Danesbury Park – The Fernery – the Pulham story

The Danesbury Fernery – a brief History.

The Fernery in Danesbury Park was constructed by William John Blake’s renowned gardener Andrew Parsons in 1859-60. He incorporated Pulham artificialunnamed stone. The site is in the Motorway Field of the Local Nature Reserve, a short-walk from Danesbury House.

The Pulham Legacy website describes the Danesbury Fernery as: ‘Cave, Dropping Well, Pass for ferns and other rockplants in old chalk pit but in artificial stone’.

The Danesbury Fernery is one of Pulhams’ earliest ferneries, but it is now in a very delapidated state, as can be seen in this next photo taken in September 2015. The volunteer group, Friends of Danesbury Local Nature Reserve, aided by the Friends of Mardley Heath, and groups of Sherrardpark Wood Wardens, have started a new project to clear the 20150910_094828site. When the Pulhamite stone has been exposed again, the landowner (Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council) will be in a position to adjudge whether or not to continue with full-blown restoration by specialist contractors, including works to make the site safe for public access once again.

The Pulham Legacy

Claude Hutching is the author of many publications about Pulhamite, and he runs the very topical Pulham Legacy website, which details the successful restoration work carried out around the country. We hope that before long, the work to restore the Danesbury Fernery will feature.

Go to the Pulham Legacy website to get details of Claud Hitching’s Presentation Diary. Claud Hitching (with Valerie Christman) regularly gives presentations about some of the experiences he encountered during his research leading up to the publication of his critically-acclaimed book, Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy. Valerie Chistman also gives the history behind the development of Pulham cement. Valerie is directly descended from the Pulham family, and is an amateur geologist and professional garden designer in her own right.  

Planning Portal – 24th September 2015 – Large Scale Housing Schemes

(The following is an extract from the Planning Portal Content Team, reporting on 24th September 2015).

Ministers should consult on bringing large-scale housing schemes within the Planning Act 2008 regime for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), a report commissioned by law firm Bond Dickinson and planning consultants Quod has urged.

The report, based on the views of housing and planning experts in both the public and private sectors, claimed that use of the NSIP regime could harness the power of the private sector and “relieve hard-pressed local authority budgets”.

Less than half the estimated 240,000 new homes needed each year were completed in 2014, and the last six years had seen the lowest level of house building since the Second World War, it added.

The report insisted that there was widespread support for creating new settlements on the scale of the post-war New Towns to address the housing crisis.

However, it argued that this was unlikely to happen without policy and legislation that overcame the current barriers to bringing forward large-scale housing and mixed use projects within the current planning system.

The report noted recent research suggesting that only 25 per cent of local planning authorities had a local plan which had been adopted as sound since the publication of the government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2012.

For the full report go to Planning Portal Content Team report).

Danesbury Park & House – A Date Line

History of Danesbury

A definitive account of the HIstory of Danesbury has been researched, and is presented by local Historian Gordon Longmead in his book: The HIstory of Danesbury, Its House and Its Lands, published by New ConceP1050955pt Publishihng in 1999 .

Gordon’s book provides a fascinating and detailed account of the peoples who lived in and around Danesbury in the pre-Roman period, long before the House was built in 1776, and chronicles its subsequent transitions of ownership and family residency, its use through two World Wars, its ultimate use as a long stay Hospital in the grounds of which Welwyn village used to hold annual Summer Fetes, to the present time when after a period of dereliction, it has been restored and converted to apartments, with Mews Houses at the rear where hospital wards used to be sited.

Date Line for St John’s Lodge/Danesbury House

The following date-line (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed) is compiled from multiple books and local historians over very many years. To learn about the history and people associated with Danesbury House, we recommend Gordon Longmead’s comprehensive book.

Continue reading

Drivesafe Survey – Support from the Police Commissioner

The following was published on the OWL (Online Watch Link) system on 21st September 2015 for all Neighbourhood Watch members.

