1877 Catalogue

In 1877 the firm published a Catalogue of Greenhouses, Hot-water Apparatus, &c. illustrated with 63 plates. Included in the catalogue was a 5-page description of Thomas Messenger’s horticultural and heating patents:



IN issuing an enlarged and greatly improved edition of our Catalogue of Horticultural Buildings and Appliances, we think it not out of place to of a few remarks upon the construction, ventilation, and warming of Horticultural Buildings generally ; and as we speak from long experience and much study of the subject, we trust to be able to contribute our quota of information to the common stock, on this, at the present day, popular subject.

At the risk of repeating an ” oft-told tale ” it may not be amiss to present a description of an old-fashioned Greenhouse or Vinery to such of our readers as may not have seen one, though many still exist. The earlier attempts at a Glass-house rarely progressed further than the covering of a high back wall by a lean-to roof, sometimes with, but oftener without, an upright glazed front. The first object which would attract the notice of a modern observer would be the amount of timber used in its construction. Heavy beams, lintels, and sash-bars meet the eye in every direction ; so much so, that many a Greenhouse, so-called, contains more timber than the neighbouring cart-shed, and appears to have been made to exclude rather than to admit the sun’s rays, as though it was forgotten that the buildings are of glass, simply because the greatest amount of light and heat possible to be-obtained from the sun’s rays is admitted by that material. Small panes of glass, too, with deep laps, contributed their share towards rendering the house opaque. Another eyesore would be discovered in the presence of the ventilating contrivances. A huge cumbrous sash, frequently the whole of one bay or section of the roof, was let down by pulleys and cords, which frequently broke, causing great loss and annoyance, besides having the effect of exposing the plants to every shower of rain, hail or snow ; in fact, rendering it utterly impossible to ventilate in any but fine weather, thus rendering the house comparatively useless for growing purposes during the whole winter season. Where an upright front light existed, the ventilation was effected on similarly clumsy principles. A sash was sometimes made to slide, although unapproachable except from the outside ; or some-times, by a rare specimen of ingenuity, sashes were pushed out by an iron rod perforated to regulate the space of opening. This, although accessible inside, was either very inconvenient when the light was closed, from its length projecting over the footway, or if shorter, by requiring a portion of the plant-stage to be unoccupied in order to allow of its being moved backwards and forwards without moving the plants ; in every case the interior had to be arranged to give access to these rods. These are only a few of the defects which would at once arrest the attention of a modern observer. If he turned to the heating apparatus he would find the same rude simplicity and inefficiency. A brick flue was carried round the house, and was usually so contrived as to consume the largest possible amount of fuel, yet producing a most partial and inadequate amount of heat available for use, besides the inevitable accompaniments of soot, smoke and sulphur, so familiar to the many who have attempted to heat their Greenhouses with this apparently cheap, but ultimately dear appliance. Having thus sketched a fair specimen of what Horticultural structures were within the memory of the present generation, it follows that we should describe the progress made from that time to the present. One of the most important steps of progression and improvement is the substitution of hot water as a heating medium, in the place of hot air. This system at once eradicated the nuisance of soot, sulphur, and smoke, which had so long baffled the united efforts of both Builder and Gardener. It must not, however, be imagined that this success was achieved by one bold or fortunate stroke. Many attempts were made before a satisfactory method of distributing the hot water about the houses could be arrived at ; and numberless failures had to be recorded before the now generally used plan of iron pipes was adopted.

But the greatest difficulties have been to determine the most suitable form of boiler, and to reduce to a scientific rule the quantity of piping required to produce with certainty the various degrees of temperature required successfully to cultivate the immense varieties of plants and fruits which swell the collections of modern Horticulturists. This has now been reduced to mathematical certainty, and it only remains for the flower or fruit grower to employ a thoroughly competent person to be assured of the success of his attempt. At first sight the form of Boiler may seem to be a very simple matter, but if anyone will take the trouble to examine the various shapes now in use, most of which will be found fully described in the advertisement pages of any of the Horticultural journals, he will find it by no means so simple a matter to decide. Of all the forms at present designed, the most successful is the cast iron Tubular Boiler.

