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We’ve already covered so much in the first four parts of this series since April (see links below), but there’s one more aspect of this topic I just can’t leave out: how to store the scents that were either purchased or home-made. The fabulous perfume containers used by Regency people who could afford them are works of art in themselves, but they also served an important purpose. After all the trouble and expense of creating a wonderful perfume, what good was it if you couldn’t keep it long enough to enjoy using it?

Labradorite, gold, & cameo decorated 18th c bottles

As we saw in Part 1 about Floris (the famous 18th century London perfumery that is still in business), records show that their wealthy clients often brought in their own containers to be refilled on the premises with their custom-blended signature scent. Preserving the quality of those scents was paramount. Let’s see what some of those containers might have looked like! But let’s also consider the practicalities of the storage problem and take a quick glimpse of how past ages met the problem, too.

Scent essential oils need to be protected from four things: air, light, heat, and contamination from other scents. Perfumes combine any number of these oils, but the combined scent achieved must still be protected. A wide variety of materials and sealant techniques have been used since the earliest times to accomplish these aims.

Despite Shakespeare’s eloquence, glass was not always the most ideal choice, especially once distilling in alcohol or using a vinegar base for certain perfumes was introduced, as those substances could etch or erode the glass. Still, glass remained one of the popular choices along with types of stone (alabaster, agate, rock crystal, travertine marble, laboradite), ceramics (faience, terra-cotta, porcelain), metals (silver, gold, even copper in very early periods, and later enameled metal). Historically, scent containers have often been as much—or more–of a luxury item than the perfumes to put in them!

The Egyptians learned glass-making from Mesopotamia, and used both core-formed glass, stone and ceramics for their perfume containers. The lids or stoppers are less well-documented; they may have used wood, leather, straw or clay that did not survive the ages. The Greeks were fond of ceramic containers in shapes from nature, but also used core-formed glass. It was the Romans who invented the technique of blown-glass, and the path to modern glassware opened.

6th century Greek perfume containers
Roman blown glass perfume bottles

By the 16th and 17th centuries, the growing popularity of liquid perfumes meant scent bottles became more elaborate…. And by the 18th century the trends in perfume containers followed the prevailing trends in art. This means a wide variety including enamels and porcelain, but also gold and any combination of fine materials including gemstones and pearls…

1) A small scent bottle meant to be worn as a pendant, of agate, gold, and gemstones (rubies). This 17th-century bottle was added to in later years. (Photos: © The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)  

2) Two distinctly different styles of 18th century French ceramic perfume bottles

German and English porcelain in shapes were popular, and many bottles came with their own case, which protected from breakage but also helped protect clear glass bottles from light. This “figurine” style bottle from the mid-18th century (below), is something a Regency miss might have been given by her grandmother!  The auction description notes: “2¾in (7cm) long Derby porcelain perfume bottle and stopper, decorated with a striped cat pursuing two turtle doves up a tree, the base with a seal of a prancing horse and angel. In a shaped leather case”

Elsewhere I found mention that “[perfume bottles] began to be produced in cut glass patterns in the Georgian period, whereupon they were sold in fitted plush-lined cases…. Typically, scent bottles in the 19th century were crafted out of cut glass and then topped off with silver lids. These early glass examples were often made in a flask-shape, and featured a fine chain for suspending them on a chatelaine.”

The pair below have gold tops, which probably cover a smaller glass stopper inside with a ground glass shank to make it as air-tight as possible. (Cork was never used, because it has an odor of its own that could corrupt or contaminate the original perfume in the bottle.)

Ground glass stoppers seem to have been in use from quite early –that’s a side rabbit hole I did not successfully navigate! But at times both the stoppers and the bottle necks might have been covered with animal membrane or vegetable parchment to improve the tight fit, and an outer cap of white glove leather could have been added, as protection from evaporation.

Pendant-style mini-perfume bottles that could be worn (or carried in one’s reticule) continued to be popular throughout the 19th century.

