PAXTON, Joseph
(b. 1803, Milton Bryan, d. 1865, Sydenham, London)

Biography

English architect, horticulturist, gardener. He is best known for designing the Crystal Palace and for cultivating the Cavendish banana, the most consumed banana in the Western world.

He became a garden boy at the age of fifteen at Battlesden Park, near Woburn. In 1823, he obtained a position at the Horticultural Society's Chiswick Gardens. In the same year he got the position of head gardener at Chatsworth, which was considered one of the finest landscaped gardens of the time. One of Paxton's first projects was to redesign the garden around the new north wing of the house and expand Chatsworth's collection of conifers into a 40-acre (160,000 m2) arboretum which still exists. He became skilled at moving mature trees.

In 1832, Paxton developed an interest in greenhouses at Chatsworth. After experimentation, he designed a glass house with a ridge and furrow roof that would be at right angles to the morning and evening sun and an ingenious frame design that would admit maximum light: the forerunner of the modern greenhouse. Constant experimentation over a number of years led him to devise the glasshouse design that inspired the Crystal Palace.

Between 1836 and 1841 he built the Great Conservatory at Chatsworth, a huge glasshouse, 69 m long and 37 m wide. The columns and beams were made of cast iron, and the arched elements of laminated wood. The Great Conservatory was the test-bed for the prefabricated glass and iron structural techniques which Paxton pioneered and would employ for his masterpiece: The Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition of 1851. These techniques were made physically possible by recent technological advances in the manufacture of both glass and cast iron, and financially possible by the dropping of a tax on glass.

Although he remained the Head Gardener at Chatsworth until 1858, he was also able to undertake outside work such as the Crystal Palace and his directorship of the Midland Railway. He worked on public parks in several cities. In 1850, he was commissioned by Baron Mayer de Rothschild to design Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire. This was to be one of the greatest country houses built during the Victorian Era. Following the completion of Mentmore, Baron James de Rothschild, one of Baron de Rothschild's French cousins, commissioned Château de Ferrières at Ferrières-en-Brie near Paris to be "Another Mentmore, but twice the size". Both buildings still stand today.

Paxton was a Liberal Member of Parliament for Coventry from 1854 until his death in 1865.