularly refer to Plates 17 and 18; also, a variety of window conservatories to suit different circumstances. Those who are seeking for information of the kind of conservatory they may attach to their houses, will find Messrs. Messenger’s book an aid, and their attempt in a praiseworthy direction is worthy of a firm of their established reputation.

Catalogue Preface

The preface to the catalogue, which follows, attempted to highlight the reasoning behind producing the catalogue, some echoing those made by Maurice  Adams the Leeds Architectural Association:-


THE revival, which has taken place in art manufactures, though at first confined to our ecclesiastical-buildings, has, at length, reached our domestic ones, and permeated almost everything in connection therewith there are now plenty of architects capable of designing houses from the palace to the cottage, which are thoroughly suited to the purposes for which they are intended, and are dignified or picturesque, without losing a particle of their practical usefulness. Our modern houses, in the hands of competent designers, are not, as formerly, castles and abbeys, with buttresses, where such are not required, simply because they were supposed to be in accordance with the style, with little towers and mean and meaningless spires and pinnacles, because they were sup-posed to be essential to picturesqueness, while the entire building was covered with cement in imitation of stone.

This era, the beginning of the Gothic revival, developed into a stern recognition of truthfulness in design, a quality not to be despised, but, which, like all revivals, was carried to an extreme, the consequence being, that much of the natural beauty of the style was sacrificed to an earnest longing for truthfulness ; for instance, – our windows were arched and mullioned, and often traceried, ill adapted for ventilation, blinds, and drapery; no paint was allowed inside our houses, all woodwork must be stained and varnished ; the construction of every part must be shown: in short, the Gothic revivers allowed their- style to be their master instead of determining to master it. The natural consequence of this has been, that the style, unable to hold its own, unless it recognised its weak points, has given way to a further development, called by the name of ” Queen Anne,” the creation of Gothic men, who longed for greater refinement in the internal finishing of their domestic work.

It is probable the window has had more to do than any other feature, in bringing about the downfall of the Gothic style for domestic purposes, owing to the unsatisfactory way it lent itself to modern requirements. The strict rules attached to the Gothic revival have at length given way to more pliable ones, and though a ” new style ” is still a problem for the future to solve, we endeavour to make the style our servant, and use it as we have occasion to do. Our best houses are now not only better planned, but carried out, to the smallest details, even to door handles, finger plates, furniture, wall papers, curtains, carpets, &c., in good taste. Still there is much to be effected. Up to the present time architects seem to have studied, and used their influence with their clients, in everything connected with the house, but in the garden, even the man of taste seems to dispense, as a rule, with the services of his architect, and to place himself in the hands of the horticultural builder, with instructions that his glasshouses shall be well put together, well heated, well ventilated, well arranged for growing flowers and fruit, but frequently no desire is expressed that they shall be artistic, or even, when adjoining the house, that they shall harmonize with it. The horticultural builder is often cut down to the smallest amount, which leaves him no opportunity to suggest anything beyond the least expensive arrangement, and when he is placed in competition, he knows he is only throwing his time away if he sends in an artistic design, at a cost higher than his competitor can erect a plain house of similar dimensions for ; in other words, there has been little demand for artistic conservatories, and consequently there is no great supply. However, we think we see that the tide is turning, and art seems about to be released from her prison, within the four walls of the house, and to assert her influence and charm over our gardens. It is a remarkable circumstance, that our conservatories, the caskets in which we keep the highest works of art we possess nature’s art our flowers, should so long have remained so inartistic, so unworthy to set off their jewels. It is with a view to attempt to bear our part, in remedying this long standing insult to our flowers, that we issue these designs.

The designs illustrated are simply suggestive ones, and are not put forward as supplying those contemplating horticultural buildings, with the information sufficient for the purpose. Such a book would be impossible, and a sure failure the result. Nor should we be disposed to interfere with the legitimate province of the architect, by putting forward a series of designs, for the purpose of inducing those about to build, to dispense with his services.

Our object is rather to awaken in persons of taste, a desire for something more artistic in design than is usually attempted, and by our moderate prices to bring within the reach of all who would build a greenhouse, the opportunity of having, at a thoroughly reasonable price, an artistic instead of an ugly house for their flowers. An artistic design may be quite spoiled, by being carelessly carried out, regardless of proper detail, pro-portion, fitness, colour in finishing, and its furnishing : all this requires a life-long study, observation and experience, grafted on a natural taste for the beautiful, and added to a practical knowledge of all the minutia of plant and fruit cultivation, and horticultural buildings and heating.

This is what we attempt to supply, and, in doing so, we have set our face against charging a fancy price for artistic work, which we consider a false policy. Our prices for this work are calculated to bear precisely the same ratio of profit to ourselves, as ordinary first quality work.

The designs are chiefly conceived in one or two styles, simply for the reason, that it is necessary for us to work_ in the styles, which are at the present day most popular, being at the same time styles admirably adapted to joiners’ work, and which readily lend themselves to the purposes for which they are intended, namely, that of flower and fruit growing. We have endeavoured to keep this steadily in view, and have adapted to these designs the same system cf construction which we have for so many years found successful in our other horticultural work. This consists of a scientific arrangement of iron, to strengthen and carry the woodwork, so that the strains of the roof are transmitted direct to the foundations : this has the advantage of enabling us to keep our timbers of slight scantling, thereby ensuring dryness and durability, and where, for artistic effect, a greater surface of timber is required, it is boxed together with spaces for ventilation, and the weight is carried by the iron work. Long experience has convinced us that slight timbers for horticultural buildings, especially in structures where a high and moist temperature is maintained, are far more durable than large ones, which it is difficult to ensure. being thoroughly dry, and to prevent absorbing moisture. The general principle is as follows: upon a sill of wood, iron, or stone, cast iron muntins, with bracket-heads, are erected; upon the muntins rest the plate, and to these bracket-heads are secured the rafters, which are of wood of small scantlings, so as to offer the minimum obstruction to light and sun. These rafters would, by themselves, be insufficient to bear either the stress of snow, workmen climbing on them for painting or repairs, or even a heavy crop of fruit they are, therefore, trussed with iron tension rods, which are secured to the iron muntins at feet of rafters, and to an iron saddle at ridge, giving to these light rafters as much strength, as was formerly obtained by the use of rafters nine or ten inches deep.

This is a rough outline of our system, fuller particulars of which are given in our other pamphlets on horticultural buildings. Modification is of course required in some cases to suit varied designs, but, in all, the same principles have guided us, and we have endeavoured throughout the designs to bear in mind the important fact, that all horticultural structures are primarily intended for fruit and flower culture, and have, therefore, been careful, not to introduce anything which would in any way interfere with their practical utility : we have attempted rather to direct the public taste to a hitherto neglected branch of art, and to show, that practical and scientific fruit and flower culture is not opposed to artistic principles of design.



Plate 3: Lean-to Conservatories. The left-hand view represents a lean-to conservatory, of considerable height, with a gallery opening into it from the first floor. That in the top right-hand corner is a design in the Anglo-Japanese style : both this and the one under it are simple un-pretending designs which would not clash with the style of ordinary dwelling houses.
Plate 11: Winter Garden. This is a design for a winter garden of considerable size and height, suitable for palms and other large plants. The materials are chiefly iron and glass.
Plate 17: Left: Greenhouse with Aquarium; Right:(Top) Cheap Summer Houses in Wood; (Bottom) Small Belvedere
Plate 20: Windows Conservatories and Window Boxes