A few more examples of Regency-era bottles that reflect the changing taste of the times:

Regency era perfume bottles (1,2,3, below)

1) an “Empire” brass and crystal perfume bottle. The French particularly favored crystal and cut glass.

2) an oval Louis XVI perfume bottle in gold and enamel decorated in a similar style as pocket watches and snuff boxes of the period often were, “the blue ground inset with a grisaille portrait, and classical figure on the reverse” with jewels (real or paste) decorating the stopper and borders.” (auction description) Note: the gold metal top is probably not the “stopper” but a removable lid/cover that protects and helps to hold the stopper in place. It is probably glass. Such lids often had a chain to keep it attached to the bottle.

3) this one is made of rock crystal with elaborate gold casing.

 Two examples of enamel work: (left) an “18th century Bilston (South Staffordshire) pear-shaped enamel perfume bottle, with topper and chain” and (right) German, also 18th century and formed like an actual pear.

As the 19th century progressed, perfume bottles became another medium for designer artwork and styles became identified with particular perfume brands. But the market also opened up for less expensive perfumes and customers with far more modest incomes, so perfume containers had to be created that would still be attractive and perform the necessary protection while costing less. Today’s perfumes are far less volatile because of the synthetics used in them, but they are still subject to evaporation due to the alcohol content. Wouldn’t you love to have perfume in a fabulous container like some of these beautiful old classics?

In this series I have introduced you to the fascinating world of Regency perfumery, but by necessity I have left a great deal unexplored. Vinaigrettes, for instance. Scented vinegars (aka “toilette vinegars”) were made by combining scent essences with white wine vinegar—rose, for example, or essence of orange-flowers. Smelling salts were developed with the discovery that ammonia crystals, mixed with certain compatible scents, lasted much longer than the liquid variety of smelling bottle or vinaigrette with a soaked sponge. Scents related to rose, nutmeg and cinnamon were recommended. One recipe I saw also used bergamot, lavender, and clove in addition.

I also didn’t talk about all the various kinds of products that were scented in the 18th and 19th centuries. All kinds of toiletry items, of course, including “Venetian chalk” (face powder) and freckle lotions, but my favorites are the items like scented writing desks, sewing baskets, and various boxes for storing other items. How did they make the scent last? These items had no space to accommodate the actual source of the scent.

They did it ingeniously: a piece of very thin leather, such as chamois, or heavy blotting paper was soaked in the desired perfume and then additionally treated with the scent, allowed to dry, and then was encased in a very thin  silk cover, creating a sort of “perfume skin.” This could then be inserted into a desk pad or incorporated into the cover of a sewing basket, stationary or handkerchief box lid, or placed amidst sheets of stationary. They also used perfumed pastes to rub scent into leather goods like belts or other items.

To read more:

Candice Hern’s website has four separate articles worth reading, and she includes good bibliographies:

Other articles online (there are many more):


Edmund Launert, Scent and Scent Bottles, Barrie & Jenkins, 1974.

Heiner Meininghaus and Christa Habrich, Five Centuries of Scent and Elegant Flacons, Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 1998.

I highly recommend the following, both of which are available from Googlebooks:

Eugene Rimmel, The Book of Perfumes, London: Chapman & Hall, 1867

The Toilette of Flora, London: J. Murray and W. Nicoll, 1784

I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this series! A deep dive down a rabbit hole, but the exploration has been fun. Here are the links to the other four articles in the “Smelling Sweet in the Regency” series and the dates they appeared here at the Risky Regencies blog:

Part 1: Beyond Floris April 12, 2021

Part 2: Beyond Floris part 2 (Stillroom Magic) April 26, 2021

Part 3: Making Sense of Making Scents May 10, 2021

Part 4: The Art of Mixing Scents, Scents for the Sexes, and the Truth about Bay Rum May 24, 2021

A man is shown seated with his hands on his thighs. He looks pensive. Above and to the the left of him are the words, "I can't believe it's been a year since I didn't become a better person."

