Welwyn’s Heritage Trail

The following report was drafted by Sandra Kyriakides


Welwyn’s Heritage Trail was established a few years ago by the Welwyn Archaelogical Society with Lottery Funding.  Sadly, the website has not functioned for some time due to a loss of management, and lack of funding.

Through our active involvement with the Welwyn Parish Council’s Community Engagement Committee, WPAG has stepped in to manage this Project, aided by a generous donation of funds from the Welwyn Parish Plan Group. The aim is to restore this valuable guide to Welwyn’s heritage.

As a result, WPAG is currently working with volunteer local IT designers with the purpose of restoring the Welwyn Heritage Trail early in 2019.

The Danesbury Victorian Fernery and grotto

The Van Gogh Bust








The opportunity will be taken to add two more sites to Welwyn’s Heritage Trail, to inform visitors and direct them to their location.

Sandra Kyriakides – Project Manager

Van Gogh – a Project Update

The following report was posted by Sandra Kyriakides


You will all be aware of the role of WPAG in bringing the Van Gogh bust to the village. (See  the earlier post)

The sculptor, Anthony Padgett, has since suggested that the places that receive one of his Van Gogh bust donations (including Welwyn) might like to form a link with one another.

We have therefore been in communication with the Municipal Council of Arles, (Van Gogh’s home town in France) who have voted to accept Anthony’s kind offer.  They have been reminded of our (Welwyn) bust and suggested they might consider forming a cultural link with Welwyn in relation to our shared interest and history with Van Gogh.

The President of the Van Gogh Association, Vincent Ramon has written confirming that they would very much like to do this.

Anthony Padgett’s latest installation of Van Gogh sculpture work was unveiled in Brixton on 17th November.   (See The Art Newspaper)

The story of the project and photos of the bust of Vincent Van Gogh was in the national press Sunday Telegraph (a big half page photo) on 25th November.  It gives some excellent publicity for the Van Gogh Walk and the sculpture – and marked the event on a national level.  Welwyn was mentioned.

WPAG will be liaising with administrators at all sites with a view to establishing a link between all of them and ourselves.

The whole project is quite exciting and there will be a Tate Britain exhibition of Van Gogh’s work in March 2019.   We are in contact with Martin Bailey, the curator, to explore the possibility of including a reference to the Welwyn connection.


Van Gogh Statue – Reception and Unveiling

The WPAG Reception

The sculptor Anthony Padgett attended a WPAG Reception at the Chairman’s home on Friday evening 29th June 2018, attended by invited members of the WPAG Committee, Welwyn Parish Council, and other local organisations and dignitaries who had shown a close interest and support for the project to install the Van Gogh Statue in the village.

He was welcomed by Carl Storer, WPAG Chairman, who  proudly explained the vital role played by the WPAG which had led to the successful formal acceptance by the Welwyn Parish Council..

Anthony acknowledged the involvement of the WPAG Project Manager, Sandra Kyriakides in making this happen and, as a show of his thanks, he presented her with a signed copy of his book ‘A Year with Vincent Van Gogh‘.


The Official Unveiling

On Saturday morning, 30th June 2018, Mrs Marion Brown MBE JP, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire joined a gathering of villagers and local Borough and Parish Councillors to officially unveil the Van Gogh sculpture outside Welwyn’s Bridge Cottage Surgery in the High Street.

She was accorded a formal welcome by Councillor Bill Morris, Chairman of Welwyn Parish Council. On behalf of Welwyn residents, Cllr Morris acknowledged the great good fortune offered to the village by Anthony Padgett’s most generous donation of the Van Gogh sculpture, which is in fact the first of his busts to be displayed in England.

Anthony reminded us that Vincent Van Gogh had walked 100 miles to visit his sister, Anna, who was a teacher at Miss Applegarth’s School in Forge Lane, and pondered the thought that Vincent might have bathed his tired feet in the Mimram at the very spot where we have now erected his statue.


WPAG Secures the Return of Van Gogh to Welwyn


The Offer – almost rejected.

Vincent Van Gogh’s sister Anna lived and worked in Welwyn, (Miss Applegarth’s School in Forge Lane) and her brother walked a 100-mile journey to visit her here in June 1876 and there are plaques in the village to commemorate that journey.

