The History of The Orangery
The Orangery in Margam Park was built to house a great
collection of orange, lemon and other citrus trees, which the
Talbots inherited from their Mansel forebears. Nothing is known for
certain of the origin of these trees, but legends suggest that they
were originally a gift for the crown. As they were being
transported the ship was wrecked on the coast near Margam and the
trees claimed by the Mansels. Travellers who journeyed through
Wales at the end of the eighteenth century in search of picturesque
beauty, and who published accounts of their tours, noted several
versions of the legend. Queen Elizabeth I, Charles I, Charles II’s
wife Catherine of Braganza and William III’s Queen Mary all appear
in the variations of the story.
the mid-eighteenth century the citrus collection numbered about one
hundred trees and was housed in several greenhouses in the park. It
was the bold design of Thomas Mansel Talbot to build the present
Orangery, 327 feet in length, to accommodate the whole collection.
In Britain orange trees need protection from the severity of our
winter weather, but in the summer months they can stand out of
doors and were used to ornament the formal gardens of the time. As
a building the Orangery is superbly functional; long and narrow
with a series of twentyseven tall windows to admit the winter
light. The plain back wall contained fireplaces, from which hot air
passed through flues. In its centre was the high door through which
fully-grown trees could be wheeled into the garden.
A building of such length risked appearing monotonous, but this
was avoided by imaginative treatment of the façade. Deeply-worked
stone, offset by smooth-faced ashlar, holds light and shadow in the
everchanging, strongly emphasised, horizontal lines of the plinth.
The band of rusticated vermiculated stone, the matching heights of
key-stones, the frieze of triglyphs, and the row of sculptured urns
on the skyline all give a sense of unity and harmony. The building
ends with pavilions of smooth stone ornamented with delicately
carved scrollwork and lit by Venetian windows.
The stone from which the Orangery is built was hewn locally, in
Thomas Mansel Talbot’s own quarry at Pyle. The men who dressed the
stone worked under the master mason William Gubbings, one of the
craftsmen who had been employed earlier on the villa at Penrice
under Talbot’s architect Antony Keck.
Detailed accounts kept by Hopkin Llewellyn, the estate Steward,
tell the story of the building of the Orangery from 1786 to 1790
and record the assembling of materials. Stone, sand and wood came
from Talbot’s own lands and bricks from the copper work’s kilns.
Heavy timber, glass and slate came by sea and were unloaded at the
small ports of Newton, Taibach and Neath.
Once the roof of the Orangery was in place, work started on
plastering the interior. The west pavilion was elaborately
ornamented with plasterwork fans, honeysuckle and a frieze of
antique lamps and griffins. This room was designed as a library and
study. The treatment of the East Pavilion was more restrained and
the room was used to display the ancient marbles, statues and busts
that Thomas Mansel Talbot had bought in Italy, a collection that
remained in Margam until dispersed by auction in 1941. In 1973 when
the estate was purchased by Glamorgan County Council, the Orangery
was in ruins. Four years later the restoration of this beautiful
building had been completed and it was opened by the Queen in her
Silver Jubilee Year. Today the function room is used for
conferences, receptions and grand balls. Part still remains an
Orangery and is used for exhibitions. The eastern end (the Grove)
is still however used to house a small collection of orange
Today the responsibility and management lie with Neath Port Talbot County Borough
Council, which has continued the restoration programme.