Are you one of the people who make resolutions every January? I confess I am not –I often just carry on with unfinished goals from the previous year. But is the practice of New Year’s resolutions a modern one, with our recognized focus on self-improvement and achievement? Did people in the Regency era take the time to reflect on their past years and did they make resolutions, too? If they did, was their focus the same as ours?

A quick dive into the history of New Year’s resolutions reveals that the practice dates back at least 4,000 years (if not longer, if it may be ascribed to human nature!). The ancient Babylonians, with their agricultural culture, recognized and celebrated the start of each new year when the growing cycle renewed at the spring equinox (circa March 20 on the modern calendar). Their twelve-day celebration, called Akitu, signaled the start of the farming season, a time to crown or renew loyalty to their king, and also the time to promise to pay their debts. One common resolution, according to some sources, was the returning of borrowed farm equipment! Starting the new year “right with others” was believed to insure good fortune for the seasons ahead.

The Romans adopted the same practices, including the making of resolutions, with the same timing until about 46 A.D. when Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar. He set the start of the year as January, named after Janus, the forward and backward-facing Roman god of doorways and gates, beginnings and endings, forward planning and backward reflection. Sacrificing to the god and promising to be better people were meant to bring good fortune just like the Babylonian resolutions, but a stronger emphasis on moral character was added by the Romans.

When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, religious practices replaced resolutions and anything else associated with the pagan Roman customs. For instance, the Feast of the Circumcision was set to be observed on January 1 with prayers and fasting, rather than the revelry that non-Christians indulged in.

small image taken from a medieval manuscript shows orange vines with large leaf shapes, and among them a small figure of a peacock with crested head and distinctive broad tail featuring the "eye" decorated tail feathers.

Over the following centuries the changes met with varying success, however. During the Middle Ages, a sort of New Year’s resolution was made by knights who would renew their vow to chivalry by making their annual “Peacock Vow”–placing their hands on a peacock (cooked or not) during the last feast of Christmastide (usually Twelfth Night) and recommitting to the moral and social code of conduct.

According to historian/author Bill Petro, by the 17th century “the Puritans urged their children to skip the revelry and spend their time reflecting on the year past and contemplating the year to come. In this way, they again adopted the old custom of making resolutions. These were enumerated as commitments to employ their talents better, treat their neighbors with charity, and avoid their habitual sins.”

But “New Year’s Resolutions” as an identified thing was still not the common concept it is today.

In the 18th century, making resolutions (other than those creating laws and regulations) was a firmly entrenched practice, especially among the religious. In 1710 we can find the writer William Beveridge, in his treatise “Private Thoughts Upon Religion, Digested into Twelve Articles,” writing: “And how, then, shall I be able, of myself, to resolve upon Rules of Holiness, according to the Word of GOD, or to order my Conversation according to these Resolutions….”

Black and white portrait image of Jonathan Edwards wearing a white wig with rows of even curls. He has a pleasant face with a long nose and small mouth, smiling slightly. He is dressed in a buttoned black coat and wears a white neck stock with dual front tabs.

A decade later (1722-23), the young Puritan-raised American theologian-to-be Jonathan Edwards wrote down his resolutions over the course of two years after his graduation from Yale University. He created seventy of them altogether, that he tried to review on a weekly basis. But young Puritans were trained to practice self-examination and introspection, indeed, as were entire congregations.

Edwards’s resolutions are often compared to the resolutions penned by another noted American of the period, Benjamin Franklin, whose resolutions (published in his Autobiography) for guiding a good life numbered merely thirteen.

Color portrait of Benjamin Franklin, 1783. A heavy-set older man with receding hairline at the top of his head but shoulder-length hair that covers his ears. He is showing signs of age: baggy skin beneath his eyes and under his chin. His lips are very thin. He wears a gray suit (coat and waistcoat) with matching gray buttons, a narrow white cravat around his neck, tucked in, and white ruffles from his shirt extend out through the unbuttoned top section of his waistcoat.