Copyright Anthony Padgett

In February 2018 year, sculptor, artist and author, Anthony Padgett wrote to Welwyn Hatfield Borough Councillors, and other official organisations, generously offering a cold-cast bust of Vincent Van Gogh.to match similar offers made to other areas associated with Van Gogh’s life and travels in Belgium, France and England.

But the Welwyn Invitation almost went off the rails because Mr Padgett’s email to our local Councillors went without acknowledgement or reply!

Thankfully the Chairman of the Welwyn Garden City Society, Will Davis, recognised that the historical connection was in fact with Welwyn village and, after contacting WPAG’s Project Manager Sandra Kyriakides and receiving an emphatic assurance of our interest, he immediately gave Anthony Padgett contact details for Sandra and the Welwyn Plannng & Amenity Group.

The Sculptor and his Project

During 2017, Mr Padgett  studied the legacy of Van Gogh, then created a  sculpture and 67 oil paintings to parallel and contrast Van  Gogh’s life with his own.

The key work of the project was an award winning sculpture based on a detailed analysis of all Van Gogh’s self-portraits.  Everyone has an idea of what Van Gogh looked like although all the many images of him differ.  Anthony Padgett attempts to balance many of the different elements.  The sculpture has been praised by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam as “very remarkable indeed.”

Action This Day

Without delay, Sandra contacted Anthony Padgett to confirm Welwyn’s interest and subsequently set up liaison between him and Welwyn Parish Council Chairman, Bill Morris.

From then on, it has been “All Systems Go” and the official unveiling ceremony of the Van Gogh bust will take place on Saturday 30th June 2018

Welwyn is extremely fortunate to have such an appropriate sculpture to add to its many Heritage sites of public interest.

Unveiling Ceremony – Saturday 30th June 2018 – Bridge Cottage Surgery 

An unveiling ceremony is to take place in front of Bridge Cottage Surgery in Welwyn High Street  by Mrs Marion Brown MBE, JP, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire,

The ceremony commences at 1030 am followed by a Reception at the Civic Centre hosted by the Welwyn Parish Council.

Welwyn Parish Council – Press Release

Unveiling ceremony of the Van Gogh bust on Saturday 30th June 2018

 The ceremony for the unveiling of the Van Gogh sculpture by Mrs Marion Brown MBE JP Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire will take place on Saturday 30th June 2018.

 The ceremony will begin from at 10.30am at the ford area of the River Mimram in the High Street (in front of the Bridge Cottage Surgery opposite the High Street Car Park), where the Chairman of Welwyn Parish Council, Cllr Bill Morris, will say a few words, followed by the artist, Anthony Padgett.

The official ceremony will take place at 11am when Mrs Marion Brown will officially unveil the sculpture.

 Following the ceremony, everyone is invited to move to the Civic Centre in Prospect Place for refreshments and an opportunity to view up close a copy of the sculpture.

The sculpture has been donated by the artist Anthony Padgett who has made a number of cold-cast busts of Vincent Van Gogh which he has donated to areas associated with the artist life (including Belgium, France and England). In 1876 Van Gogh walked 100 miles from Ramsgate to Welwyn to visit his sister Anna who lived in the village.



Pulhamite artificial stonework – further appreciation.

Our post about the volunteer efforts to uncover the artificial Pulhamite stone in the Danesbury Fernery has raised a great deal of fresh interest. If you want to extend your knowledge and understanding of the special attributes and heritage values of Pulhamite, then we have learned that there is a Presentation this coming Saturday 3rd October 2015 to celebrate The Great Restoration of the Swiss Garden at the Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden, nr Biggleswade. This is an all-day Study Day to celebrate Pulhamite rockwork and its conservation, for which details, and the need for a fairly rapid online booking Form, can be found at the Shuttleworth Collection website.

Our WPAG member Francesca Weal, well known and esteemed local architect, has informed the Editor that she was involved in ‘The Great Restoration’ of the Swiss Garden at Old Warden, which is famed for its use of Pulham artificial stonework. (See Francesca’s Comment at the foot of the Fernery post!)

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.  

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

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.