This kind, of which there are various designs, has been tested by the use of many years, and is found to heat the greatest quantity of water in proportion to the fuel consumed.

This effect is the main object to be attained, as it is only by a constant circulation of heated water through the pipes forming the heating apparatus, that a permanent temperature can be maintained. There are many points of detail in the construction of Tubular Boilers which claim attention, and which we propose to enter more fully into in our description of the construction of the triangular Tubular Boiler patented by ourselves, and which, we believe, we may fairly assert to be the most successful and efficient, and the most generally adopted of any Boiler at present in use.

Many other points which require attention in arranging the Heating Apparatus of a Greenhouse will suggest themselves to a person who has had any experience in the management of a house or range of houses, especially as to the most desirable position for the pipes, and the arrangement and construction of the valve for regulating the flow of the water, in order to ensure an equable temperature.

It will be obvious, however, that the perfection of a system of artificial heating was not the only reform to be effected in the erection of Horticultural Buildings : light and ventilation claiming equal attention.

In treating of modern Horticultural Buildings, we propose in the main to confine ourselves to our own system of construction, as it would be manifestly unfair for an interested person to review and criticise the works and inventions of other people, whose interests are perhaps naturally antagonistic to his own. Of all the various improvements, and ” their name is legion,” which have at different times been placed before the Public, without boasting, we hope we may be allowed to assert that the successive improvements introduced and patented by ourselves, are not equalled as a whole by the systems of any other Builders. They have received the highest encomiums from the most competent judges, and have been largely adopted throughout the country by the Nobility and Gentry, as well as nurserymen ; they are capable of being adapted for every description of flower, fruit, or vegetable growing. An essential quality of every improvement in the erection of a Greenhouse has been the attempt to lighten the construction of the Building. The heavy beams and rafters necessary on the old system so excluded the sun-light by their deep shadows, that they became the source of the greatest disadvantage the Gardener had to contend with.

After the Exhibition of 1851 this defect was thought to have been radically over-come by the introduction of iron in lieu of wood. It certainly did, in the greatest possible degree, lighten the appearance of the structure, but in some important respects iron for Horticultural Buildings is inferior to wood. For instance, a large amount of moisture is absolutely necessary for the successful growth of many plants and fruits, which condenses upon the glass, and being thus brought into immediate contact with the metal, causes a complete oxidation, the result of which is constant expense for painting as a preventive, beside the annoyance and loss caused by the dripping of water containing rust upon the plants. Again, the cost of iron structures is necessarily considerably more than wood, though on the other hand they are more permanent than ordinarily constructed wood houses. In the case of very large Conservatories, Winter Gardens, and Palm Houses, having a large span of roof, iron has such great advantages, that it is almost a necessity to adopt it for at least the frame-work of the building, and the designs herewith published show several such structures.

Our object in perfecting our own patented system of building has been to secure, by a judicious arrangement and combination of wood and iron, an almost equal lightness of construction without the disadvantages consequent upon the sole adoption of iron, and not to employ iron for those portions of the structure which are in immediate contact with the glass. Nevertheless, where our patrons require houses constructed entirely of iron, we have pleasure in following their wishes, and among the designs herewith published are several of iron structures. The construction of our houses is shown at Plates 46, 51 and 52, and may be described in brief outline as follows : Upon a sill of wood, iron, or stone, as may be preferred, but usually of wood, cast-iron muntins, with bracket heads to receive rafters, are erected. Upon these muntins rest a light plate to receive sash-bars, and carry gutter. The rafters are of wood of very small scantling, so as to offer the minimum obstruction to the admission of sun-light and heat ; but as any one acquainted with the strengths of timber will be well aware, such scantlings, when placed as is usual at distances of 4 feet or more apart, are themselves inadequate to bear either the stress of snow, workmen climbing upon them for painting, &c., or even of a heavy crop of fruit. In order to obtain the required strength without increasing the scantling of the timber, these rafters are trussed with iron tension rods, which are secured to the iron muntins at foot of rafter, and to an iron saddle at the ridge, giving to these light rafters as much strength as was formerly obtained by the use of rafters 9 or 10 inches deep. The iron saddle, besides being available for securing tension rods, effectually connects the rafters and the ridge. Further, the whole roof is trussed at intervals with light wrought iron principals.

