The introduction of a means to heat greenhouses had an enormous impact for gardens of all sizes. Victorian plumbing, Victorian boilers, valves, iron pipework all improved by leaps and bounds in a remarkably short time. Fuelled by the almost insatiable appetite of wealthy market forces demanding cheaper and improved means of heating their enormous greenhouses that were filled with masses of exotic plants from around the world. For the very first time, Victorian ladies and gentlemen could see and taste for themselves the fabulous exotic natural treasures that grew in abundance elsewhere in the world, which until now could only be read about.
The cast iron low pressure boiler made it all possible.
The Beeston Boiler
The Beeston boiler, named after an area of Nottingham, UK where the manufacturer was based, could be as little as 24″ x 15″ x 15″, heating a 40ft run of 4″ pipe for just £2,15s or £2.75 in 1895. It was designed to be built into the wall of the small greenhouse.
Please note that ALL IMAGES are greatly reduced. But if you click on the images they will expand sufficiently for you to make out their SIZES and PRICES. Dimensions are in feet and inches, each foot = 30.5cm, each inch = 25mm and every 1000ft = 305m.
Of particular interest is the method boiler manufacturers of the period used to calculate the heating capacity of their boilers. They suggested to their perspective customers how many linear feet of 4-inch pipe they could heat.
Victorian boilers were usually sited at the lowest point of the heating circuit, often underground, a combination of boiler and pump was able to send heated water considerable distances inside 4″ cast iron pipework.
For comparison purposes the average UK domestic boiler has a capacity of between 60 and 80,000 BTU. But don’t lose sight of the fact that the capacities given are for heating the garden!
All the boilers described below were of a modular design. Boilers sections could be bolted together to extend the boiler size.
Boiler design developed to bring the largest surface area in contact with the flame. The flip side to this was the fact that if the design became too convoluted in order to maximise the surface area, not only would the flow of water be reduced which could be dangerous, but the flue gases had to escape safely and easily otherwise they would choke the fire.
Metric Conversion: All sizes are in imperial inches; each inch is equal to 25mm or 4″ = 100mm. 30ft = 10m. 1000ft = 305m.
The boilers included beyond this point belong to the twentieth century. By this time the boilers were not just for use in the garden. They were being used for central heating in the homes of the wealthy who could afford them.
The Mona boiler
The Mona Boiler was similar in construction to the Robin Hood, but had the smoke flue brought to the front. It was especially suitable for damp stoke holes, as the height from floor to centre of the flow socket was 37″. The largest Mona cost £29.10s and was capable of heating a run of 4″ diameter heating pipe for 1600 ft or 279,280 BTU.
The Junior Robin Hood Boiler was of similar construction to the other Robin Hood boilers but was designed for small to medium residences. The Robin Hood boilers all featured a large fuel space with a deeply corrugated surface, for slower combustion. The model range went from 18 x 20 inches capable of heating 240 ft of pipe and costing £7,5s to the 38 x 20 inch model capable of heating 480 ft of pipe for £13,10s in 1909.
The Robin Hood Senior boiler
The Robin Hood Senior was the largest boiler. It was something of a colossus. The smallest size comprised of six sections with a total length of 45″ x 36″.It was capable of heating 1850 ft of 4″ pipework and cost £38,10s.
By contrast the largest Robin Hood boiler had thirteen sections, measured 96″ in length, cost £95 (£5 short of a year’s salary for the Head Gardener at Winsford) and could heat 5000 ft of 4″ pipework. Nearly a mile!
Not surprisingly the Victorian manufacturer gave no indication of the rate of fuel consumption when there was snow on the ground. But I should think a railway near to hand wouldn’t be a bad idea! The coke house at Winsford Walled Garden could hold over 60 tonnes and it was located one mile from the nearest railway station. It must have taken a ‘train’ of carts to fuel up.
The pipework to Victorian heating systems in the gardens were made from cast iron, the vast majority was of a standard 4 inches in diameter. The range of pipe cast fittings offered by Foster & Pearson Ltd was extraordinary. This was modular component design at its very best – in the nineteenth century.
Don’t forget to click on the images for more detail.
The first two images show various pipe fittings, bends and such. At Winsford the greenhouse heating trenches were covered with heavy cast iron gratings – if the design required the heat to dissipate heat at that point. Otherwise the heating pipe trenches at Winsford were covered by thick blue Cornish slate.
The left image shows the cast iron manifold range for creating the rows of heating pipes that ran along either side of a greenhouse growing bed. They were either laid on brick plinths under benches or laid on plinths inside heating trenches.
A nine foot length of 4″ cast iron pipe £0,2s3d or 11.5 pence!
The middle ‘T’ on the top line in the top right image cost £0,4s,5d or 22.5 pence.
A two-way siphon cost £0,3s,8d or about 17 pence
Simple bends cost £0,1s,4d. While the socket and spigot elbow went for £0,2s,9d.
The top two valves were known as throttle valves. The next row contain from (l-r) a diaphragm valve, an angle valve and a slide valve. The row below shows their section views.
Diaphragm valves are excellent for controlling the flow of fluids containing suspended solids and offer the flexibility of being installed in any position. While a slide valve worked by connecting the upper and lower valve halves together on the one spindle, and in making the stem or tube which connects them hollow, so as to serve for an induction pipe to the upper end of the cylinder, allowing two valves to do the work of four.