Of all the ways that people chose to mark the period of mourning for the late queen, the nicest I came across was at Syon House, the home [or one of the homes] of the Duke of Northumberland. He decided to open the park there free for people who wanted somewhere for “quiet reflection”.

I’m not sure that we really needed quiet reflection, but we certainly needed to get away from the general atmosphere of gloom so we took ourselves over there on a beautiful afternoon to explore the gardens. We’ve only been there once before, which is ridiculous because they aren’t particularly expensive to visit and it’s quite close to where we live. They are very beautiful but that’s not the reason for mentioning them on my blog.

The entrance to the gardens is dominated by the Great Conservatory. That’s it at the top of the page and you will probably recognise it from any one of a number of Regency films. It featured in Vanity Fair and Bridgerton, to name just two. It is very beautiful and does seem to epitomise Regency style. The reason for mentioning it here is to point out that it isn’t Regency at all. It was built in the 1820s and finished in 1827. I’d say this was picky and pedantic – after all, the Regency period is usually interpreted quite flexibly and it’s not as if most people know or care exactly when a building was put up. But the thing about the Great Conservatory is that it was the first building of any size to be built predominantly from glass and cast iron. Regular readers may remember my post about Ironbridge and the start of using cast iron in architectural engineering. The bridge was built in 1779 using the then brand-new cast iron technique, so using cast iron to build the Great Conservatory in the 1820s was cutting-edge stuff. In fact, Joseph Caxton is supposed to have visited the Great Conservatory when he was developing his ideas for building the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

So there we are – the Great Conservatory at Syon house: not only very beautiful but a building that marks an important advance in technology. Just not from the Regency.

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