Walking down the gravel path to the south west corner of the Castle, the land drops down and offers a little more shelter in the lee of a band of trees. The ancient arched wall of the Monks’ Garden lies ahead and to the left, on a bank, sits the Orangery.
In looks it is similar to the original Orangery which was attached to south facing side of the Georgian Highclere House which was almost exactly where I sit writing in my study today. In fact I have found an old plan which clearly shows the corridor leading to it.
Charles Barry’s design for the Victorian house however was all about symmetry and balance. He called the new scheme for Highclere “Anglo-Italianate” and transformed the Castle into one of his most favourite works with his “lofty and beautiful tower” and “elevated angle turrets”.
The original Orangery might have had a place as part of a delightful Georgian Gentleman’s’ house but it had to be dismantled to make way for the new building. In the 1850 archives I found a reference to “conservatory (24 tubs containing orange trees, camellias and lemon trees” so that it was obviously well used and well-loved and, in a laudable effort at re-cycling, Lord and Lady Carnarvon decided to try to reuse it elsewhere. As usual there was the matter of a budget:
Accounts 1840‑1852 “An estimate has been forwarded to Mr Jackson for the removal of the Conservatory, but as it was in a gross sum I have referred it back to the Clerk of Works to examine and procure for me all the requisite particulars.”
However, the move was accomplished although again there are notes on the issue of leaking rooves in it and the other conservatories after the re-location, alongside small sketch-plans of sections and of layouts of heating pipes. The Orangery survived well into the early-20th century when, once again, in 1939, the wooden structure had to be renewed. In the last few years Geordie and I have, in our turn, had to undertake a great deal of restoration and have renewed much of the structure.
Before the 19th century glass buildings would have been an object of awe to the majority of the populace. Glass was heavily taxed making such buildings impossibly expensive for any but the wealthiest of the aristocracy. With the industrial revolution and the removal of the window tax, the Victorians’ fascination with flora and fauna led to a proliferation of various kinds of conservatories, orangeries and vineries of which the grandest were on estates such as Highclere. Highclere even had a “heathery” as the archives also refer to it as not being sufficiently weatherproof (9 Oct 1845).
The ultimate status symbol, however, was a glass fernery which aimed to mimic the heat and humidity of the tropics. The Dutch may have had tulip fever in the 17th century but the Victorians had Fern Mania: in their homes, their art, their fabrics and their literature. It even had an official name – pferidomania. Highclere had one of course – added onto the back of the Orangery which we have also extensively restored in the last couple of years.
Beyond the Orangery are a further three greenhouses and cold frames all of which are much in use today by Head Gardener Matthew and Ben to prepare and grow on the plants for the Castle. At the moment they and the potting sheds are all full of bedding plants ready to go out into the herbaceous borders. If only it would stop raining………..