An image of a conservatory in a back garden

A Quick History of The Conservatory

The conservatory has quickly become one of the intrinsic property expansion solutions; far more affordable than a brick extension, and far more practical than an outhouse or shed, the fervent popularity of the conservatory isn’t much of a surprise. While they are incredibly established in their current form, conservatories didn’t always come with the characteristics we associate them with today. History has greatly altered the conservatory with each passing year contributing to the build that we see so commonly today.

Un-Humble Beginnings

While leaps and strides in glass production and the creation of UPVC alongside other similar materials have made conservatories an incredibly affordable solution, this wasn’t always the case. Due to there being a tax based around the weight of glass produced in the 17th century (around the time of the first conservatory being constructed), producing panes thick enough to be used as walls was a privilege reserved for the aristocracy and wealthy nobility. The concepts of insulation and heating were still pretty alien during the 17th century so conservatories weren’t used as living chambers but rather as structures to protect plants that had been transported from Australia and South America. Due to glass being so impractical as a building material, olden conservatories were pretty much regular stone structures that had slightly more glass than the buildings they were connected to.    

The 19th Century

Between the 17th and 19th centuries conservatories weren’t exactly widespread, they were commonly seen as just another pointless property feature for the wealthy with a taste for the extravagant. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that conservatories became more practical to produce. This was due to two events taking place:

  • In 1845 the glass tax that was levied based on weight was abolished making production of thicker panes far more affordable.
  • The 1856 invention of the Bessemer converter allowed for steel to be produced for a fraction of the price. Steel was far stronger with a higher carbon content than many alternatives making for perfect conservatory roofing.  

Something that further helped bring conservatories into the mainstream was the construction of the conservatory at Chatsworth House by Sir Joseph Paxton. Taking the role of a one-man marketing team, Sir Paxton’s Conservatory was 277 feet long and 67 feet high making it an instant hit with all his friends. In 1842 it was even visited by Queen Victoria.

The Crystal Palace

Sir Paxton’s Conservatory certainly played a major role in history but it wasn’t until its big brother was built that glass buildings were fully recognised within mainstream society. In his undying love for anything and everything glass, Paxton drew up plans for another conservatory, one that was larger and grander than even his own. In 1850 Paxton took a train to London and sold his idea of what would eventually become the Crystal Palace to Prince Albert who was -according to Paxton himself- incredibly keen on the idea.

The newly erected glass structure quickly became a massive tourist attraction with over 6 million people passing through its gates. It was at this point that glass structures became widely recognised across mainstream culture, making several appearances across popular fiction such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Duet where a conservatory was a telling sign of almost pretentious wealth.

Post War

The first and second world wars certainly dimmed the popularity of the conservatory as the world no longer had need for pointlessly lavish structures, it wasn’t until developments in technology post-1940 that the conservatory become functional enough to make its way back into the mainstream. With the war being over the second half of the 20th century led to massive technological developments introducing things like self-cleaning glass, underfloor heating, and double glazing making the conservatory a far more practical solution for day-to-day life.

The conservatories we have access to today are a culmination of hundreds of years of technological developments and are far more practical than anything that was seen in the past by even the wealthiest of nobility.

Contact Burbage Home Improvements

As market leaders within the home improvements sector, our team at Burbage Home Improvements are specialists in providing bespoke property solutions across the sectors of conservatories, orangeries, roof replacement and insulation, porches, fascia and soffits, fitted windows and door replacements.  

If you would like to speak to a member of the Burbage Home Improvements team, please do not hesitate to get in touch on 01455 633 189 or drop us an email on

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