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Is that a Thomas Messenger greenhouse?

  • Is that a Thomas Messenger greenhouse?
  • Is that a Thomas Messenger greenhouse?
  • Is that a Thomas Messenger greenhouse?
  • Is that a Thomas Messenger greenhouse?
  • Is that a Thomas Messenger greenhouse?
  • Is that a Thomas Messenger greenhouse?
  • Is that a Thomas Messenger greenhouse?

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. 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.

Comments (17)

  1. Grower

    Amanda CW

    I want one. I particularly like the window controls - like the break levers they had on steam trains and used to control the points in signal boxes!

  2. Grower

    Peter Kennelly

    I have just moved into a house in Shropshire which I discovered has 3 Thomas messenger greenhouses! One I can date to 1905 the others are victorian with all the heating still in place .

  3. Grower


    Hi Peter - How fantastic! If you add some photos, I'll see if I can find the greenhouses in the catalogue I have and post a photo from it, so you'll see what they were like new. Amazingly, I may also be able to tell you who purchased your greenhouses as at the back of the catalogue is an index of all the purchasers with addresses(!) over 70 years - I assume from their start in 1858. There are around 30 in Shropshire - I've attached a photo.

    • Is that a Thomas Messenger greenhouse?
  4. Grower

    Paul Bridges

    Hello Rhodos Wright,
    Fascinating post. I'm researching a greenhouse that used to stand in our Arts & Crafts house in Penarth, South Wales. It looks v much like a small Messenger and I'm intrigued as to whether the catalogue might include reference to it: John Coates Carter, Red House, Penarth, Glamorgan. Many thanks for your time. Regards, Paul Bridges

  5. Grower

    Phill Williams

    Hi there, not sure if this post is still rolling.. but we also seem to have a Messenger of some description although very little is left. There were two 70' glasshouses in another part of the garden (gone) and in our part, the frame yard, two smaller versions (buried). Would it be possible to view the page for Hampshire, in particular Marchwood, Southampton? We are just trying to find plans and or guess at what was here to consider rebuilding part or all. Regards Phill

  6. Grower


    Hi Paul and Phil,

    I have checked the catalogue for your names/addresses and regret neither are listed. I have also checked the Staffordshire list for Lapley Hall without success for Kate Weston who wrote to me separately. Clearly the company produced more than made it into the catalogue. The catalogue gives names and addresses of more than a thousand clients up until around 1930, which is interesting in itself. No problems there with Victorian/Edwardian data protection. Or maybe your clients ticked the non-disclosure box!

  7. Grower

    Phill Williams

    Thanks so much, might have to figure out another way. There's so little left for documentation of the Messenger glasshouses despite them being so well thought of at the time.. hey ho..
    Thanks again..

  8. Grower


    Hi Phil - there are amazing line illustrations in the catalogue of many of the glasshouses which you could build from. Do you know what the ground dimensions were and if they were full span (door in the middle of the end), lean to (one sloping roof from a high wall), or 3/4 span (half span up to a peak from a lower wall, then full span the other side, with door off centre). I could post copies of the illustrations.

  9. Grower

    Phill Williams

    Thanks! As we only have some signs of what was once here, most of the walls are still buried, it looks like the glass house would have to be 14ft wide and about 25ft long.. it would have been a span glasshouse we think. This was in the frame yard so possibly a propagation glasshouse? We know there was also a melon house, pineapple house, cucumber house, mushroom house, fernery and vinery! Two 70ft greenhouses where here but not too interested in those and we have the remains of a much narrower glasshouse in front of the one we are trying to investigate and two, probable cold frames, in front of that!

    Quite the investigation!

    Any info would be useful..

    Thanks again.


  10. Grower

    Phill Williams

    Sorry.. 45ft long ish..


  11. Grower

    Phill Williams

    Hi Rhodos, do you happen to have any line drawings of Pit houses that Messenger made? there's a theory we might have originally had one of those. That's the only real suspect for our greenhouse being so close to the original garden wall which didn't form part of the greenhouse. The floor is sunken enough. Hope to hear from you. Phill

  12. Grower

    Paul Madden

    Messenger and Co was a Loughborough based company that when it finally went out of business in 1977 deposited all its records including a full list of all the greenhouses they manufactured with the National archive. They are now held at the Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, Record Office under reference DE2121 NRA 26186 The record offices email address is In addition the Museum of English Rural Life holds Plans and contract files for greenhouses built between 1890 and 2010. Their reference is TR MES NRA 44361.

  13. Grower

    The GPS Team

    Hi Paul - how great to share that. We've had many requests for info on particular Messenger greenhouses members are keen to restore; and now they can research the info they need.

  14. Grower

    Ben Mac

    Hi, we moved into a house a couple of years ago with a large greenhouse in the garden. The house was built In an old walled garden and I think the greenhouse is a lot older then the house. I’ve Just noticed the Messengers of Loughborough on the cogs and handles and looked this up on the internet, and found this conversation. The top and front windows open and close with metal levers and cogs. We need to keep the greenhouse in good working order and well maintained. Does anyone have any tips on companies that might have the skills to do this. Thanks for any advice, Ben

  15. Grower

    Phill Williams

    Sorry Ben, just found your post. If you're repairing then it's a skilled job. Some of the Messenger houses were teak which will make things even harder. I've done some research on the Messenger houses as a carpenter and can point you in a few directions but key with any wooden structure is to control water ingress to the wood. Tough in a structure that was made to contain a moist atmosphere. Take some advice on what needs repairing, cast iron fixtures may be under stress so not working too well if the wood is moving. And once you've got a fully functioning and beautiful house, we'd paint it with a traditional linseed paint which breathes and lets moisture escape otherwise it'll rot from the inside out. There are a lot of cowboys out there who'll see a cash cow so get lots of advice from different people. These garden cathedrals need a lot of love but keep the faith. Good luck and send a few pictures. Happy 2020.

  16. Grower

    Ben Mac

    Hi Phil, thanks for the advice. Replacing rotten wood with hardwood seems a good idea. I’ll look into linseed paint and then finding someone to paint it this year is a priority At the moment it all works I just don’t want to let it deteriorate too much. I’ve tried to add a photo but not sure if it has attached, thanks Ben

  17. Grower

    Phill Williams

    Good work Ben.. Some Messengers were teak, which makes repairs more difficult. I'd recommend you match the wood yours is built out of though. Use a traditional scarf joint especially if you need to replace 'birds feet' ends and don't want to replace a whole rafter or primary rafter. Again, simply copy the joints you have if not scarfing. It's lasted this long, sounds like it needs some care to help it last a lot longer, and it will. Linseed paint needs UV light to dry so summer is best with lots of sunlight and a greenhouse is ideal! Photo hasn't appeared here but give me a call if you need help. We are down in the New Forest. Regards Phill Not sure my number will show but msg me if not.. 07899795161

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