The Messenger Building in the Walled Garden, Holkham

The Walled Garden

Messenger Building

What is now known as the Messenger Building is a large glasshouse, with stores and bell tower, by Thomas Messenger & Co, situated in the first square of the Walled Garden. Like much of the garden, the Messenger building had fallen into disrepair over the years, however it is now being brought back to life as part of the Walled Garden restoration project.

The Thomas Messenger glasshouse was installed in March 1930, having been removed from a previous location and purchased by the Holkham estate in 1929. However, this glasshouse has much older roots. There is a glasshouse in this position on maps dating from 1839 at it is very likely that this was built in the early history of the walled garden (1780-1830), when Thomas William Coke (Coke of Norfolk) was keen to develop the estate. The pulley system on the original side is very similar in design to that found in the Wyatt Vinery.

The original glasshouse has two sections which would have enabled there to be two different temperatures for growing tender plants. The hot bed may have been used to bring on pineapples, a delicacy in Thomas William Coke’s era. The chimney, with the adjoining bell tower, part of the heating system very necessary to grow these exotic fruit, is still visible. This structure also had a room which was used as an office for the head gardener. The original bell was made in London in 1845, when Hugh Girvan was the head gardener, a position he would keep until his retirement in 1871. We don’t know why the bell tower was needed, it was likely used to mark the start and end of the day for the workers.

By the late 1920s, the decision was made to renew this glasshouse alone and a Messenger glasshouse was sought. Thomas Goode Messenger started his business in 1855 and his firm Messenger & Co: horticultural builders, heating engineers and iron founders, were the go-to firm for glass houses, verandas, summer houses, cucumber frames and melon pits. They had customers throughout the United Kingdom and were famed for the beaver-tailed glazing bar design. This feature encouraged the flow of rainwater to drain away from the wooden bars and prevents the wood rotting over time. The new Messenger glasshouse used the original foundations and was adapted to fit.

Phase one of the project is now completed and saw the restoration of the north stores and bell tower. The bell itself – complete with a Holkham ostrich - has been expertly re-cast at John Taylor & Co Bell Foundry and was installed in March 2020.

Phase two sees work start on the large glasshouse. Work will continue over the winter, with the aim to be completed when our new visitor season starts in Spring 2021.

Thank you to our supporters
We are really grateful to have been awarded a grant to enable us to complete this work from the Historic Houses Foundation, as part of Historic England’s and the government’s Culture Recovery Fund.

Historic Houses Foundation
Here For Culture
Historic England