The single storey conservatory is attached to the south-west corner of the principal manor building, with access either from the Gold Room or the Long Gallery. It was built by William Burn in the early 1840s and is comprised of five differently shaped compartments, some with glass doors which allowed them to be closed off in order to maintain different temperatures and growing environments for the different types of plant.
John Claudius Loudon visited Harlaxton in May 1840, when building was still taking place. He reports that the flight of steps leading from the west side of the front court to the terraced garden was already formed, but in talking about the conservatory, he describes the plans for what will be:
‘the largest room will be a gallery library, 100 ft long, 24 ft wide, and 18 ft high: one end of which will look into a conservatory, 90 ft long, and 26 ft wide. The drawing room will also have a cross vista into the conservatory which will be joined to that seen from the library by a third and fourth on different levels, affording variety of architectural display, the whole forming a considerable extend of garden walk under glass, and including Cape and Australian plants in one part, palms and Scitamineae in another, and Orchideceae in a third.’
Heating was provided by hot water pipes hidden beneath heavy cast iron grilles set into the floor. It is no longer economical to provide heat in such a large conservatory, but the protected, frost free environment does ensure that most tender plants survive.
The entrance to the Gold Room is flanked by heavy white marble, ‘barley sugar’ twist pillars, supporting a sculptured marble lintel, above which is a broken curved pediment in Ancaster stone.
Opposite is another, different, and very elaborate marble entrance with floral designs at the base of the columns and highly decorative capitals.
By the 1970s the conservatory had fallen into a great state of disrepair and in 1977 a restoration project was started. In 1980, to mark the re-opening of the conservatory, an exhibition of prints and drawings by John Piper, including the raffle of one of his prints to raise funds for the restoration work, was held at the Manor. Both John Piper and his wife, Myfanwy, attended the opening event on 8 May that year, with the exhibition then being open to the public.
The restoration fund was also supported by the Historic Building Council; the Sultan of Oman, whose son was attending Harlaxton at the time; local and county council authorities; and many local individuals and businesses. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, donated foliage plants for the Conservatory.
A series of photographs taken at the re-opening gives a good indication of what the conservatory was like at this time. Subsequently, further restoration work was required, this being successfully undertaken in 2003/2004.
The planting in the Conservatory has changed over the years, but currently there are many types of plants which may have been present when it was first completed, including species such as banana, ginger, a variety of palms, and plants native to Australia, North America, and South Africa.
Tudor-Craig, Pamela (1980) The Harlaxton Conservatory: a note (Unpublished)Harlaxton Conservatory by P. Tudor-Craig,1980
The Conservatory following restoration, May 1980. Photography by Gerald Wright.