There is very little historical information available on the Fernery at Benmore. It was built in the 1870′s, at a time when the Victorian craze for ferns was at its zenith. James Duncan, a sugar broker from Greenock, was carrying out extensive works on the estate and its buildings, including the erection of a picture gallery, a range of glasshouses and the construction of an experimental sugar refinery. The Fernery occupies a dramatic, steep site above a narrow stone gorge.
MAST was appointed by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to carry out a series of restoration of the Benmore Fernery. The proposals were based on the findings of a series of reports also prepared by MAST to explore potential options for the restoration of the building and its historical value.
Fragments of the existing timber and steel structure remained, with cast iron arches showing the building’s original barrel vaulted section, while the gable profile suggested that the whole was topped by a cupola to aid ventilation. The building’s unique form and the scarcity of physical or documentary evidence of its earlier appearance led the architects, after discussion with Historic Scotland, to propose that any new roof should be legible as a modern intervention, something clearly of its time.
One of the many challenges, apart from access to the building, was how to deal with the insertion of a pristine, regular roof structure into such an irregular box, and how the junctions could articulate the relationship between old and new.