The History of Conservatories | The Window & Conservatory Hub

History of Conservatories


Often seen in the not too distant past as the height of suburban status, conservatories have been around a lot longer than we think. There is some suggestion that Romans were the first conservatory fans, developing specific rooms that were designed to let in more light. The problem was they didn’t have pane glass at that time and mica sheets were used.

The conservatory as we know it today depended largely on new techniques for making sheet glass that didn’t start to become a reality until about 300 years ago. In the middle of the 16th Century, many travellers and explorers came back from hotter climes with fruits and plants that struggled to grow in our much cooler location. This led to the development of crude pergolos which were used to protect potted plants and wooden structures such as orangeries. A far cry from modern conservatories, we had to wait until the 18th century before we started to use glass and cast iron in structures that brought in more light.

The Conservatory Revolution

In 19th century England, our love of gardening and better construction techniques finally came together and produced something more like the modern conservatory. Of course in the initial stages this was confined to those with the money and the room to build such constructions on their properties and which is why old examples are attached to large manors on big estates.

Even larger conservatories became much more popular. Buildings like Kew Gardens attracted huge numbers of visitor and even today brings in thousands of tourists to explore its wide array of exotic plants. With the spread of the British Empire large conservatories became a sign of imperial status across the world and many of these elegant buildings survive to this day.

Sion House was built in 1830 by Charles Fowler and was the first to be designed and constructed on such a grand scale. It is still open today and looks as imposing as ever. Perhaps one of the best known conservatories was the Crystal Palace a huge cast iron and glass building built for the 1851 Great Exhibition. This was the first building to use large panes of glass (measuring 10 inches by 49 inches) and remained one of the wonders of the world until it was destroyed by fire in 1936.  

Today’s Smaller Conservatories

Conservatories started to fall out of fashion around the 1920s and it would be almost 50 years before we began to see them as something average home owners desired and were able to afford. This came at about the same time as new building techniques including double glazing which meant your average conservatory became more efficient for modern building use. With cheaper frames and better installation methods, they are now more affordable to everyone but still seen by some as status symbols.

The use of conservatories changed with their revival in the late 20th century. They stopped being simply greenhouses and were used for recreation, an extension to the home that could be used for sitting in during the summer or transformed into a dining room for entertaining. In the last few years, with an increasing emphasis on energy efficiency, much of the development in conservatory technology has been in creating materials that retain the heat in winter whilst keeping the place cooler in summer. The prices have come down even further and you can now find DIY stores that provide easy to install structures at a cost that won’t put too much of a dent in the savings.

Combined with better flooring and more efficient glass, conservatories can be used as an extra room and is a great, cheap way of providing a building with an extension, releasing up valuable space and adding to the value of a property. Some people use their conservatory as a hobby room, others to entertain guests with some good home cooking, or to play music and simply relax. They are now more popular than ever and the range of different styles available means you can choose the one that fits your home perfectly.

Find out more about different types of conservatory

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