Conservatory - History
The historical development of the conservatory is unavoidably linked to advances in the manufacture of sheet glass over the last 250 years. The availability of good, distortion-free glass is taken for granted these days, but until the middle of the 18th century, glass for windows was spun as a thin disc about 4ft across. Panes were then cut from the outside edge, leaving the whirled centre of the disc to be sold off cheaply or thrown away; sometimes to be retrieved for installation in the doors and windows of alehouses!
Nevertheless, in the grander houses of the aristocracy and those of merchants that had grown rich trading with Africa, India, the Far East and the West Indies, there was a genuine desire to germinate seeds and grow cuttings brought back from these exotic climes. This led to the construction of orangeries and the conservatory, which were heated to protect plants from the effects of the British winter. At last, it became possible to live in the garden all year round.
Initial designs favoured brick or stone structures with wide glazed areas between columns and a solid roof. However, as the Industrial Revolution gathered pace, the use of cast iron, allied to ever cheaper rolled glass, allowed architects to design increasingly delicate buildings where glass was the predominant material. This trend culminated in the Crystal Palace designed to house the 1851 Exhibition in London. This was the first major example of modular construction with its cast iron columns and framework being assembled in less than a year.
The success of the Crystal Palace led to an outpouring to standardized of the conservatory for the Victorian middle class, which became ever more ornate as tastes changed, providing an apt setting for formal tea parties and lovers' trysts well into the Edwardian period.
By the 1920s, the cast iron conservatory had succumbed to frost damage and the ravages of rust. To some extent they were also the victims of their own success, being added to smaller and smaller houses until they fell from favour with the day's glitterati! Very few new conservatories were being built and as houses became warmer and more comfortable there was a reaction against previous conservatories that tended to be cold in winter unless kept warm at almost prohibitive cost.
It was not until the early 1970s that new developments in materials such as the introduction of float glass and construction techniques, including the emergence of sealed double-glazing, made the conservatory a practical proposition once again.
Today's home owner is literally spoilt for choice, not only in materials - aluminium, uPVC, hardwood and treated softwood, but in styles available. Notable amongst these are conservatory classics such as Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian conservatory designs as well as the contemporary conservatory appeal. The use of double-glazing in the form of sealed units has virtually eliminated the condensation that was inevitable with the older, single-glazed conservatory and it is also possible to specify low-emission glass, known as 'Low E', which incorporates a thin layer of metallic oxides that gives a level of thermal efficiency equivalent to an extra pane of glass.
If global warming is fact, solar gain must also be countered today the modern conservatory offers a number of solutions. These include efficient ventilators, opening windows and solar-reflecting blinds, which are particularly effective when a conservatory is south-facing.
Convenient to use, easy to maintain and a valuable asset to any home, the modern conservatory still reflect the aims of their 18th century creators: to live with nature throughout the year.
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