The Great Stove, Chatsworth, designed by Joseph Paxton. Constructed 1836-40. 227 feet long, 123 feet wide, and 67 feet high. "Photographed before its destruction in May 1920" (Colquhoun).

"Stove had become a temple to flowers and as it was filled, so its fame spread with Paxton's name writ large upon it.

"Around thirty thousand feet of ground space under the elliptical roof were filled with the best garden soils, varied according to the needs of each of the plants, and the roots of the larger ones were contained in compartments within the soil in order to let weaker ones stand a chance against them. The beds were bisected by a long carriage drive running from end to end, with a broad walkway running around the whole building. There were folding glass doors at both ends and the entire arrangement was divided according to the geographical regions from which the plants derived. A set of winding steps led up to a light wrought-iron gallery and platform, from which a visitor could stare into the canopy of enormous tropical trees or down on to their smaller cousins. The eight subterranean boilers maintained the temperature to mimic both a temperate zone at one end and a subtropical zone at the other, while ventilators were fitted into the masonry foundations and into the roof. It was, by all accounts, the greatest glass structure in the world. Its height and span were greater than Liverpool Lime Street Station (1836), Euston Terminus (1839), or the first Great Western Terminus in London completed in the same year, and it required neither wooden nor iron trussing. The Palm Stove at Kew was still four years off.

"Later, Paxton would construct a large mass of rockwork to conceal the staircase, planted with ferns and cacti. Gleaming rock crystals from the Duke's collection were also brought here for display; exotic birds flew among the branches and silver fish swam in the pools beneath a plant collection that was simply unrivaled. . . . . When Charles Darwin visited this miniature floral world in 1845, he wrote that "he was transported with delight. . . . The water part is more wonderfully like tropical nature than I would have thought possible. Art beats nature altogether there." — Kate Colquhoun, pp. 99-100.

Related Materials


Colquhoun, Kate. "The Busiest Man in England:" A Life of Joseph Paxton, Gardener, Architect, and Visionary. Boston: David R. Godine, 2006. 300 pages. Many illustrations. ISBN 1-56792-301-1. [Review ]

Additional information about this book can be obtained from the publisher's website or by e-mailing

Last modified 1 July 2006