The Manufacture of architecture: Joseph Paxton and the development of the Great Stove

Hugh Strange

This film is part of series of posts of selected papers from the study symposium at Shatwell Farm, hosted by Drawing Matter and convened by KU Leuven and TU Delft on 27 and 28 April 2023. More about the symposium, and other films and written papers, can be found here.

Joseph Paxton was born in 1803 in Bedfordshire and left home at the age of 13, seemingly with little formal education, to be employed in physical work as a gardening boy. After various apprenticeships he was taken on in 1823 as a labourer by the Horticultural Society, recently relocated to Chiswick Gardens. It was here that in 1826 Paxton met the sixth Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, one of the country’s richest men. The portrayal of the meeting by Paxton’s grand-daughter Violet Markham, indicates some of the later romanticisation of the event,

A gate divided the duke’s garden from the grounds of the Horticultural Society. It was a pleasant stroll from one to the other. Though not at that time an enthusiast, he found much to interest him in the Society’s plants and flowers, for new varieties were very fashionable and the curious were interested in such things. During his strolls his attention was drawn to a short, pleasant-looking man who often opened the gate for him.

The duke, temporarily lacking a gardener at his Chatsworth estate, and clearly charmed, made a bold decision and offered the young and relatively inexperienced Paxton the job as Head Gardener. Two weeks later Paxton had moved north to Chatsworth, and from here, deep within the Derwent Valley, his experiments in glasshouse construction began. At first, Paxton’s energies were directed towards general garden maintenance, but subsequently, from 1828 until 1834, Paxton undertook the construction of a series of small to medium-sized timber forcing houses and glasshouses, arriving at incremental improvements in their design. Key developments at this stage were oriented towards better horticultural performance, and included the refinement of the sash bar profile, the practical application of ridge-and-furrow roofing, and the invention of what was later famously known as the ‘Paxton gutter’.

The patent specification for roofing improvements can be viewed on Drawing Matter’s collection catalogue.


Hugh Strange studied architecture at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1994, and established his London-based practice, Hugh Strange Architects, in 2011. The practice designed the Archive building for Drawing Matter, completed in 2014. The building was nominated for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture—Mies van der Rohe Award 2015.

In parallel with his practice, Hugh is currently studying for a PhD at AHO, the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. His PhD, currently titled ‘Architecture at the Building Site’ examines and challenges the separation of design and construction, and includes case studies of William Lethaby, Walter Segal and Joseph Paxton.