A couple of years ago, a French customer who came to my garden made a surprising comment. We were walking through our kitchen garden where we have an old greenhouse. As we passed it, she stopped me in my tracks and said 'Wow ... is that a Thomas Messenger? May I have a look?' Puzzled, I sheepishly opened the door to the greenhouse, which was in bad need of a clear out and some seasonal TLC, and followed her in.
Moments later she declared triumphantly 'Oui! It is' and began to explain. Thomas Messenger was the foremost designer of greenhouses in Victorian and Edwardian England. His company, Messenger & Co defined the standard for conservatories and greenhouses for generations. Indeed his designs are still copied to day, where the original heavy wood frames are replaced with 'timber-look' aluminium by www.http://www.alitex.co.uk. For botanic gardens, the National Trust, owners of listed period properties, it's a great solution for those looking to use a functional design faithful to the original 'look' of a Thomas Messenger greenhouse.
So what are the defining qualities of a Messenger greenhouse? Messenger & Co. described themselves as horticultural builders, heating engineers and iron founders. Their designs commonly had half brick walls supporting a white painted, hard wood glazing framework. Temperature was controlled by means of hot water pipes and forged iron ratchet window controls. They came in all sizes and many of the larger greenhouses were bespoke to the client.
The designs were so successful because they managed to give control with extraordinarily heavy materials (hard wood and iron), achieve an unmistakeable elegance of design and last for generations.
My greenhouse which, I hasten to add is probably one of the smallest they produced, is certainly over 100 years old and going strong today.
They had some fine design features. Note the curve on the bottom of the glass panes to keep rainwater running down the centre of the glass rather than on the wood frame. See also the distinctive iron angle supports, furnace and smartly embossed door handle.
A few weeks after my discovery a package arrived at our house. The French lady had kindly sent me an original Messenger & Co catalogue she had, Edwardian I think, which has their whole range of designs and a long list of their illustrious clients around the country. A grander statement of the English obsession for gardening would be hard to find.