Bombs, sabotage, neglect - the fascinating story of how we almost lost Sefton Park Palm House
The beautiful Grade II Victorian palm house has become a Liverpool landmark but it was close to demolition on numerous occasions.
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When Sefton Park opened its gates in 1872, it was missing a centrepiece. A generous donation by a local benefactor led the Parks Committee to abandon plans for a band pavilion and set their sights on a spectacular palm house.
Sefton Park Palm House still stands today and has become an iconic place. However, it very nearly didn’t last the test of time, due to attempted sabotage by Suffragettes, the World War II blitz of Liverpool and years of neglect. It was only saved from ruin after a fierce public campaign and a multi-million-pound restoration.
“It’s here for you, the public, to come and enjoy,” Kate Martinez, head of external relations at Sefton Park Palm House, tells LiverpoolWorld. “The Palm House is open, it’s free, it’s accessible. So you can just come, bring a book, enjoy the botanical collection, relax, or equally, you can come to one of our events." It’s hard to believe that we almost lost this great glass conservatory.
History: Sefton Park’s Palm House was a gift to the city of Liverpool by local benefactor Henry Yates Thompson. When it opened to the public in 1896, it quickly became a popular visitor attraction. Some of those plants are still thriving here today despite the Palm House falling into a state of dereliction in the 1990s.
Sabotage: An unexploded bomb was found inside the eastern porch of the Palm House in 1913. The bomb is thought to have been left by well known Suffragette Kitty Marion. Kate said: "We could never 100% say it was her, but she kept a scrapbook, and in the scrapbook, she had cuttings of the bomb that was left at the Palm House, which is why historians do believe it was her."
War damage: During the May Blitz of 1941, an explosion from a nearby bomb shattered the glass. Funding from the War Damage Committee enabled the glass to be replaced in the 1950s, but time and the elements took their toll, and the building gradually fell into disrepair.
Ruin: By the 1980s, the Palm House had fallen into a poor state of repair, and the much-loved visitor attraction was closed to the public. Kate said: "At that point, we just didn’t know how we were ever going to restore it. It was a massive task ahead. At one point, there was even an idea of demolishing it because the idea of making it safe again just seems so far-fetched."
Saved: After a public campaign and multi-million-pound restoration, this Grade II* listed building re-opened its doors to visitors in 2001 and has since enjoyed a new lease of life as a lively arts and cultural venue. Kate said: “With the local community rallying round and that amazing people power - everybody fought so hard to restore it. We are still passionate about it.”
Watch the video at the top of this page for our full feature on Sefton Park Palm House.