His fame springs from his role as designer of the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. He had no education but through his intelligence and abilities he managed to become Foreman in the Horticultural Society in Chiswick. It was there he met the Duke of Devonshire who on a whim asked him to be his gardener at Chatsworth. This was extremely lucky for someone so young.
He arrived at 4:30am climbed over the gate, put the men to work when they arrived and then went for breakfast with the housekeeper and her niece. In his words:
"The latter fell in love with me and I with her, and thus completed my first morning's work at Chatsworth.
He was inspired by the giant lily Victoria Regia to build a new glass house in 1849. The Great Exhibition which Prince Albert planned was facing problems as the original building that had been planned was proving cumbersome. On a train journey using blotting paper Paxton devised his Crystal Palace idea. A committee member for the Exhibition, Robert Stephenson, was on the train and quickly supported his plans. His preparations were meticulous and on May Day 1851 he accompanied Queen Victoria to open the Exhibition. He was now Sir Joseph Paxton.
His always emphasised his debt to the Duke of Devonshire. He became a rich, successful man and also an MP for Coventry. He was friendly with famous men such as Charles Dickens and Robert Stephenson. His imaginative faculties continued to dazzle others throughout his life. The Duke of Wellington commented that he would have made a perfect General.
Born in 1803
, he died in 1865