Dear Watch Member,

We would like to say a huge thank you to all those who completed our survey on Hertfordshire’s Community DriveSafe scheme.  It was completed by an overwhelming 1,288 of you, with many more comments sent by email.

We were incredibly pleased to see that 74% of survey participants support the principle of the DriveSafe scheme, many sending positive comments about their experiences. However, it was also clear that some respondents are uncertain what DriveSafe is about and that more publicity and awareness is needed. If you’d like more information please visit the Police Commissioner’s site for details.

The full results of the survey can be found here: http://hertscommissioner.org/fluidcms/files/files/pdf/Drivesafe/DriveSafe-Survey-Analysis-2015.pdf

Community DriveSafe is an important part of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s wider volunteering strategy empowering people and local businesses to support traffic speed reduction in their village or town. The aim is to educate drivers on the impact and dangers of their speed.

The survey showed there is a perception by some that speed monitoring should not be carried out by volunteers.  We would like to clarify that this scheme is about educating motorists and empowering local people; DriveSafe schemes are supported by police Safer Neighbourhood Teams and designed to complement speed enforcement carried out by officers. We also now have 27 Special Constables who support the schemes, using a laser speed gun at DriveSafe locations.

Feedback from the survey will be used to inform future improvements of the DriveSafe Scheme. Two if the most popular suggestions were to extend the scheme to include drivers on mobile phones and illegal and unsafe parking.

Both are in the Police and Crime plan around anti-social driving and will be taken forward over the coming months.

Again, thank you to all who took the time to respond to the survey.

Kind regards

DriveSafe Admin Team

If you need to reply regarding this message, click on this email address:

David Lloyd Police and Crime Commissioner
Neighbourhood Watch

Danesbury Residents Association


The Danesbury Residents Association (DRA) was formed on 25th May 1982 to assist in the defeat of an Appeal to the Department of the Environment by Rialto Homes against planning refusal to allow them to build 400 dwellings initially, and later 650 dwellings, on the land adjoining Danesbury Park.

To enable professional assistance to be obtained, all founding members of the Association donated £25 to a fighting fund. The appeal enquiry was held in October 1983 and the development proposals were refused by the Department of the Environment.

The Association has remained in force ever since to continue to look after the interests of the residents of Danesbury Park Estate.


1982 – 1983       Ken Wadsworth
1983 – 1989       Roy Jacklin
1989 – 1998       David Matthews
1998 – 2002       John Roper
2002 – 2004       Roger Writer

2004 – to date     Peter Branchflower


The original Constitution has remained unchanged.

The Committee is re-elected each year, and the objectives remain to be:

  • Reactive to issues raised by Residents
  • Pro-active in Committee
  • Informed on all relative issues
  • Prepared to represent all residents responsibly Continue reading

Planning Portal News 23rd July 2015 – Local Plan ‘deadline’

Government announces local plan ‘deadline’ and urges more Inspectorate pragmatism


Planning Minister Brandon Lewis told Parliament this week that the government would intervene where local authorities had failed to produce a local plan by “early 2017”.

In a written Commons statement he said: “We will intervene to arrange for the plan to be written, in consultation with local people, to accelerate production of a Local Plan.”

The minister’s comments came as Lewis’s colleague Communities Secretary Greg Clark wrote to the Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate Simon Ridley voicing concern that some inspectors were taking too tough a line on shortcomings in some strategies.

The Secretary of State said: “We have recently seen significant positive plan-making progress: 82 per cent of authorities have now published local plans and 64 per cent adopted plans compared with 32 and 17 per cent in May 2010 respectively.

For the full report go to 


Business Crime Strategy – Police & Crime Commissioner’s Consultation

(The following is a notice put out on 18th September 2015 by the Police Crime Commissioner to Neighbourhood Watch members on the OWL (Online Watch Link) system).