According to George S. Claghorn (Editor, Letters and Personal Writings (WJE Online Vol. 16) ): “Both men agreed on the value of making resolutions, evaluating their effectiveness, and following them lifelong. And the resolutions show that the two were united on the importance of speaking the truth, living in moderation, helping others, and doing one’s duty. Each counseled himself (and others) to avoid sloth, make good use of time, cultivate an even temper, and pray for divine assistance; and each offers an energetic, thoughtful approach to life.” However, as the writer points out, Edwards’s focus was on producing “a soul fit for eternity” and Franklin’s was on producing “a good citizen” of this world.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, was an 18th century influence on practicing New Year’s resolutions. In 1740 he created a new worship service he called the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. It became the root of the “watch services” still held by some evangelical Protestant denominations today, and included praying and making resolutions for the year ahead instead of indulging in revelry.

Apparently, a Boston newspaper from 1813 featured the first recorded use of the phrase “New Year resolution,” although it seems clear the concept itself was already common. The article states:

“And yet, I believe there are multitudes of people, accustomed to receive injunctions of new year resolutions, who will sin all the month of December, with a serious determination of beginning the new year with new resolutions and new behavior, and with the full belief that they shall thus expiate and wipe away all their former faults.”

In fact, one source claims that as early as the 17th century there were jokes about people failing at their intentions to become better in some way in the coming year.

I would say it’s safe to say yes, in the Regency decades people were commonly making (and breaking) New Year’s resolutions, even if they didn’t call them that, for in that time period the “multitudes” of Americans doing so were still generally aping whatever people in the United Kingdom were doing.

Were they making resolutions to lose weight, give up drinking, or get more fit? These “self-improvement” promises are typical of modern times. The top New Year’s resolutions for 2021 were “living healthier 23% of people, getting happy 21%, losing weight 20%, exercising 7%, stopping smoking 5%, reducing drinking 2%. In addition, people resolve to meet career or job goals (16%) and improve their relationships (11%).”

In Regency times, for one thing, most people were more fit and got more exercise in the normal course of everyday life. Their resolutions were much more likely to be outward-looking: about their relationship to others and the world around them, and to have a moral imperative attached: to be more charitable, for instance. If you had lived during the Regency, what do you think your resolutions might have been?

References to Valentine’s Day go back to early times. Chaucer mentions it, and so does Shakespeare. By the 1600’s, giving gifts or tokens to ladies seems to have become a common practice, mentioned by the diarist Samuel Pepys.

During the Regency era, parties and cards as we think of them now still were not part of celebrating Valentine’s Day, but unmarried admirers did send tokens, hand-made cards, letters, verses from poetry, etc. In fact, it seems that for young swains courting young ladies, such recognition of the day was de rigueur. No pressure, right?

To help those who lacked a talent for composing poetical messages, publishers were quick to fill the void, issuing pamphlets like The Young Man’s Valentine Writer (1797), filled with romantic verses which could be copied out by those with little poetic skill and sent to their sweethearts.

That sending such missives and cards was common practice seems clear when we consider this tidbit from the Morning Chronicle of February 15, 1815:

Yesterday being Valentine’s day, the whole artillery of love was put into requisition. The Postmen were converted into Cupids, and instead of letters upon business, carried epistles full of flames, darts, chains, and amorous declarations.

Before the advent of machine-made cards, what would a Georgian or Regency Valentine have looked like? Here is an example of the folded paper “puzzle-purse” style of Valentine, dated February 14, 1816.

Below is another example of a typically folded hand-made paper card, decorated with watercolor, from Edmund Hemming to Anne Wilkes of Bidford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, dated 14 February 1820, courtesy of English Folk Art.

The design features hearts & arrows, flowers, and lovebirds. The main central design, when unfolded, shows the fashionable young couple in arms, standing beneath two trees (symbolically entwined), with a house on the left (a happy home), and a church on the right (wedding bells).

