August 3, 2010

Glass houses

Chatsworth, showing the hunting tower. Photo Taken by Paul Collins.

This is Chatsworth, home of the Dukes of Devonshire.  When Joseph Paxton was taken on here as head gardener by the Duke of Devonshire in 1832, he was just thirty years old.  It was a major career boost.

Joseph Paxton

Joseph Paxton – who was born on this day in 1803 – was a farm boy who might have been created by Horatio Alger.  At the age of 15 he left the farm and got hired as a gardener at Bladenton Manor, went on to study at Chiswick Gardens and got noticed by the Duke of Devonshire, who put him in charge.

From Dickinson's Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851

He  redesigned the gardens, added arboretums, an enormous conifer plantation, built a staggeringly huge fountain and exceptionally large and beautiful greenhouses.

He designed the Crystal Palace  for the Great Exhibition of 1851 – his plan based on observation of the leaves of the giant water lily and the greenhouse he had designed for it.  (One seed had been given to Paxton to try out by the Royal Gardens at Kew, which had received them from the Amazon.  The seeds had failed to flower at Kew but Paxton, in a few months, had produced flowering plants with leaves four and five feet in diameter.)

Giant Victoria Regia Water Lily

The Crystal Palace was famous for being beautiful, but also for its dramatic display of British innovation in glass manufacturing and ironwork, two materials Paxton had been working with for years. Queen Victoria knighted him for his efforts.

Paxton died at the age of 62, having built, designed, planted, written books, published gardening and botanical magazines and rebuilt the village of Edensor.  He is buried in the churchyard of St. Peter’s in Edensor, as is, incidentally, JFK’s sister Kathleen Kennedy, who was married to the tenth Duke’s heir and was thus the Marchioness of Hartington.

Edensor, btw, used to be just across the river (see photo) from Chatsworth, but apparently wasn’t very attractive and rather spoiled the view, so one of the Dukes had the whole village moved over the hill out of sight.  It’s good to be the Duke.



  1. ha! cool! nice lilies!


    Comment by ninachat — August 3, 2010 @ 3:26 pm | Reply

  2. very interesting old Joe Paxton


    Comment by avery zia — August 3, 2010 @ 8:17 pm | Reply

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