07/11/2013

The Earliest Conservatory Photograph?

Ibelieve I may have found the earliest surviving photograph of a conservatory. The story revolves around John Dillwyn Llewelyn who from his early twenties became interested in photography.

When he was twenty-one he inherited from his maternal grandfather the estate Penllergare near Swansea and two years later married Emma Thomasina Talbot, daughter of Thomas Mansel Talbot and Lady Mary Lucy, nee Fox Strangways. Her first cousin was William Henry Fox Talbot and through their shared interest in photography and botany Fox Talbot and Dillwyn Llewelyn became firm friends.

Around 1836 Dillwyn Llewelyn built one of the earliest orchid houses in the kitchen garden at Penllergare and an observatory in 1851-2. But from my point of view the conservatory was the most important addition. It was described by Andrew Pettigrew, head gardener to the Marquis of Bute in Cardiff as:

“…a substantially built half-span roofed structure…slightly curved in it’s length to suit the wing of the building to which it is attached. It is about sixty feet long, twenty feet high and broad in proportion, with a fountain and beds in the centre, and a narrow stage at the side of the path round the back wall.”

It also had heated pipes running underneath a pierced wrought iron floor that ran along the middle of the paths.

As you will see the panes of glass are perfectly in keeping with what we know about the History of Glass of the period, being small panes put together in the Georgian manner.

Here’s a photograph described as the door to the conservatory and another of the interior of the conservatory showing William Mansel Dillwyn Llewelyn sitting with a gun across his lap and in which you can clearly see the wrought iron section running along the pathway.

Sadly, the house and conservatory were demolished some years ago to make way for a civic centre, but work is being made to restore the gardens at Penllergare so it is another place you can visit.