Top positive review
An absorbing life...
on 19 October 2017
Joseph Paxton (1803–65), the seventh son and last of the nine children of a farm labourer, rose to fame and fortune as the long-serving head gardener – actually the architect and manager of the gardens – at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. He was a great favourite and friend of the sixth Duke of Devonshire, who owned Chatsworth, and together they planned and Paxton built a garden that housed specimens and attracted visitors from across the world. Paxton had a great flair for architecture – though professional architects of the day refused to number him in their company – and a genius with glasshouses and what could be grown in them. His greatest achievement was his design for the Crystal Palace, built in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and later moved to a new site in Sydenham and much extended. Paxton was courted by royalty and had a tremendous number of commissions, from both Britain and overseas, to design gardens, homes and parks. He was knighted, became a member of Parliament, was active on a number of important committees, and throughout his life had a reputation for great courtesy and geniality.
A Thing in Disguise is Kate Colquhoun’s first book. Well written and easy to read, it includes two sections of colour photographs and a number of other illustrations, including a plan of the garden at Chatsworth. It ends somewhat abruptly with details of Paxton’s funeral; it would have been good to have included more on what happened thereafter to Paxton’s immediate family, the legacy he left in terms of completed work and principles of architecture and garden design, and how his reputation has waxed and/or waned since his death. It is, nonetheless, a very good biography and most interesting throughout -- even for a non-gardener!.