Sir Joseph Paxton was Head Gardener to William Spencer, 6th Duke of Devonshire. He was born on August 3, 1803 at Milton Bryant, Bedfordshire.
He became a garden boy, and in 1823 he obtained a position at the Horticultural Society's Chiswick Gardens which was adjacent to the Duke's garden at Chiswick House. One day they met, and on impulse, the Duke offered the 23 year old Joseph Paxton the position of Head Gardener at Chatsworth.
On his first morning at Chatsworth, Paxton met Sarah Bown, the housekeeper's niece, and they got married. He also enjoyed a very friendly relationship with the "Bachelor Duke".
In 1837, Paxton started the Great Conservatory which became the model for the Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition of 1851. At the time, the Conservatory was the largest glass building in the world. However, it was prohibitively expensive to heat, and it was destroyed in 1923. It took five attempts to blow it up.
In 1850 Paxton was commissioned by Baron Mayer de Rothschild to design Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire. This was to be one of the greatest country houses built during the Victorian Era. Following the completion of Mentmore, one of Baron de Rothschild's cousins commissioned Ferrieres, near Paris to be 'Another Mentmore, but twice the size'. Both buildings still stand today.
Paxton also designed another country house, a smaller version of Mentmore at Battlesden near Woburn in Bedfordshire. This house was bought by the Duke of Bedford thirty years after its completion, and wantonly demolished, because the Duke wanted no other mansion close to Woburn Abbey.
There were several other large projects, such as the Arboretum, the Great Fountain, the Rock Garden and the Lily House.
Between 1835 and 1839, he organised plant-hunting expeditions, one of which ended in tragedy. Tragedy also struck at home when his eldest son died.
Paxton was honoured by being a member of the Kew Commission which was to suggest improvements for Kew Gardens, and by being considered for the post of Head Gardener at Windsor Castle.
He became affluent,not so much through his Chatsworth job, but by successful speculation in the railway industry.
In 1831, Paxton published a monthly magazine, The Horticultural Register. This was followed in 1834 by the Magazine of Botany. There followed in 1840 the Pocket Botanical Dictionary, The Flower Garden in 1850 and the Calendar of Gardening Operations.