The love token includes romantic verse, ‘On you depends my future peace, One kindest look one tender sign, Shall bid my every trouble cease, Come then and be my Valentine’.

However, there were all sorts of craft approaches: pinwork (piercing paper to make the designs), cutwork (like making paper snowflakes, cutting the paper to make it have lacey designs), quill-work, and also non-paper options, to create love tokens made of any kind of material you can think of! The one at left is just lavishly illustrated in watercolors.

If you are ambitious or creative enough to want to try to make a Regency-style Valentine, I found the patterned examples below which were copied in the 1880’s from Georgian Valentines, one dated 1785. There were no directions, so you’ll have to sort out the fold lines and the order in which to make the folds for yourself. If you have experience doing origami, that will undoubtedly help!

Paper was expensive in this period, and so was postage. And there were no envelopes! You might find this video about letter-folding in the Regency helpful! 

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of true romance in our favorite time period. Whatever your pleasure, I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Just in time for “National Pi Day” on 3/14* (not National “Pie” Day—Jan 23), I’d like to introduce to you one the Regency era’s finest mathematical minds, Dr. Olinthus Gilbert Gregory. I fell in love with him first just for his name, I must confess! But he turned out to be a fascinating fellow—well, at least to me! Read on to see if you agree or not.

Part of my fascination, I admit, comes from the missing bits in his story that are links in his path to success. Someone ought to put together a proper biography of the man! Olinthus Gregory rose to prominence from humble beginnings, not an easy feat in the rigidly structured English society of the Regency. He was born in January of 1774, the son of a shoemaker and his wife, the eldest of four children, in Yaxley, Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire). I find nothing more about his early life other than the names of his siblings who were all sisters, and the fact that one (Sophia) died in 1783, when Olinthus was nine. I would love to know where his parents came up with the name Olinthus for their son!! Did a simple shoemaker and his wife have any knowledge of Olynthus, the son of Heracles, or the ancient Greek town that bears this name? The misspelling suggests they might merely have heard it somewhere and liked the sound.

18th century Yaxley must have had a school, or else Gregory was tutored, but either way he must have shown an aptitude for serious study since he was sent to study in Leicester for ten years with Richard Weston, a botanist, mathematician and writer who ran a boarding school there. That city is about 45 miles by road from Yaxley. Was there a Yaxley schoolmaster who recommended this? How old was Gregory when he left home for this? I could find no dates. One must admire his parents for recognizing (we assume) that he was meant for greater things than simply taking on his father’s trade.

Like Gregory, Richard Weston rose from humble beginnings, starting out as a “thread-hosier” according to Wikipedia, but it seems he moved to London for a time and while there nurtured his interest and knowledge of plant science and made connections through the Society for the Arts. His first written works were published during those years. His published output continued without pause after he moved back to Leicester, which no doubt influenced Gregory’s ambition to write and publish. Gregory’s first work, Lessons, Astronomical and Philosophical, for the Amusement and Instruction of British Youth, was published in 1793, when he was 19 years old, and became a popular text used in schools.

He was still studying with Weston at this point in time. Was it through Weston that Gregory acquired the patron who made his publication possible? According to a biography of Gregory at, Gregory was helped by John Joshua Proby, 1st Earl of Carysfort, who was a fellow of the Royal Society and also held high political office at the time. Perhaps more significantly, given the way things worked in that era, the Proby family had been lords of the manor near Yaxley (Elton Hall) since 1617. A local lad rising to prominence may have been easy to bring to the earl’s notice.

Charles Hutton By William G. Jackman – Public Domain,

Weston encouraged Gregory to submit mathematical problems to be published in The Ladies Diary, an annual magazine devoted to such puzzles. Gregory also wrote a treatise in 1794 on “The Use of the Sliding Rule” that was never published, but it brought him to the attention of a new mentor, Charles Hutton, a professor of mathematics at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich.

