The Hot-house of Desire

Tyntesfield c.1900. A fancy dress party in the conservatory

Tyntesfield c.1900. A fancy dress party in the conservatory

Or to put it another way.. The conservatory of choice.

When William Gibbs desired to alter his gothic mansion in north Somerset, he wanted it to be the very latest thing and he had plenty of money. He had made a mint by investing in South American fertilizer (guano… fossilised bird droppings)

In the 1860s, he appointed the architect John Norton to redesign Tyntesfield and part of the plan was to create a splendid conservatory (not quite a Crystal Palace but big).

There had been a conservatory when William purchased the house in 1843 and he may have altered it to suit his taste soon afterwards. However, the 1860s conservatory was much larger by comparison, measuring 80ft long an 50ft wide. It had an intricate iron framework and a dome at the centre.

A door gave direct access from the west side of the house via a corridor between the Billiard Room and Mrs Gibbs Room. It was full of exotic plants from around the world and heated by hot air created by a newly installed boiler. The details are recorded in an article contained in The Builder magazine published in 1866.

A picture dated 1867 of the conservatory from the west lawn of the house soon after its completion.

A picture dated 1867 of the conservatory from the west lawn of the house soon after its completion.

Over the next 50 years, the conservatory was visited by many people including plant collectors and botanists from Kew Gardens and there were numerous parties and social gatherings, but by 1917 it had become unfashionable and difficult to maintain and so George Abraham Gibbs decided to demolish it.

Only the footprint of the site is visible now and Paul the Head Gardener would like to know what survives beneath the gravel. So this week, National Trust archaeology will find out, and we will update this blog each day to let you know how we get on.

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