Sefton Park Palm House

A wonderful Victorian structure which fell into disuse and decay, now hopefully rescued for us all to enjoy.
Alan Spencer-Jones, 12 The Brooklands, Liverpool, UK
Chamaerops No.23, Summer Edition 1996

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Above: Sefton Park Palm House as it was around 1912
Below: Sefton Park Palm House during winter 1982.
(Photos courtesy of Friends of Sefton Park Palm House)

I have now seen two articles in Chamaerops regarding the Sefton Park Palm House and I thought it might be helpful to obtain and forward the very latest information in respect of both the structure itself and the project for its refurbishment.

lt has been estimated that an outlay of £ 1.2M will be required to bring the palmetum up to a satisfactory standard and it is a direct consequence of this cost that the potential financial backers now expect the site to provide more than a "mere" display of palms. lt is beyond doubt that functions and commercially viable events will have to be staged there and cogent business plans have had to be prepared in the latest drive to attract funding. Thankfully, the European Regional Development Fund paid for the compilation of financial projections, and European fundholders and lotteries have now been approached with realistic and, hopefully, persuasive justifications for investing.

While fundraising activity has, therefore, become more professional, actual results to date are not particularly inspiring. Only £30,000 has been raised so far and it is probably fair to say that the entire project now depends on success along the commercial route. Never again will palm enthusiasts and casual park promenaders be able to claim the place all to themselves, Big business will have arrived and will be conspicuous in the sidelines, but this is, after all, the modern way. We are all used to commercial television, with its quarter-hourly reminders about sponsorship, and the days are gone when local councils alone could maintain glorious establishments of this calibre. We will, at least, continue to have the structure available to us, and this is the most important thing in these times of cultural decadence.

A major surprise to me was the relatively small amount of money that will be required for glazing; by far the greatest problem is the cost of repairing the cast iron framework. I have not been given exact figures, but it seems that the ironwork repairs will account for 75% of the total budget. The original structure was erected as a cold house, but heating was introduced after the war without consideration for the different metals which were used in the construction. After a few years of external temperature extremes, the metals forced themselves apart and decay quickly followed. When this damage has been repaired, glazing will be a comparatively quick and inexpensive exercise. At the present time, glasswork is complete from the ground up to the first roof break, and local money continues to arrive to buy both plain and inscribed glass panels.

Most of the palms themselves have been distributed to council nurseries for safekeeping, but large and hardy specimens remain in situ and exposed to the vertical elements. In these early days of January, 1996, I am assured that Chamaerops, Trachycarpus, Phoenix and other exposed species, which have safely withstood recent Liverpool winters, have managed to survive the drop to -13°C which we sustained just before New Year. Some leaftip damage has, however, been suffered by the Dicksonias.

The palmetum is now open to the public: news will soon get through to individuals and groups who appreciate palms and fine buildings, and local interest should continue to be transpired.

The Friends of Sefton Park Palm House is a formal, charitable organisation which is eager to publicise its existence, win sponsorship and attract donations. The secretary, Jane Baxter, can be contacted at The Old Police Station, Lark Lane, Liverpool, L17 8UU. I am advised that enquiries of any nature are 'welcome' at any time. I have been given two colour postcards of the palmetum taken seventy years apart, and I can offer them for publication in Chamaerops with the blessing of the friends.

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  06-12-19 - 16:28GMT
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