Sometime between 1796-98 (sources vary) Gregory moved to Cambridge. He served briefly as the editor of the Cambridge Intelligencer, a radical paper, and set himself up as a teacher of mathematics, the start of his academic career. He also opened a booksellers shop in Cambridge, married Rebecca Marshall in Yaxley in 1798, and pursued his writing. Did Weston, Carysfort, or Hutton encourage or help to make any of these connections?

Gregory fathered a son and a daughter with Rebecca. With this family to support, no doubt he was extremely grateful when three things came his way in 1802: 1) Hutton recommended him for an appointment as a mathematical master at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich; 2) he was named editor for The Gentleman’s Diary, and 3) his next major work, A Treatise on Astronomy, was published, dedicated to Hutton.  (Like The Ladies Diary, The Gentleman’s Diary was a recreational annual published as a supplement to an almanac and offering mathematical problems and enigmas for readers to solve.)

He received an honorary Masters Degree from the University of Aberdeen in 1806, published the 2-volume work A Treatise of Mechanics, theoretical, practical and descriptive, dedicated to Lord Carysforte, and continued to teach at the RMA as a master until 1807. In that year, his wife died, Hutton retired, and Gregory, at age 33 a widower with two children under age 11, was elevated to the available professorship.

By Stephen Craven – This file was derived from: Former Royal Military Academy – entrance – – 971943.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Gregory received a second honorary degree in 1808, that of Doctor of Law, which allowed him to be addressed as doctor. The following year he married his second wife, Anne Beddome, with whom he fathered another daughter and two more sons between 1811-1817. He became the editor of The Ladies Diary in 1819, a position he continued for another 20 years. He also continued as a professor of mathematics and became chair of the academy’s mathematics department in 1821.

While best known for his knowledge and teaching of mathematics, Gregory’s interests were far-ranging, as can be seen by the work on astronomy. Besides mathematical subjects, he also published works on natural philosophy, mechanical physics, and even music and religion—it seems almost anything involving systems interested him.

Public Domain

Nor did he limit his curiosity to the written word. He also performed scientific experiments dealing with astronomy and also sound. The best known of these was carried out at Woolwich to determine the velocity of sound by firing mortars, guns and muskets at various distances from observers. His results (1100 feet per second) have held up well under modern scrutiny with our far more advanced methods of measurement: according to the University of St. Andrews web bio, the speed of sound in dry air at 20° C is 1125 feet per second.

Gregory received many honors for his accomplishments and was co-founder of, most prominently, the Royal Astronomical Society, and also the Woolwich Institution for the Advancement of Literary, Scientific and Technical Knowledge. He was a member of a great many literary and philosophical societies as well and served on boards with other scientific greats of this period, including John Herschel, Charles Babbage, Henry Colebrooke, and Thomas Colby. He remained in his position at Woolwich until he retired in 1838, at which time he was quite ill. He is said to have suffered with illness for the last ten years of his life, but notably he died in 1841, just three years after he retired, at age 67.

In his farewell RMA address in 1838, his devotion to education, and indeed to the very ideals of the Regency period, is abundantly clear, for he tells the first year academy students:

            The genuine object of all sound education is the development of the intellectual, the moral, and the bodily faculties of man; or, as it has been sometimes more tersely expressed, the improvement and application of head, heart, and limb. The system of education in the institution in which you have the honour to receive instruction, embraces all this. The blame will be your own, and it will through life be the subject of regret, if any of you quit this Academy without having acquired the manners of a gentleman, the principles of a man of honour and high and pure morality, the ornamental facilities of an artist, and a competent store of literary and philosophical knowledge.

*National Pi Day seems an appropriate time to salute this “real Regency hero” for the success he made of himself and the hundreds if not thousands of young minds he helped to shape. National Pi Day was started in 1988 and is on March 14 each year because 314 are the first three digits in pi.

