The newly restored glasshouse at Quarry Bank

Explore the restored glasshouse and back sheds. Marvel at the sparkling glasshouse with its thousands of panes of glass, and at the exotic fruit growing within its frame. In the back sheds, discover the stories of the gardeners who worked in Quarry Bank's garden 200 years ago.

Watch the fabulous glasshouse restoration video here:

By 1798, when the mill was well established, Samuel Greg moved his family from Manchester to the newly built Quarry Bank House. After their arrival, the Gregs soon began to develop the challenging terrain around the house into beautiful and productive gardens.

Pleasure gardens and glasshouse

The Gregs created more formal gardens designed for pleasure, the landscaped Northern Woods for recreation, whilst up on the cliff top they created a walled kitchen garden to produce all the fruit and vegetables that the family’s 13 children, frequent guests, and several servants needed. Care was taken to choose a suitable site for the kitchen garden.

The centrepiece of the walled garden was a magnificent curvilinear glasshouse with a cast-iron frame, built sometime in the early 1820s. Its innovative design with modern technology, expensive materials and the huge amount of glass, sent a clear message to guests about their financial success and position in society.

Early photograph of the 1830s glasshouse at Quarry Bank
Early photograph of the 1830s glasshouse at Quarry Bank

Back sheds

The sheds behind the glasshouse were the powerhouse and administrative centre of the kitchen garden. Here, hidden from view, the gardeners carried out their varied and essential jobs under the watchful eye of the Head Gardener, William Brough. Deliveries arrived, produce was sent out; tools were cleaned, sharpened and repaired; tender plants were nurtured and precious seeds stored, in rooms warmed from the heat of the glasshouse boilers.

Tending the glasshouse

The glasshouse’s high roof allowed for the cultivation of palms and other large exotic specimens, newly arrived in the country via the exploits of plant hunters. The fruits and plants housed in the glasshouse were rare and newly discovered; brought to this country by plant hunters travelling the world.

Keeping these fragile plants alive required careful tending and clever technology.  Pipes ran from a boiler, under the floor, heating the glasshouse to carefully controlled levels.  Perfect for growing exotic plants, delicate fruits and the fresh grapes the gardener’s aspired to keep on the Greg family’s table all year round. 

Keeping the boiler fed day and night was the job of the garden boys, some as young as 9 years old.  To make sure they were always close by these boys lived in part of the backsheds; their few possessions kept close to their small beds.

The story of the restoration of the glasshouse and back sheds

The glasshouse restoration is part of the major £9.4million project currently taking place to transform Quarry Bank. Thanks to the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Wolfson Foundation and many generous donors the glasshouse is sparkling once again.

Neglected gem

The kitchen garden was in use until Ernest William Greg died in 1936 and the land was privately sold. The glasshouse was severely damaged through neglect before the National Trust was able to acquire it in 2010. 

Restoration planning

Our plan was to fully return the glasshouse to its former glory, including rebuilding the previously demolished section of the west vinery. We didn’t have the original architectural plans but our National Trust experts and external architects and archaeologists carried out survey work and were able to piece together a clear understanding of how the building was created. We also used information in our archives including photographs, letters, diaries, maps and garden plant orders which meant that we could restore the structure and present it with a high degree of authenticity.

In October 2015, Armitage Construction were appointed as the main contractor and Dorothea Restorations as our architectural ironwork restorers. Almost immediately, the glasshouse frame was carefully dismantled piece by piece by Dorothea and taken to their workshop in Bristol. Over six months the engineers carried out painstaking work to the structure to make repairs, identify missing pieces and examine the extent of the damage.

The restoration of the cast iron frame took six months. The aim was to restore as much of the original fabric of the glasshouse as possible, but where pieces were too badly damaged new ones were precisely re-cast using moulds made from original pieces. The ironwork for these pieces was, surprisingly, sourced from melted down automotive brake discs. As an important safety component, vehicle manufacturers take great care to ensure brake discs are designed and manufactured to the highest possible quality. When they reach the end of their life on a vehicle, they can be recycled into iron for other purposes, such as Quarry Bank’s glasshouse frame.  

Restoring the brickwork

Whilst the frame was in Bristol, another team of contractors were very busy on site repairing and preparing the brick and stone walls for the return of the frame. The brick walls remained extremely stable throughout the restoration and have been repointed and strengthened to support the new metal work. 

The chimneys were rebuilt which would have taken away smoke from the boiler system used to heat the glasshouse.

Thanks to our archaeologists we have a good understanding of the heating and drainage methods that were used in the glasshouse. However, we don’t plan to employ children to sleep in the back sheds to keep the boiler stoked as the Greg family did! Instead we have installed an environmentally friendly biomass boiler which we will feed with woodchips, in line with the National Trust’s renewable energy strategy and target of sourcing 50% of our energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. The biomass boiler will enable the team at Quarry Bank to heat sections of the glasshouse, so that we can try to grow exotic plants and fruits such as grapes and peaches. The central chimney will be functional as part of this heating system.

Glazing

Once this work had taken place, our glaziers came to site and fitted over 7,500 panes of glass.

The glass itself was blown into large cylinders, half a metre long, which were slit down the middle whilst still soft to create large flat rectangles. These were then trimmed into individual panes. The central section was glazed first with specially shaped panes known as beavertails, followed by the glazing of the vineries.

Completion

The glasshouse restoration was completed in December 2016 and the team are now planting heritage variety vines. We can’t wait for you to enjoy the glasshouse on your next visit.

The beautifully restored glasshouse at Quarry Bank
The beautifully restored glasshouse at Quarry Bank