A History of the Conservatory

The word conservatory is a combination of the Italian word “conservato” which translates to English as ‘Stored or Preserved’ and the Latin word “ory” which means ‘A place for’. The history of the conservatory is far from clear with evidence pointing to ancient Rome as being the possible birthplace.

A History of the Conservatory

The First Conservatories

The Romans were very capable glassmakers, and glass windows were present in the properties of wealthier individuals from the 1st century BC. Roman bathhouses were also often fitted with large glass panes (40in x 30in) to let light and warmth into the buildings. Whether the Romans glass usage extended to structures similar to today’s conservatories is unclear.

The first glass structures that we would recognise today as similar to conservatories were built in the 1600s for wealthy landowners who wished to grow exotic fruits such as oranges, lemons and limes. These structures, known as orangeries, were stand-alone buildings situated in the grounds of great estates.

Orangeries from this period were constructed from wood and brick and had very tall, sometimes ornately decorated windows.

An orangery became a status symbol for the wealthy landowners of the time, and so many elaborate structures were built at stately homes across the country.

In 1621 Oxford’s Botanical Gardens were founded as a physic garden to grow plants for use in medical research. As part of the gardens, a glasshouse was built in 1637. Although it did not contain a great deal of glass, it is considered to be the first building that characterised a conservatory as we know them today.

Spectaular Conservatories

So far, the history of the conservatory doesn’t contain many buildings that we’d really consider to be conservatories by modern standards. However, by the 19th century, the English love of gardening and technological advancements in glassmaking ushered in a Golden Age of conservatory building.

In 1825 John Nash designed four conservatories for Buckingham Palace. One of these was later moved to Kew gardens and still stands today, bearing the name of it’s creator.

The Great Conservatory
The Great Conservatory at Chatsworth House


The Great Conservatory at Chatsworth, built between 1836 and 1841, was the largest glass structure in the world when it was completed. Covering three-quarters of an acre, it was heated by eight coal fed boilers and managed by a team of ten men. The Chatsworth conservatory was unfortunately demolished in 1920. The plants had all died as no coal was available to heat the conservatory due to World War one taking all none essential supplies.

The designer of the Great Conservatory, Sir Joseph Paxton, went on to design possibly the most well-known conservatory to have ever been built.

The Crystal Palace was built in just 22 weeks and was created to house the great exhibition of 1851. It covered 19 acres and was the largest enclosed space on earth. It measured 41 meters in height (the same as the Royal Albery hall) and contained 293,635 panes of glass. The huge success of the great exhibition, which was in no small part thanks to the Crystal Palace, meant the popularity of conservatories was never higher.

Modern Day Conservatories

Today, conservatories are generally a little more modest than those from the Victorian era. Conservatories are a popular addition to many homes as they provide a cost-effective method of increasing living space.

Thanks to technological advancements and modern building materials conservatories can now easily be transformed into comfortable all year round rooms. The addition of a tiled conservatory roof replacement provides improved insulation creating a space the whole family can enjoy, whatever the season.