A History of the Orangery

Published: 28th September 2011
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Historically an Orangery was a building, similar to a greenhouse or conservatory, in which oranges, lemons and other citrus fruits and exotic plants were grown.

Although Orangeries did not become popular amongst the well-off in this country until the 1800s; the first Orangeries actually appeared in Northern Europe in the 18th Century; where the hard frosts, snow and ice necessitated some kind of shelter for citrus trees during the long dark winters.

An Orangery would feature high glazing to provide maximum light and warmth, whilst tall doors would allow easy access to move citrus plants and trees without restriction. The trees would be stored under cover (and in tubs) primarily to ensure their survival, rather than as a way for them to flower or fruit. Where this cover alone would not suffice, as temperatures dropped well below zero, a stove would be brought into the Orangery and lit.

More on the background of Orangeries

Built from specially quarried stone, Orangeries were luxurious extensions to grand houses and mansions, and became must-have additions to the homes of Britain’s wealthy in the 19th Century; status symbols, in fact.

Those who were fortunate enough to have an Orangery would invite guests for ‘cool drinks
and conversation in the Orangery’. Guests would gather in the lantern-shaped Orangery (which would have been built separately from the actual house itself) and be warmed and delighted by the sun shining through the glass roof and the windows. They would also, of course, be enchanted the wonderful citrus aroma the fruits and other plants emitted.

An expertly designed Orangery (usually of classical architectural form) would be well-appointed, to ensure the heat was always at a comfortable level so that householders and visitors would find a visit to the Orangery a pleasant, relaxing experience, and one that they would be keen to repeat.

Many visitors to friends’ Orangeries immediately fell in love with the whole idea, and commissioned architects and builders to create an Orangery for them, either in London, or at their country estate.

The UK’s best-known Orangeries

Today, thousands of people visit the biggest and best-known Orangeries across the UK every year and they are still providing inspiration for people’s home extensions and improvements.

Kensington Palace Orangery

Perhaps the most visually stunning Orangery in the world, the Kensington Palace Orangery in London is a splendidly palatial building that is thought to be the combined work of design collaborators, Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir John Vanburgh in 1704 (for Queen Anne). In the 19th Century, much of the Orangery’s panelling was replaced, meaning that almost the entire interior was painted pure white (a dazzling effect on summer afternoons when the Orangery was sun-filled and gleaming).

The combination of the cornices, 24 Corinthian columns and the pine and pearwood arches at either end of the room (where the carving’s detail is exceptional) make for a delightful environment, with the ornate niches, statues, busts and vases only adding to the Orangery’s appeal.

Today, the Kensington Palace Orangery is a stylish tearoom that can seat 300+ (with a marquee).

The Orangery at Margam Park, Wales

With its red carpets and wonderful flower arrangements, the monastic and gothic-style Orangery at Margam Park (situated just outside Neath & Port Talbot) is now a venue for weddings and events; but that has not always been so...

The Margam Park Orangery was built between 1786 and 1790 by Thomas Manson Culvert and is set in 850 acres of magnificent woodland. A classical composition of extraordinary length (327ft) and built from locally quarried stone, Margam Park Orangery is recognised by orangery experts world-wide as being one of the most beautifully ornate buildings of its kind. It once housed over a hundred citrus trees, which not only survived many harsh Welsh winters, but flourished and flowered, in fact, thanks to painstaking care and ample helpings of winter sun that flooded in through the enormous arched windows for hours before the winter night drew in.

The Orangery at Margam Park is listed Grade 1.

The Orangery at Kew Gardens

Also a Grade 1 listed building, the Orangery at Kew Gardens is the largest classical-style building at the world-famous botanical gardens in London. Designed by Sir William Chambers in 1761, the Orangery at Kew is one of the largest in the UK, being 92ft long and 33ft deep. Its large glazed doors were added later to enhance its effectiveness, as the low levels of light through the roof and windows became an increasing cause for concern.

Although the Kew Orangery can not be regarded as one of the most successful in terms of protecting citrus fruits and exotic plants over the centuries, it is nonetheless one of the finest-looking, with its pure white, majestic stonework and huge arched windows, all set in magnificent grounds. To the delight of visitors, two cast iron galleries, accessed by spiral staircases, were added in 1883, but these have since been removed.

Like the Orangery at Kensington Palace, the Kew Gardens Orangery is also now used as an elegant café.




Article submitted by Jonathan Hey, Managing Director of Westbury Garden Rooms. Westbury Garden Rooms has over 20 years experience in building bespoke conservatories and contemporary garden rooms and is a top UK leading designer / manufacturer of bespoke orangeries and garden rooms.

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