The programme was called ‘Glass Houses’, the first episode of a 3-part series entitled, ‘Dreaming the Impossible: Unbuilt Britain’ which looks at stories behind some of the grandest (civic) designs that were never built. As the episode title suggests, this one covered how technological advances allowed designers, like Paxton in the 19th century, and then others in the 20th, to think of new ways to exploit the resulting materials, in this case, glass and cast-iron.
I’d never heard of it before but Paxton’s unbuilt design was called the 'Great Victorian Way', a ten- or eleven-mile covered thoroughfare around London, linking the main railway stations, crossing the Thames three times, tall and wide enough to allow foot and wheeled traffic on multiple levels, with shops and businesses along its length, just like any other thoroughfare, but enclosed by glass. There was even provision for a pneumatic railway!
Coming just four years after Paxton’s ‘Crystal Palace’ of 1851, there were plenty of images of not only that and the inevitable film-footage of its demise, but also of the ‘Great Conservatory’, or ‘Great Stove’, that he had built at Chatsworth in 1841 (and nigh-on the size of a football-pitch). Even though the programme covered other, later, designs and designers, Paxton seems to have been given the lions-share of the running-time, covering: his designs for the 'Great Victorian Way' and the ‘Crystal Palace’, modern Chatsworth and the maze that now exists within the base-wall of the ‘Great Conservatory’, the famous ‘Conservative Wall’ and a visit to his tomb on the Chatsworth estate. There's even a piece with Paxtons Great-Great-Granddaughter, Theodora Wayte.
Something that Paxton planned to employ on the 'Great Victorian Way' construction, as for the ‘Crystal Palace’, was the ‘ridge-and-furrow’ glazing method, the glass-roof equivalent to corrugated iron sheets. Apparently, he got the idea for ‘ridge-and-furrow’ from the rib-construction of giant water-lily pads, which he used to publicise the strength of his glasshouses by having his daughter, Annie, stand on a floating pad in the lily-house. He also used ridge-and-furrow on other glasshouses at Chatsworth, at the Devonshire’s Irish estate, Lismore Castle, and at Sir Morton Peto’s ‘Somerlyton Hall’, in Suffolk.
So, if you like a big glasshouse, this programme is for you. Find it on the BBC iPlayer for the next few weeks.
Click on the images, below, to show (L-R), The Great Conservatory, Ridge and Furrow Glazing at Lismore Castle, and Paxtons Conservative Wall with the Late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and the then Head Gardener, Dennis Hopkins. Then below those, the 'Great Victorian Way'.