1 Palace Park – 2 The Fernery (Pulhamite stone feature)

The Fernery is one of the four Grade 2 listed features in the park. When Coles-Child bought the title of ‘Lord Of The Manor’ of Bromley from the Diocese of Rochester, he set about creating a garden worthy of his new position.

a rockery with school buildings behind
The fernery in the 1990s with Stockwell College buildings behind where there is a car park nowadays. This is before the bamboo and self-seeded yew trees overshadowed the rocks.

Pteridomania!

When this fernery was built, there was a fashion for collecting ferns – ‘pteridomania’ (the fern craze). This term was coined by Charles Kingsley, clergyman, naturalist (and later author of The Water Babies). It involved both British and exotic varieties being collected and displayed; many associated structures were constructed and paraphernalia was used to maintain the collections.[1]

Relicts of an ancient era

Similar to flowering plants, ferns have roots, stems and leaves. However, unlike flowering plants, ferns do not have flowers or seeds; instead, they usually have tiny spores.

There are about 12,000 different species, or types, of fern throughout the world. Some types first appeared on Earth more than 360 million years ago, the Carboniferous era.

Ferns in the Carboniferous did not resemble the ones alive today, these seed ferns (Gymnosperms) grew to be tree ferns of 30 or 40 meters. However, there are ferns alive today that have been unchanged for 180 million years – exceptional fossils including molecular details were found of Cinnamon Ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum).

‘Waterfalls and ferneries’

He bought two fashionable ‘Pulhamite’ features, later described in their catalogue as ‘Waterfalls and ferneries’. This historic structure is their fernery, complete with little scoops in, for planting the ferns. The structure was built from bricks, and a skilled plasterer would apply the ‘Pulhamite’ over it, making it closely resemble real rocks. Pulhamite was an early form of concrete, made to their own recipe, by James Pulham & sons (which was lost on the death of the proprietors). They sent the craftsmen to Derbyshire to look at Millstone Grit outcrops so they could imitate the rocks realistically. Even Buckingham Palace had a couple of pulhamite installations!

honey-suckle-like crimson flower
Carolina Sweet Bush, a rare flowering bush that has survived from the original historic planting.

English Heritage officially listed the features were Grade II listed in 2007. The reasons for listing were: It is a good and little-altered example of the artificial rockwork (Pulhamite) produced in the c19th by James Pulham and Son
It sits within a little-altered mid-c19th landscape setting, at the end of a lake and amidst trees.

Look behind the brick circle marking St Blaise’s well, where the path goes around the north of the lake.

Raising the crown of the Yew trees allowed more light into the Fernery in 2023.

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