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.


Panshanger Park – Newsletter No.5 August 2015

The latest Newsletter from the Friends of Panshanger Park is now freely available online to members and friends. To subscribe, go to the Panshanger Park website.

The latest Newsletter details the many activities that can be enjoyed, including:

  • Heritage Walks – last Sunday each month
  • Panshanger Park Runs –  between 250-300 runners regularly
  • Work Parties – see the website for details
  • Photography Competitiion – entries needed by 30th September 2015

The Newsletter also details current Planning Applications which are causing concern to The Friends.

If you want to learn about the background to the creation of this fine Country Park, right on our doorstep, then the Panshanger Park website provides masses of information about the history of the S52 Legal Agreement to deliver a Country Park at Panshanger for the people of Hertfordshire, which dates back to May 1980, when following a Public Inquiry, the Secretary of State for Environment granted planning permission for mineral extraction at Panshanger Park, in return for the delivery of a Country Park across the 1000 acre estate.

The Panshanger Oak seen again

Lafarge Tarmac has opened up an Oak Trail which will allow people to see the magnificent Panshanger Oak once again. The Oak Trail starts close to Riverside Cottage in the heart of the park, and allows the public to walk close to The Broadwater, which is a lake fed by River Mimram and designed by Humphry Repton 200 years ago. On the Broadwater is a 19th century waterwheel.

Access to the Oak Trail is by foot from the Thieves Lane car park

On top of the hill are the remains of the Orangery and Conservatory, as well as the site of the former Panshanger House, demolished in 1953. From the site of the old house there is an impressive view across the valley towards Cole Green.

For more details of the impressive work of the Friends of Panshanger Park, and to see  how you might help, go to the Friends of Panshanger Park.


Panshanger Park – Heritage Walks 2015

The Friends of Panshanger Park hold monthly accompanied Walks led by members of the Friends, who will talk about the features of the delightful Humphry Repton landscape and the history of the site, and point out all the many wildlife features.

Walks start at 2 p.m. from Thieves Lane Car Park on the following dates:

Saturday 28th March

Sunday 26th April

Sunday 31st May

Sunday 28th June

If you would like to join one of their Walks, you are asked to let the Friends know in advance by email to:

For more information about the varied activities go to the Friends of Panshanger Park website.


Panshanger Park – a Country Park right on our doorstep

The Friends of Panshanger Park (the FPP) was formed to ensure that Panshanger Park is restored to its original, historically significant, landscape once the owners (Lafarge Tarmac) have finished their gravel extraction. Privately owned by Lafarge Tarmac, the 1000 acre Panshanger Park estate has been extensively mined for minerals for over 30 years.

Since being formed, the WPAG has been represented on the FPP Committee by WPAG Committee Member Don Street. Don has been working tirelessly with the FPP team, determined to enable open public access to this wonderful Country Park, which is right on our doorstep.

Lets be honest. Most of us have yet to visit Panshanger Country Park.

It is therefore recommended that initially you visit the Friends of Panshanger Park website:

  • to gain an appreciation of just how protracted, difficult, and stressful this undertaking has been for the FPP,
  • to learn just how much success the Friends have already achieved
  • to learn where the public now have access, and
  • to make a date in your diary and visit.

You will be certain to be impressed by what you find. The Friends of Panshanger Park deserve all the support and encouragement that we can give them.


The Frythe – A Brief History

During the preparation of the article posted about the Re-development of The Frythe, we uncovered many interesting details about its history, some of which we hadn’t known before. We feel you might enjoy reading this very brief extract, but for a more rewarding and detailed study, whether your interest is in archaeology, or genealogy, we recommend you do as we did, which is to pay a brief visit to Wikipedia as a first step, and then spend the next few hours surfing other related sites on the internet!

The Frythe comprises a Victorian House or Mansion, sitting within green belt parkland of 47 acres, south west of Welwyn village, P1050050 with access to the Great North Road (now B197). It has boundaries with Homers Wood to the East and South, with the Ayots and Whitehill to the South and West, and the Whitehill road which leads North West down past the Whitehill Car Park and The Acorn Nursery, before joining Welwyn Village via School Lane

The House was originally built for William Wilshere in 1846. It was sited centrally with a long drive, P1050032providing views over the Mimram valley, and surrounded by well laid out lawns and gardens, which were landscaped with many selected specimen shrubs and trees. The House is not listed, and neither are any of the original ancillary structures, greenhouses, stables, brew house, cottages etc. Many of the trees are protected.P1050058

The Frythe became home to successive generations of the Wilshere family, each of whom were benefactors of St Mary’s Church in Welwyn.  Various census returns show that sometimes the house was occupied by the principal family member alone, with up to 9 staff in attendance.

Following the death of the last surviving Wilshere in 1934, the Frythe became a Residential and Private Hotel, before being requisitioned at the start of World War II by the military authorities, and used by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) for the design and manufacture of secret specialist equipment for military purposes. Items such as the ‘Welpen’ – an explosive weapon disguised as a fountain pen – was designed here, and then manufactured in quantity up the road at Aston House, which was SOE’s Secret Weapons Centre STATION 12 . The Frythe itself was code-named Station IX.

Post World War II, ownership subsequently passed to ICI, to Unilever and then to GlaxoSmithKline, and the Frythe was used for commercial research and development P1050039P1050034purposes. Many outbuildings, laboratories and offices were constructed over the years,

The site was closed in 2010 and subsequently developed for housing by Linden Waites Homes. The original Frythe Mansion has been retained and converted into apartments, and sales of a total of 196 ancillary dwellings commenced at the start of 2015. The site has been appropriately re-named Wilshere Park.