Anyone involved in trade and commerce (whether a leader, employee or a special interest) is invited to feed back their views on the Police and Crime Commissioner’s new Business Crime Strategy for Hertfordshire.

A consultation has begun on Commissioner David Lloyd’s new plan that sets out how business crime will be tackled.

Crime against businesses currently makes up a fifth of all recorded crime and has a wider impact on the local economy as well as on individuals – financially, as well as emotionally.

To ensure the Business Crime Strategy meets the needs of Hertfordshire, the Commissioner would appreciate feedback and comments on the draft plan – this will shape the final document and create a workable plan that tackles this crime.

You can view the strategy and complete the survey form at: http://www.hertscommissioner. org/public-consultation

You can also comment on the strategy, without using the pre-formatted online form, by email to . police.uk

The consultation closes on 30th September 2015.

If you need to reply regarding this message, click on this email address: . uk

David Lloyd Police and Crime Commissioner

Planning Portal – 10 September 2015 – Housing Projections

The following is extracted form a Planning Round-up published by the Government Planning Portal on 10th September 2015.

Official figures showing a surge in net migration to the UK cast further doubt on the robustness of key household projections used by councils to assess their area’s housing need, Planning Magazine reported last week. 2013-P1060312

Concerns have resurfaced about the reliability of the government projections used by councils to help assess housing need, with recent official figures showing that net international migration to the UK has hit record levels.

Commentators say the new figures are evidence that the housing shortfall is worsening more quickly than expected, and some councils may need to look to increase their housing numbers locally.

Simon Coop, planning director at consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners is reported as warning that councils who relied on the projections risked an under-provision of housing need in their area.

Danesbury Park – History of The Fernery


Capt. and Mrs. St. John built St John’s House between 1775 and 1776.

In 1851 Mr.Blake, who then owned the house, (and re-named it Danesbury), employed Mr. Parsons as his head gardener and they built the Fernery in 1859-60.


(The following extracts and the black and white photo are kindly offered by Mrs Pat Watt – former voluntary Warden of Danesbury Park. The photo is believed to be from a copy of the Hertfordshire Countryside Magazine)

Extract taken from THE GARDEN Oct. 22, 1881

Danesbury Park, Welwyn
THE FERNERY. -One of the chief features of interest in the park is the hardy Fernery. It is formed on a sloping bank in a rather deep dell-like valley, overhung with trees and ivy, in the shade of which the ferns seem to delight. This charming spot has been further enhanced in appearance by some rockwork, in many respects decidedly the leading feature of Danesbury. As regards the planting, the various genera are arranged in distinct and well-defined groups, and each group is assigned a position and provided with soil adapted to it’s requirements; therefore, all have an equal chunnamedance of becoming well developed. ”Ah,” says some one, ”but these Ferns are indigenous, and therefore do not require any cultural care; simply stick them in the ground, give them one heavy watering, and then let them take care of themselves.” Yes; that is how many hardy plants are treated; but not at Danesbury.

Another extract about the same date



In the park is a hardy Fernery, situated in a dell, and reached by means of a good gravel walk. It is associated with some large trees, which are surrounded by Laurels,&c., which aid in keeping the rougher winds away from the more tender kinds of Ferns, and the whole is inclosed by substantial rabbit- proof fencing. Entering under an archway, formed of grotesque-looking wood, we proceed a few yards, and an interesting scene presents itself, the imitation rockwork being in itself worthy of a visit. Here are steps to descend to the level below, formed, as it were, out of hard rock by time itself. On the opposite side is a ravine, over which has been thrown a rustic bridge, whilst nearer to the left, under the more massive upper rock – as is customary – is a capacious grotto, from the rock at the side of which streamlets of pure water trickle down into its basin bed. Here and there, abutting upon the green sward, the rocks appear, cragged and pointed, each having at its base, or upon its bosom, some quaint form which culture, and observation have brought to light. The whole is well backed up by huge boulders, placed here and there, as if they were the work of one of Nature’s strange convulsions.


