The pre-eminent Victorian was Joseph Paxton who bestrode the worlds of horticulture, urban planning, and architecture like a colossus. He was a self-taught polymath who had a solution to every large-scale logistical problem, the genius Charles Dickens dubbed "The Busiest Man in England."
Rising quickly from humble beginnings, Paxton, at age 23, became head gardener and architect at Chatsworth, the estate of the sixth Duke of Devonshire. Under Paxton's direction, Chatsworth was transformed into the greatest garden in England, a paradise of magnificent greenhouses, gravity-defying fountains, and innovative waterworks. Queen Victoria herself came to marvel; here was Britain's answer to the hanging gardens of Babylon. But it was the Crystal Palace, home of the Great Exhibition of 1851, that secured Paxton's fame. Two thousand men worked for eight months to complete this unprecedented temporary structure of iron and glass. It was six times the size of St. Paul's Cathedral, and entertained six million visitors. In the wake of its spectacular success, Paxton was in constant demand to design public buildings and propose ways to ease congestion in London, then the world's most populous city.
Author Kate Colquhoun tells the compelling story of a man who embodied the Victorian ideals of self-improvement, industry, and civic service, and paints a touching portrait of a remarkably down-to-earth visionary.