If you need a review: pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, represented by the Greek letter Pi because it is actually an irrational number (a decimal with no end and no repeating pattern). Depending on how far towards infinity you wish to go, the value may be written as 3.141592654…, or shortened to simply 3.14 or the fraction 22 over 7.

Calculations of pi go back 4,000 years and early on were largely based on measurement. It was the Greek mathematician Archimedes who first used an algorithmic approach to calculate pi. But the concept wasn’t called “pi” until 1647, when English mathematician William Oughtred named it in his publication Clavis Mathematicae. He chose this particular Greek letter because it is the first letter of the Greek word “perimetros,” which means “circumference.” But no one has ever solved the perennial puzzle of pi: If pi is the number of diameter lengths that fit around a circle, how can it have no end?

Passive solar heating is a “hot topic” these days (no pun intended). Did you know it was being used on Regency estates and even 150 years before the period? (Rabbit hole warning!!)

I asked my fellow members in the Regency Fiction Writers about the availability of citrus fruit in remote Derbyshire in April 1814. I asked because many of the Regency recipes I have seen require oranges or lemons as part of the ingredients, and the characters in my current wip, Her Perfect Gentleman, needed some for a project. These fruits grow best in places like Spain, Italy, the Caribbean or Florida, and I wondered how much the Napoleonic Wars disrupted these imports.

An interesting discussion followed and uncovered some wonderful sources. The answer was: not as much as you might think, because the trade was so important and the Royal Navy made sure to protect the shipping trade routes. But I still wondered how far north the distribution of imported fruit would reach, and how far from the main cities and towns. I was reminded that some of the very wealthy might have orangeries on their estates, and their surplus would be sold. But how common were orangeries, and how far north could they still be effective?

The earliest orangeries began as shelters created to protect fruit trees being grown against south facing “fruit walls” in gardens. The use of fruit walls in northern Europe to create a micro-climate for growing fruit dates to the mid-16th century, not coincidentally about the same time as the start of the so-called “Little Ice Age” (c. 1550-1850). A Swiss botanist named Conrad Gessner observed in 1561 how well the sun-heated warmth of a thick south-facing wall improved the ripening of figs and currants. Such a wall, built of brick or stone, both absorbs heat and reflects sunlight during the day and releases heat during the night, which in cold seasons could protect against frost.

English fruit wall –(PD Wikimedia Commons)

Intrepid fruit growers experimented to improve the effectiveness of fruit walls, adding canopies of thatch (or glass, later on) or woven mats or canvas curtains that could be drawn over the fruit trees to protect them from rain, hail or bird droppings, for instance. When techniques to create panes of clear glass came out of Italy, growers began to make cold-frames to start seedlings early and also to tilt frames with panes of glass against the fruit walls to increase the solar heating effect, protect the trees from winds or other weather and extend the growing season.

The Dutch were particularly adept at innovations in improving the solar growing techniques and were the first to build actual framed glass enclosures along the fruit walls, creating the first “orangeries.” They also began to add other heat sources to supplement the sun, including small stoves inside the enclosures, for example. They also were the first to try building channels within the fruit walls themselves for artificial heat to supplement the sun, developing what became known as a “hot wall” (not to be confused with certain portions of the fortifications at Portsmouth harbour which also bear this label!).

“Fan” style espaliered pear tree (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

From this common point, the further development of orangeries and hot walls diverges. The French, who discovered improved yields by training their fruit trees or vines along their fruit walls in the method known as “espalier,” also had entire towns adopt fruit walls as an industry. But their walls produced mostly peaches or grapes, not citrus.

Orangeries, meanwhile, began to be built as separate facilities, designed by landscapers and architects not only to shelter citrus fruit trees but also as places for entertainment, a way to show off a luxury only the very wealthy could afford. Walkways, statuary, fountains, even grottos were added features among the citrus trees, although the buildings needed to be long and narrow to allow light from the windows to reach all the way into the space. The buildings were often designed to echo the architectural style of the main house. As interest in exotic plants grew, the function of orangeries’ micro-climate expanded to offer shelter and display for such other choice and tender specimens.

