Cookies on this website

This website places cookies, which are small data files, on your computer or handheld device. This is standard practice for all websites.
Cookies are essential for helping us deliver a high quality website and online shopping experience for our customers, and some collect information about browsing and buying behaviour. For more information about cookies, including how we use them and how to disable them, read our full Cookie Policy.
By using and browsing this website, you consent to cookies being used in accordance with our policy.
If you do not consent, you should disable cookies in your browser or refrain from using the site. Thank you.

Engraved portrait of Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) - Gardener and glasshouse designer

To magnify image, move cursor over, or click on the picture.

:Engraved portrait of Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) - Gardener and glasshouse designer
:c 1840's ?
:Last, C C A
Commercial useThis image can be used commercially, click here to add it to your listView commercial list
This image can be used commercially, please contact us for rates


Buy a printed copy of this image
Paxton was born in 1803 and was baptised at the church in Milton Bryan on 24th August 1803. His date of birth is sometimes given as 1801 because he may have lied about his age at a later date in order to get a job. Born into poverty, Paxton left school when he was fifteen to work at his brother's farm. Starved and beaten, he eventually ran away. He found employment as a gardener in Woburn and became an expert botanist. By 1824 he was foreman at Chiswick Gardens Arboretum, leased by the Horticultural Society from the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Their paths crossed, and in 1826 he was appointed superintendent at Chatsworth House. Here he built enormous fountains - the Emperor Fountain at 280ft is twice the height of Nelson's Column - as well as an arboretum, a 300ft conservatory, and a model village. In 1837 he secured a cutting of a new lily found in Guyana, and designed a heated pool that enabled him to breed the lily successfully: within three months its leaves were almost twelve feet wide. However, the lily was too big for any normal conservatory. Inspired by the huge leaves of the lily - 'a natural feat of engineering' - and tested by floating his daughter Annie on one leaf, he found his structure. The secret was in the rigidity provided by the radiating ribs connecting with flexible herringbone-pattern cross-ribs. Constant experimentation over a number of years led him to devise his glasshouse design that was later to inspire his design for the Crystal Palace. With a cheap and light wooden frame, the conservatory design had a ridge-and-furrow roof to let in more light and drain rainwater away (see DCHQ002919). Cunningly, Paxton used hollow pillars to double up as drain pipes and designed a special rafter that also acted as an internal and external gutter. All of these elements were pre-fabricated and, like modular buildings, could be produced in vast numbers and assembled into buildings of varied design. By the age of forty he was a close friend of the Duke and was making a fortune as manager of his six estates and as a director of several rail companies. He also worked on other projects in Derbyshire. As well as work on the formal gardens, he was responsible for modelling the new village of Edensor, moved to its existing site between 1838 and 1840, and c 1845 Paxton modified the gardens opposite the Crescent in Buxton and created the Serpentine Walks. In his spare time he set up the Daily News, appointing Charles Dickens as editor, and accompanied the Duke around the world. However, real fame came with the 1851 Great Exhibition. Every one of the 245 plans for the Exhibition Hall had been examined and rejected, and the Committee's own design had met with public disdain. Paxton thought he could do better, and delivered his design - a vastly magnified version of his lily house at Chatsworth - within nine days. It was cheap, simple to erect and remove, ready for immediate use, and would not scar the Park. Its novelty was its revolutionary modular, prefabricated design, and use of glass. Glazing was carried out from special trolleys, and was fast: one man managed to fix 108 panes in a single day. The Crystal Palace was 1 848 feet long, 408 feet wide and 108 feet high. It required 4 500 tons of iron, 60 000 cubic feet of timber and needed over 293 000 panes of glass. Yet it took 2 000 men just eight months to build, and cost just £79 800. Although the Crystal Palace was initially the Millennium Dome of its time, attracting widespread cynicism from the public and the press, when it opened the Exhibition was an enormous success, the Palace a major attraction, and Paxton was knighted. When the Exhibition finished, Paxton moved it to Sydenham, where it was a great popular success until the end of the century, and where it remained until it burned down in 1936. Paxton died in Sydenham, England in 1865.