Joseph Paxton – from Gardens to Architecture

Sir Joseph Paxton
(1803 – 1865)

On August 3, 1803, English gardener, architect and Member of Parliament Sir Joseph Paxton was born. He is best known for designing The Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition in 1851.

When Paxton was a teenager, he became a garden boy at Bettlesden Park for Sir Gregory Osborne Page-Turner. Later on, he switched to Horticultural Society’s Chiswick Gardens, which were located near the gardens of the 6th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, who offered Paxton a new position. Paxton convinced him with his extraordinary enthusiasm and his gardening success. Paxton was supposed to be Chatsworth’s headgardener at the age of only 20. The Duke himself was known to be a passionate gardener himself, he spent much time redesigning his properties and employed only the best people to help him with this task.

However, Paxton was thrilled to start working in the Duke’s gardens and arrived early in the morning while the Duke was on a journey in Russia. Paxton immediately began working, handing out tasks and it is is said that he finished his firt morning’s work by 9am.

Paxton received a great reputation and was known to be hard working and very friendly, getting along with the Duke perfectly, which increased Paxton’s prominence even more. During his stay, his tasks got more complex every time. Paxton even managed to move mature trees of 8 tons and took great care of the Rock Gardens as well as redesigning Edensor Village, where he was buried after his death.

In the early 1830’s Paxton began experimenting with glass houses, which were to be the forerunners of green houses. He designed constructions with the exact angles to make optimal use of the morning and evening sun. In 1836, the first Victoria amazonica, a large water lily was sent to England, but they would not grow and not flower so one seedling was sent to Paxton. Under his observation, his gardeners managed to grow the plant successfully and got it to flowering not much later. Since it continued growing, Paxton had to build another, much larger green house, later known as the Victoria Regia House. His experimentation resulted in a glass house that later depicted a great inspiration for his famous Crystal Palace.

In the next years, Paxton built even larger and more astonishing green houses and gained a great reputation. For the Great Exhibition in 1851, Paxton was given the task to design the Crystal Palace. This building made him famous. It was built by only 2000 people in eight months and demonstrated England’s technology and style. Paxton and his colleagues, Charles Fox and William Cubitt were knighted for their achievements after the Exhibition.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture held at Gresham College on Making and Running Great Gardens, 1700 – 1900 by Sir Roderick Floud.

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