Paxton was an English gardener, designer, writer and creator of one of most famous buildings of Victoria's reign, the Crystal Palace.
Joseph Paxton was born in Bedfordshire on 3 August 1803 into a farming family. He had a number of gardening jobs until in 1823 he began working at Chiswick Gardens which was leased by the Horticultural Society from the Duke of Devonshire. Impressed with his abilities, in 1826, the duke appointed Paxton head gardener at Chatsworth House, the Devonshire family's large country house in Derbyshire. At Chatsworth, Paxton designed gardens, fountains, a model village and an arboretum. He also built a conservatory - known as the Great Conservatory - and a lily house, specially designed for a giant lily with a design based on the leaves of the plant. He also married the Chatsworth housekeeper's niece, Sarah Bown.
Fame came with the 1851 Great Exhibition. All of the 245 plans for the main Exhibition Hall in Hyde Park had been examined and rejected. Paxton was visiting London at the time and heard about these difficulties. Within a few days he delivered a design - a vastly magnified version of his lily house at Chatsworth. It was cheap, simple to erect and remove and could be ready quickly. Its novelty was its revolutionary, modular, prefabricated design and the extensive use of glass. It took 2,000 men eight months to build the 'Crystal Palace', which was more than 500m long and nearly 140m wide.
Despite widespread cynicism amongst press and public, when the Great Exhibition opened in May 1851 it was an enormous success. In October, Paxton was knighted by Victoria. When the exhibition finished, the Crystal Palace was re-erected in Sydenham in south London, where it remained until it burned down in 1936.
Paxton stayed in his post as head gardener at Chatsworth, but took on a large number of other projects, working on the layout of public parks, helping with suggested improvements for the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and designing a country house, Mentmore Towers for Baron Mayer de Rothschild.
He became wealthy through successful speculation in the booming railway industry and died on 8 June 1865 in Sydenham.
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