Time for a win­dows up­grade

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Glyn Sat­ter­ley

For Tim Maxwell, in­her­it­ing the listed glasshouses at Fel­ton Park in Northum­ber­land was a chal­lenge

When we bought Fel­ton Park in 2010, we didn’t pay much at­ten­tion to the de­cay­ing, 90ft by 30ft curvi­lin­ear green­house at the far end of the gar­den, even though its Grade II* list­ing showed that the ex­perts thought it more ar­chi­tec­turally im­por­tant than the house it­self. erected in the 1830s and lean­ing against an older stove wall, the curves gave it a cer­tain di­lap­i­dated el­e­gance, with a fine patina of rust, de­spite hav­ing some 25% of its 9,000 fish-scale glass panes miss­ing. In­side were two mag­nif­i­cent camel­lias and an out-of-con­trol vine, quite un­con­cerned about the ruin around them.

Our first win­ter, 2010/2011, changed all that. The weight of snow and con­tin­u­ous frost took its toll. Another 10% of the glass was loos­ened and cas­caded down the roof. More­over, as the glass gives the struc­ture its rigid­ity, sta­bil­ity be­came an is­sue. We’d reached a tip­ping point: ei­ther pull it down for safety rea­sons or re­store it.

help was at hand. his­toric eng­land had been mon­i­tor­ing the build­ing for many years with grow­ing anx­i­ety, as­sisted by northum­ber­land’s most ex­pe­ri­enced and well-re­garded con­ser­va­tion ar­chi­tect, Robin Dower. If we would con­trib­ute to the restora­tion, his­toric eng­land would too—and gen­er­ously.

With fund­ing agreed in prin­ci­ple, we were sud­denly on the spot. how ex­actly do we go about this? The his­toric eng­land net­work was ac­ti­vated both to find com­pa­ra­ble restora­tion ex­pe­ri­ence and to es­tab­lish ex­actly how un­usual this build­ing was. The an­swer to the lat­ter was ‘very’; only four or five strictly com­pa­ra­ble lean-to curvi­lin­ear green­houses sur­vive.

We also went back to the man who had first de­signed this type of green­house, John Claudius Loudon (1783–1843). he is one of the great he­roes of early-19th­cen­tury ur­ban and gar­den de­sign. he was also a pro­lific writer. his Green­house Com­pan­ion of 1824 goes into minute de­tail about the con­struc­tion of curvi­lin­ear green­houses, even spec­i­fy­ing ex­actly the op­ti­mum over­lap of fish-scale glass panes, a de­tail that turned out to be of great im­por­tance.

There was some­thing of a green­house craze in the 1820 and 1830s, prompted in part by the ar­rival of ex­otic plants from all over the em­pire and in part by gen­eral in­ter­est in hor­ti­cul­tural ‘im­prove­ment’, the whole stim­u­lated by the com­pet­i­tive gar­den­ing world of the gen­try. These fac­tors co­in­cided with man­u­fac­tur­ing de­vel­op­ments. The forg­ing of slen­der, curved wrought­iron glaz­ing bars, al­low­ing in so much more light than heavy cast iron or wooden bars, only be­came pos­si­ble in about 1815.

Apart from its aes­thetic ap­peal, cur­va­ture, it was be­lieved, al­lowed the warmth of the sun to bet­ter pen­e­trate the glass. Loudon li­censed his de­sign to at least three metal forg­ers. To meet de­mand, they de­vel­oped a mass-pro­duc­tion sys­tem. The cast-iron frame and case­ments and the wrought-iron glaz­ing bars were made to stan­dard size and sent to the client, per­haps not quite as a ‘flat pack’, but cer­tainly as a kit of parts. The man­u­fac­tur­ers pre­sum­ably didn’t have the ef­fron­tery to mark the con­sign­ment ‘easy Self Assem­bly’.

hav­ing worked out what was done in the 1830s, we were bet­ter po­si­tioned to work out what was re­quired now, but, even so, we de­cided to do a test restor-

ation of a square yard of glaz­ing a year in ad­vance to avoid sur­prises. In fact, there was one sur­prise: we did the trial restora­tion in Oc­to­ber and, by the end of Novem­ber, blue tits had eaten at least half of the lin­seed putty. That put us on no­tice that the restora­tion had to be com­pleted and the putty pro­tected well be­fore win­ter.

We now knew what we had to do, but then the ten­ders came in. That wasn’t a good day—we were far short. How­ever, the fates were kind. The Her­itage Lot­tery Fund and the Coun­try Houses Foun­da­tion, the lat­ter a pri­vate char­ity, both agreed to sup­ply fur­ther fund­ing, which got us to the tar­get, but al­lowed for no mis­takes or over­runs. The fi­nal price was 0.11% un­der bud­get, a re­sult sel­dom achieved in restora­tion projects.

There is al­ways a point in any restora­tion when aes­thetic judg­ments have to be made; it’s not al­ways pos­si­ble sim­ply to copy the orig­i­nal. With the green­house, it arose over glass. The green­house had been re-glazed many times over the past 180 years. Glass is frag­ile and both tech­nol­ogy and hor­ti­cul­tural best prac­tice change; plant scorch­ing, for ex­am­ple, can be a prob­lem un­der plain glass.

For the most part, the green­house had nar­row reeded panes, but these are no longer man­u­fac­tured. For­tu­nately, we were able to lo­cate a source of sec­ond-hand reeded glass, with, im­por­tantly, a prove­nance. This met about half our re­quire­ment. We there­fore de­cided that this glass should be saved for the roof and the case­ment win­dows and each gable end would be glazed with im­per­fect glass.

Glass is one of the few prod­ucts in which the im­per­fect is more ex­pen­sive than the per­fect. We had to go to Lam­berts Glass Works in Bavaria to find the gen­uinely faulty. De­spite the cost, this was the best de­ci­sion we made. The glass has a vi­tal­ity that an­i­mates the whole build­ing.

The work is now com­plete. We’re now plant­ing up with cit­rus trees and peaches and try­ing to house-train the vine. The camel­lias’ in­ter­nal ther­mostats have gone awry and we have flow­ers in De­cem­ber—only an ad­just­ment phase, we hope.

To find out more about the green­house, its restora­tion and open­ing times, visit www.fel­ton­park­green house.org

‘De­spite the cost, this was the best de­ci­sion we have ever made’

The green­house, with its el­e­gant curved roof, fol­lows closely the de­sign de­vel­oped by John Claudius Loudon from 1817 to 1820. The width and spac­ing of the glaz­ing bars and the fish-scale de­sign of the glass are pre­cisely as Loudon rec­om­mended in his 1824 book, The Green­house Com­pan­ion

The struc­ture is 90ft long and 20ft wide and was built against the south-fac­ing wall in or­der to re­ceive max­i­mum sun­light. On the other side of the wall is a spa­cious pot­ting shed and, in the dis­tance, you can see a glass par­ti­tion. Pro­tected from the weather, the old par­ti­tion con­tained the ear­li­est sur­viv­ing glass

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