Others also admired the fernery; W. Robinson in “The English Flower Garden”, published in 1883, writes, ”In the home counties there is probably not a better Fernery than at Danesbury. It is on a sloping bank in a rather deep dell, overhung with trees and Ivy, in the shade of which the Ferns delight.”


Mr. Anthony Parsons became gardener to Captain Blake at Danesbury in 1851, and remained there until his death on Christmas Day 1880. He wrote in The Gardeners Chronicle, “I have had to make a hardy fernery, which now contains a magnificent collection of British Ferns, and is well known to many admirers of these truly lovely plants.” Mr Parsons was well known for raising and developing new varieties of plants. Whilst at Danesbury one finely-crested dwarf golden fern of his origination was named in his honour Gymnogramma chrysophylla parsonii.
Although the rocks appear to be of natural sandstone they are in fact “Pulhamite”. Upon closer inspection it can be seen that they are in fact artificial. J.R. Pulham and Co. London constructed them in 1859-1860, using a core of brick and rubble, which was covered in cement.


The WHBC Draft Management Plan 2013-2023 – an unfulfilled ambition

Recent re-assessment of the potential of the Fernery to provide a significant point of interest within the nature reserve will hopefully lead to partial restoration funded by Higher Level Stewardship:
 removal of scrub growing along the cascade face
 replacement of fallen and ‘stray’ rocks into the cascade face
 selective removal of more mature trees around the perimeter of the pit
 the creation of a circular path including steps to allow safe access
 the control of nettles using herbicide and regular cutting of herbaceous vegetation to
keep the pit open and attractive
 the restoration of sections of the decorative paling fence and its use to create a
 establishment of variegated holly to restore the designed planting scheme
 provision of interpretation explaining history and interest of the Fernery

The above proposals were withdrawn before the final Management Plan was published, but the cudgels have since been taken up by the Friends of Danesbury Local Nature Reserve, a group of local volunteers.

The Friends of Danesbury LNR commenced clearing the Fernery site in September 2015 and by June 2016 had completed the task: all scrub had been cleared, elder stumps have been poisoned and nettles have been eradicated following herbicidal spraying. The Friends are now in the process of deciding the way forward in partnership with the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council.

Curent ambitions are to involve other organisations in and around Welwyn, and to create a Community Project. Interest is therefore being sought from gardening societies, archaelogical and history groups in Welwyn, with the ambition to excavate the rockwork and paths, and re-plant ferns and appopriate rock plants.


The Clock – the seconds are ticking away.

(For the background to the following critique, see the earlier post A1(M) Improvement).

Those who live in and around Welwyn, and those who regularly pass through Welwyn via the Welwyn By-pass or the B656 Link Road, await anxiously for the builders dust to settle; for the landscaping to finish;2015-09-06 13.07.44-1 and then nervously for the Clock to strike ‘Won’.

But who will be the winners?

We are glad that the eye-sore of the burned-out, derelict, former Hotel site has been cleared, and we are glad that more housing will be made available, and we will welcome the new residents into the Welwyn Community.

But we do not have to be glad about the existing rush-hour traffic chaos on the Clock Roundabout, that can only get worse, nor should we be glad that local residents will feel the effect of over-flow car parking that will inevitably follow once the new flats are completed and occupied.

Borough Councillors have expressed their concerns, and there have been suggestions, including creation of a box to prevent grid-locking on the roundabout, and at the entrance to The Clock too. But we have no news of progress on that front.

And the Danesbury Residents Association’s proposal to place a single traffic-light control on the southern entry to the roundabout as a simple, and relatively cheap solution to reduce the build-up of long queues on both the B656 and the B197, received discouraging sounds from County Highways. “We don’t plan to do that sort of thing”…

Perhaps we are jumping the gun?

Perhaps The Clock will stop?

Unlikely, to say the least.