Orangery at Kensington Palace, 1704 (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

Some early examples still exist: the orangery at Kensington Palace designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor was built for Queen Anne in 1704 and featured a heated floor. The orangery built at Versailles in the 1680’s was the largest in Europe, designed to hold Louis XIV’s 3,000 orange trees.

Orangery at Versailles (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire has one designed to hide the view of the servants’ quarters from the main house. Built in 1701, it had, like all orangeries at this early period, a solid roof. Humphrey Repton is credited with replacing the slate roof with a glazed one in 1801, about when the technology to do so first began to be feasible.

The Kew Gardens orangery was designed by Sir William Chambers in 1761. At the time, it was the largest in England, but it wasn’t very successful because of low light levels. Its orange trees were removed to the Kensington Palace orangery in 1841 and renovations were made to the building at Kew. Orangeries can be found at more than a dozen estates managed by the National Trust, and many are now used as cafes or restaurants, their many windows and bright light still providing very pleasant surroundings.

Orangery (Wikimedia Commons)

Many private estates that chose not to build an orangery boasted a fruit wall as part of their gardens, however. In England, the added expense of building these in the form of “hot walls’ was often worthwhile because of the colder climate, especially in northern counties. The earliest hot walls were heated by fires actually lit inside the flues, in addition to the sun. Later, the supplemental heat came from small furnaces located at intervals along the back (north) sides of the walls. They were common enough to be described in detail in Phillip Miller’s Gardener’s Dictionary in 1754.

Interior hot wall flue at Croome Court, by Amanda Slater from Coventry, West Midlands, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The science of creating a successful hot wall is quite impressive, requiring different thicknesses of bricks or stone for various parts of the structure, support for the channels that run through the structure, plastering of the interior heat channels to facilitate cleaning them, and stove chimneys built at regular intervals as part of regulating the heat. Some wall chimneys were fitted with ornamental chimney pots made of Coadestone. Specially skilled masons as well as the expensive custom-made materials were required to construct them. However, none of this provided enough warm shelter to grow citrus successfully in mid-to-northern England without fully enclosing the space. From extant accounts, it appears that the fruits most commonly grown on fruit walls were peaches, nectarines, and Morrell cherries.

How many estates had hot walls is not known. Fruit walls were a labor intensive, high maintenance undertaking, and hot walls added a second layer of labor to maintain and clean the heating system itself as well as to monitor and regulate the heat. The need for hot walls declined as railroads came along, for improved transportation made importing fruit cheaper. Many of the walls were left derelict and were later torn down.

Portion of the hollow hot wall at Eglinton in Ayreshire, showing flue opening blocks at three levels, which could vent or be used for cleaning. (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

The article on JSTOR cited at the end of this post lists specific estates where hot walls have been recorded: Yorkshire (17), Cheshire (5), Lancashire, (1), and Essex (1). Probably half a dozen more are mentioned in the text also, including Staffordshire (1), Norfolk (1). Wikipedia mentions the one at Croome Court, Worcestershire, as well as two in Scotland in its article on walled gardens. Recent interest has sparked some research and increased awareness that may contribute to more “remains” of old hot walls being recognized and recorded as time goes on.

Improved technologies in the 19th century led to changes in the orangeries rather than their demise—no doubt why more remain to be seen today. But as orangeries became “greenhouses” with more and more glass, they became less and less energy efficient. They lost the balance between heat absorbing, insulating materials like brick and stone to offset the sunlight-providing glass and relied more and more on artificial heating, especially piped hot water. Today, the newest trend in greenhouse agriculture is heading back towards using solar power for both heating and regulating light.

If you’d like to learn more about these early growing technologies, I recommend the following articles:

(Hot Walls: An Investigation of Their Construction in Some Northern Kitchen Gardens by Elisabeth Hall)

Or simply see Wikipedia (see “Orangery” and/or “Walled Garden”) for an overview on these!

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