Plate 46 – Messenger & Co., 1877 Catalogue

Ventilation is effected on the upright front by means of framed lights, which are hung with specially designed hinges to iron muntins ; by this plan all strain on the plate, and annoyance of hinges breaking, or rusting, are avoided. The roof ventilation is effected by a light hung in a similar manner to ridge. These lights are usually made the entire length of a house, and are fitted with a screw-apparatus, which by means of a wheel and chain (fixed in any convenient place,) can be opened the entire length with as little exertion as is required to open a 3 or 4 feet wide light on the ordinary principle. Different forms of ventilating apparatus are shown by Figs. 47 and 48, the former being designed specially for large, detached sashes in Conservatories which are opened and closed by this apparatus with the greatest ease, without any part of the apparatus projecting over the stages or beds. Fig. 48 is a somewhat similar apparatus, adapted to the roof lights, where unusual strength is required. Another mode of ventilation which we have successfully adopted is by means of a double ridge forming a kind of box at the apex of the house, the cover or cap of which is opened by a similar apparatus to that for opening the lights, see Plate 46. The most striking and novel appliances in our principle of construction are the cast-iron bracket-head muntins, tension-rods, ridge-saddle, and the ventilating apparatus.

Plate 47 – Messenger & Co., 1877 Catalogue

The cast-iron muntin is, without exception, the most complete design of its kind at present in use. It not only answers its purpose as an ordinary muntin or support, without the clumsy, heavy appearance of one made of wood, but by the arrangement of the bracket at its head it forms a shoe to receive the rafter, and thus, with the aid of the cast-iron saddle at the ridge, completely unites every portion of the building from the sill to the ridge firmly into one structure. Besides this advantage, however, it is provided with brackets to carry the ventilating apparatus (which being thus made secure and permanent, becomes a portion of the structure), and in the case of Vineries, other brackets are similarly arranged so as to form an apparatus for effectually stretching the vine wires.


Plate 48 – Messenger & Co., 1877 Catalogue
Plate 51 – Messenger & Co., 1877 Catalogue
Plate 52 – Messenger & Co., 1877 Catalogue

Another projection on the muntin receives specially arranged hinges for hanging the front ventilating lights, and thus by relieving the plate of their weight, allows it to be of an unusually small scantling, generally only 3½ inches by 2 inches. This obviates the heavy, continuous mass of timber, so often observable at the eaves of glass-houses. The tension-rods, though of the utmost importance to the construction of light, wooden houses, require but a slight notice, as they are of so common an occurrence in structures designed on mechanical principles, that it is only remarkable that they should not have been applied to Horticultural work earlier. It will be seen that the result of the above arrangement is to throw the whole of the strain upon the ironwork instead of being upon the timbers as is usually the case.

The ventilating apparatus consists primarily of an iron rod, the entire length of house, provided with short legs to push out the lights. This rod is acted upon by a screw apparatus, moved by a wheel and chain, and its construction allows of the most perfect ventilation, as the screw may be turned to the most exact nicety. By the adoption of the wheel and chain as the moving power, and the placing of the iron rods and screw for opening the lights upon the iron muntin, as previously described, no room is wasted ; and as the wheel can be fixed in any convenient position, all study as to arrangement of stages or plants so as not to interfere with ventilating, is obviated. This will be seen to be a great advantage over many other systems in present use, as in addition to the saving of time in arrangement, a great economy of space is attained, great abundance of ventilation is obtained, and air can be given without admitting rain.

