From Autumn 2015 through to the Summer of 2016 a major restoration project was undertaken to save Millichope’s large range of iron framed curvilinear glasshouses from dereliction. They now stand as a magnificent centrepiece to the Walled Garden, restored to their former glory and are open to the public every Friday – Sunday 11am-4pm throughout the Season. We would like to thank the Country Houses Foundation, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Millichope Estate whose support has enabled this restoration work to go ahead.
History of the Glasshouse
The Millichope Glasshouse dates from around the 1830s and marks an important point in the history of the development of glasshouses. Millichope’s glasshouse was built at the forefront of the industrial and horticultural revolutions of the 19th century. It marks a time when horticultural interest in Britain was booming with the introduction of new exotic plants from far-flung regions of the Empire, whilst at the same time industry was making the most incredible technological advances. In terms of glasshouse construction this created something of a golden age, in which the West Midlands played an important role.
The curved iron frame of Millichope’s glasshouse reflects contemporary thinking that a curved frame would maximise sunlight to the growing crops, as it mimicked the curvature of the Earth’s surface. This would lead to great improvements in light levels over the standard pitched roof glasshouses that had gone before. Advancements in iron production enabled a strong and durable frame to be constructed in the form of curved cast iron rafters, interspersed with a series of narrow iron glazing bars designed to hold the glass securely whilst allowing maximum light into the glasshouse. This combined with a hot rear wall to generate additional heat through a network of flues connected to fire pits and later coal fired boilers would allow for the growing of much coveted exotics such as pineapples, melons and grapes.
In 19th century British high society, to present your guests with your own home grown pineapple commanded such prestige that country house owners readily invested large sums of money in the latest glasshouse technology. The Revd. Norgrave Pemberton, Rector of Church Stretton, who was owner of Millichope Park at this time and responsible for commissioning the Glasshouse alongside a new Hall, to replace the old one, was evidently out to impress.
Research is yet to identify the manufacturer of the Millichope Glasshouse. There were a number of notable firms who were great exponents of the curvilinear iron framed glasshouse around this time. The firm W &D Bailey had built a curvelinear glasshouse just down the road from Millichope, at Downton Castle. Jones and Clark and later Clark and Hope of Lionel Street, Birmingham were also prolific builders of curved frame structures throughout the South and Midlands, however no maker list Millichope on their books. It is possible that given the rich industrial heritage that resides on Millichope Park’s doorstep that this Glasshouse was a bespoke production of an enterprising local iron founder.
* Information based on archaeologist Jeremy Milln’s Statement of Historical Significance for the Millichope Glasshouses.
The Millichope Glasshouses were last in productive use in the 1950s and had since fallen into a state of dereliction. The wider Walled Garden had been used as an area for rearing pheasants, when in 2013 Jack and Laura Willgoss of Wildegoose Nursery approached the owners with a view to taking on the lease. With the Estate’s support and the securing of grant funding in 2014/15 restoration of the glasshouses began alongside Wildegoose Nursery’s restoration of the surrounding Walled Garden.
The enduring strength and resilience of the iron structure, meant that despite its age the Millichope Glasshouse frame was in remarkably good condition when restoration work began. However, a more pressing issue was the rapidly deteriorating condition of the supporting back wall. In places the wall was beginning to bulge and buckle as a result from years of burning cheap coal to fire up the wall’s heated flue system. Impurities in the cheap coal had caused a reaction with the lime mortar, leading to its disintegration.
Work started by carefully dismantling the wall in the worst affected spots with timber props used to bear the weight of the glasshouse iron frame until the wall had been rebuilt to support the framework once again.
Once the Glasshouse was structurally sound years of rust and corrosion had to be painstakingly removed from the metal frame by means of grit blasting, an incredibly long and painstaking job, only to be followed by the equally painstaking task of painting. But it was the glazing of the Millichope Glasshouse that proved most problematic. Originally made up of over 12,500 panes of tiny postcard sized hand-made glass overlapping each other. With each pane of glass having to be attached to the slender metal glazing bars by only the narrowest fillet of putty and no clips, proved an extraordinary feat that took many months and much patience to complete. It is a remarkable achievement that approximately a third of the glass in the restored glasshouses was salvaged from the original 1830s hand-made panes.. This was made possible by a team of volunteers who collected, cleaned and sorted some 4000 panes of glass. The volunteers who generously gave their time are: Jenny Vine, Pete and Val Williams, Fiona Quayle, Alan Seal, Barrie Archer, Louise Bond, Claire Brentnall, Andrew Brown, Toby Barnett and Alex Shropshire under the guidance of archaeologist Jeremy Milln.
With special thanks to the skilled workforce of I. J. Preece & Son Ltd(in particular Mike Edwards and Mark Drury aka ‘Lofty’) and their specialist sub-contractors Peter Crownshaw (iron frame repairs) and the Stained Glass Studio (re-glazing).
Gallery - Click to enlarge