Richard Turner (1798-1881)
Richard Turner was Ironmaster in Hammersmith Iron Works in Dublin
in 1834, and went on to build many impressive curvilinear
glasshouses in Ireland: on private estates, in Belfast Botanic
Garden, and in the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland at Glasnevin.
His experience and expertise made Turner the natural choice of
engineer to work with Decimus Burton in designing the beautiful
and functional Palm House at Kew (built 1844-1848).
The challenge: cast iron is strong under compression but
brittle when stretched or bent. Wrought iron is very much
stronger under strain, but more expensive. Which to use?
a maximum clear span of over 15 metres and rising to 19 metres
at its centre, the Palm House was to become the world’s
largest glass and iron structure in its day. To achieve this,
Turner used curved supporting ribs made of wrought iron I-beams.
It was to be the first building in England to be erected
with this type of section. Although such beams were already used
in shipbuilding, that industry’s engineering solutions were
not transferable to a freestanding open structure like the Palm
House, so Turner patented an ingenious solution.
Narrow, cast iron
tubes kept the main I-beams pressed apart at the correct
distance, while a continuous wrought iron rod passed through the
I-beams and the cast iron tubes, pulling them all together like
beads in tightly strung necklace. Six such necklaces keep the Palm
House firmly braced.
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