Patent Iron Muntin derived from the 1859 and 1868 patents in a Messenger & Co., 1877 vinery

The apparatus being perfectly firm, and the lights permanently attached to it, such accidents as the falling of the lights, and consequent breakage of the glass to the injury of the plants, become impossible. This advantage alone is equivalent to a great saving in annual cost over using many other contrivances for ventilating. This apparatus can, with but slight modification, be applied to most houses of ordinary construction.

In point of appearance the above construction is most successful, lightness and elegance being ensured from the reduced size of the timbers, relieved by simple ornamental ironwork, scientifically arranged.

Its adaptation to cultural purposes is evident, as plants grown in these houses are subject to light and fresh air almost as much as if they were in the open garden. Economy in the first cost is obtained, because all useless (and really injurious) material is dispensed with. Economy in maintenance’ is gained, as the surface of wood to be painted is very small, while the arrangement of ironwork is such that should a rafter or ridge by any chance sink, any gardener by merely screwing up a nut can bring it into its place.

Durability is a most important point, in order to reduce to a minimum the expense and annoyance of re-erecting glass-houses, and also from the fact that many of the trees and plants grown in them do not attain maturity for a considerable number of years, when it has frequently occurred that the house has become so dilapidated, either from structural defects, or the decayed state of the timber, as to necessitate a new building, the erection of which has often resulted in the destruction of the plants upon which so much care and attention has been bestowed. A very great mistake is frequently made, not only by the horticulturist but by inexperienced builders (who, were they practical men, would know better), who imagine that heavy, solid masses of timber ensure durability.

1892 iron framed ornamental staging

However applicable this maybe to general buildings, it is the reverse in Horticultural structures. The variations of temperature, the large quantity of moisture, and other effects of artificial cultivation, all tend to decay timber. Large pieces of timber, when exposed to a damp atmosphere, absorb it readily ; and when once it obtains a lodgment in the heart of the timber, no ordinary amount of heat will expel it, as it is constantly being replenished by the moisture produced in cultivation ; the periodical coats of paint, by preventing the evaporation of moisture previously absorbed, serve rather to decay than to preserve the wood.

It will readily be understood that this ever-increasing deposit of moisture will inevitably decay the timber in which it is harboured. Houses in which high moist temperatures, whether for vegetable or stove plants, are of course most liable to this danger. The true remedy for this evil is to reduce the timbers to as small dimensions as possible, thereby ensuring their being continually dry. As a proof of this assertion, we will only ask that anyone who may be sceptical will examine the different states of preservation in which he will find the larger and smaller scantlings of an old Vinery,—this will, we think, be thoroughly convincing. Painting frequently is one of the best preservatives of timber, and of course it follows that the smaller the timbers the less amount of painting is required.

We, while recommending the above construction (and our advice is sustained by the great and increasing demand), beg to inform our patrons that we also erect houses constructed entirely of iron, and are in a position to design and execute them in the best manner, including all modern improvements. If required, we glaze houses without putty, but the advantages of this system are not considered to be equal in practice to the disadvantages, of which one is the increased first cost. We erect every form of house so that it forms a “tenant’s fixture,” and is easily taken down and refixed by local workmen.

We undertake the renovation or removal of existing glass-houses, adding, if desirable, our patent ironwork to support the woodwork, and our patent ventilating apparatus to the opening sashes, with any other fittings needed to make them complete.

We have considered it our duty to be prepared not only to offer our opinion, but to execute works in accordance with the opinions of others whenever occasion may demand, and in this we are always prepared and happy to meet the views of our patrons, and to execute any orders entrusted to us with the utmost care and strict promptitude, By the recent extension of the firm to meet the continually increasing demand for our glass-houses, we are enabled to give every order close personal supervision.

Glazed Coping – Messenger & Co., 1877 Catalogue
Glazed Coping