By Dominika Czop, Project Archaeologist
Last week I was sent on an archaeological adventure in beautiful Shropshire. I accompanied our new Senior Project Officer, Craig. Our task was to investigate what is hidden under the ground next to the walled garden in Weston Park. We discovered foundations of a pinery-vinery!
I hope everyone likes pineapples because pinery-vinery was a greenhouse for pineapples. Pineapples were first grown in the Netherlands, and British gardeners learnt the art of growing this exotic fruit from the Dutch. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the first British grown pineapples were cultivated by a Dutch gardener, Henry Telende, who worked in Sir Matthew Decker’s Pembroke Villa in Richmond. As a fruit that is very expensive and difficult to grow in northern climates, pineapple, like other exotic plants, became a symbol of wealth and status. Unlike today when we can buy one at any time, only two hundred years ago people rented pineapples to show off to their guest or even send them to the king or queen as a royal gift!
Unlike citrus fruit, which could be grown in orangeries, pineapples require constant heat as they grow all year round. Since the 17th century heated greenhouses were used in Britain. Hot air flues inside cavity walls allowed heating of entire length of the garden wall. Furnaces that provided the heat for the walls can be seen along the southern wall of the Walled Garden in Weston Park. Unfortunately furnaces required constant attention – they had to be supplied with fuel, produced soot, which could block the hot air flues and created danger of fire. Fumes from the furnaces also damaged or killed the plants in greenhouses. Different techniques of growing pineapples and providing heat inside of the greenhouses developed during the 18th and 19th century. First pineapples were grown in tan pits and then moved to heated hothouses to mature. James Justice described his success in growing pineapples in 1728 at his estate in Crichton, Scotland. He combined tanners’ pits and greenhouse into one stage of growing and maturing pineapples. The pineapple pots were placed in a pit filled with layers of pebbles, manure and tanners’ bark, which provided a source of stable heat for few months.
The use of pinery-vinery was proposed by Thomas Hitt in 1757. It had a dual function of growing pineapples and grapes. Pineapples were grown in a greenhouse on the south side of the heated wall and grapes grew on the north side inside of the walled garden. Unfortunately growing pineapples and grapes together required a lot of effort and was very expensive, therefore it was later abandoned. Presence of arches in the lower part of the pinery wall in Weston Park indicates that the vines were planted there and they could grow inside of the greenhouse as well as the other side of the heated wall. This early 19th century invention also allowed greater space for the roots of the vine. Nails inserted between the bricks allowed the vines to spread across the whole surface of the wall.
Greenhouses became more popular in Britain after the invention of the Wardian case in 1829 and abolition of the glass tax in 1845.This new development led to the fern craze (Pteridomania!) in Britain. Availability of cheap glass and invention of well sealed greenhouses allowed growing of tropical plants on a larger scale, even in the fumes filled London. Despite the popularity of the heated greenhouses and success of the pineapple growing, this type of horticulture was abandoned with the arrival of imported exotic fruit.
Today anyone interested in past horticulture and pineries can visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan and Tatton Park or the Pineapple Summerhouse at Dunmore. There are also other places which still have standing structures associated with pineapple growing, and perhaps in future they will be restored to bring crops of British grown pineapples!