Chatsworth House

1st Chatsworth Flower show celebrates Joseph Paxton

10, Apr 2017 | Chatsworth, Derbyshire

Joseph Paxton 1801 – 1865


Joseph Paxton, architect and landscape gardener, was born in 1801. He started his career as a gardener’s boy and was spotted by the Duke of Devonshire whilst working at Chiswick.

He began working at Chatsworth, Derbyshire, in 1826. In 1832, Paxton was appointed manager to the Duke’s estates, where he designed two large greenhouses: a great conservatory and a second smaller building, for the “Victoria Regia” water lily. When the Great Conservatory was constructed in the grounds of Chatsworth in 1840, it was the largest glass building in England. It was demolished in 1920 and the remains now lie under the Maze at Chatsworth.

Sir Joseph Paxton's plaque

These designs were used as a basis for his successful design of the Great Exhibition building, Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. Paxton’s ingenious design created an unprecedented exhibition space. The construction, with a self-supporting shell, large interior space, all under glass to maximise the daylight. The method of construction was a breakthrough in technology and design. The building was constructed of iron, glass and laminated wood. Paxton was knighted for the success of this design by Queen Victoria.

Paxton continued to work on landscape gardening and laying out of public parks (Birkenhead) and cemeteries (Coventry), but also designed various country houses and other domestic buildings. In Matlock, the station Masters house is attributed to him as are Knowleston Gardens.

View into Knowleston Gardens

During the 1830s Paxton was editor of the Horticultural Register, Paxton’s magazine of Botany. With John Lindley, he founded The Gardener’s Chronicle. He also founded the Daily Chronicle with Charles Dickens as editor and in 1846 he went on a tour of Germany and Austria with George Stevenson, the locomotive engineer. John Knowles who built Glendon also worked for George Stephenson, Building his railway tunnels. This may explain how Joseph Paxton came to design Knowleston Gardens, which Glendon looks onto. We do not know if Joseph Paxton visited Glendon, but it is good to know it is possible.

Chatsworth House in the autumn

His involvement in public and municipal developments led to him to stand as a Liberal candidate for Coventry in 1854. He was elected and remained MP there until his death in 1865. His position in the House of Commons as MP for the Coventry allowed Paxton to dedicate his later years to even more urban planning projects.

In 2017 Chatsworth hosted its first RHS show and brought the amazing feat of Paxton’s Great Conservatory back to life using the latest inflatable technology for the Floral Marquee. This feature was the heart of the show also re-telling the story of Paxton and his achievements. A scale model of the Great Conservatory, original plans, and a display of past, present and future work of the Royal Horticultural Society and Chatsworth was also displayed.


Paxton is buried at Edensor church within the grounds of the Chatsworth estate.


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