When you think of a greenhouse, it's unlikely that a 14 meter, three room, stone walled structure springs to mind. Yet this is exactly what Langley Furniture Works had to work with when commissioned to re-build an original Victorian greenhouse for an estate in Lanchester, County Durham.
"We were given the very interesting task of pricing up a completely new conservatory/greenhouse to sit on top of the original brick and stonework. The project involved removing all the old glass and woodwork and building a new replacement in the workshop before fitting it on site."
"The original was made by Richardson's of Durham, who supplied greenhouses to estates all over the north of England, their makers plate still hangs on the entrance. This one had survived quite effectively but had been patched many times and was in need of replacing"
The new build remained faithful to the original design, using the same mouldings and some of the same jointing techniques, as well as mixing in some more modern methods that provided added strength and durability, such as using hardwoods and vacuum treated softwoods, painting all components in the workshop prior to glazing which makes it difficult for water to penetrate the wood, a process that dramatically increases the life of the structure.
"Greenhouses transpire serious amounts of water, therefore condensation is a serious issue when working on a sealed, weather proof greenhouse. The specification for the build has to be able to take that into account, and have designs for horizontal heads and members that will shed water as the condensation rolls down the inside of the glass. If you don't then it will rot."
Four hundred and forty panes of glass were used to skin the greenhouse, all glazed on one of the hottest days of 2013. At one point the thermometer was showing over a hundred degrees! Hard work for the team but just right for the three existing vines that we were working around, carefully pruned by Fran, our specialist joiner and resident vine expert.
"The building actually breathes. To modernise the ventilation system which is still largely manual, we installed high spec automatic vents in the roof that open and close depending on the interior temperature. Surprisingly, you might expect this to be computer controlled but the system is actually very simple, relying on a small chamber of wax to melt and harden, forcing a piston up and down which acts as the window opening and closing mechanism. It was so hot while we were working that we had to keep the mechanisms in the freezer to cool them so we could fit them properly."
The greenhouse was built in the workshop and the team spent 2-3 weeks fitting it on site, finishing the job by re-installing all of the original metalwork by in place. We are pretty confident that Richardson's of Durham would have been happy with the restoration.