Built between 1887 and 1902 by the park’s head gardener, Charles McKimm and his staff, Ravine House contained species such as banana, cinnamon, bromeliad and orchid as well as some of the oldest seed plants. From a perimeter walkway, visitors could peer down into a plant-filled sunken glen, observe flowers at eye level and admire striking leaf silhouettes above. A fern-filled grotto and a waterfall operated by pull chain were part of the attraction. The building fell into disrepair and was closed in 2014. Purcell was appointed to produce a conservation management plan and as expert conservation advisor to support Belfast architects Hall Black Douglas to undertake its restoration.

Mervyn Black, Hall Black Douglas©

Before the work started on the Tropical Ravine, many of the plants were moved into the Palm House or rehomed to other ferneries. The large specimens that we couldn’t shift were covered and protected from reconstruction work and the cold. Some of the plants are very valuable – the tree ferns are estimated to be over 150 years old.

Mervyn Black, Hall Black Douglas ©

The new-look ravine has taken inspiration from the original Victorian design, with old features reinstated and unique details preserved. The ravine is split into two levels, creating a wider walkway perimeter inspired by the Victorian vision of the interior. An open reception area on the ground floor next to the lily pond.

The modernisation included improving energy efficiency with triple glazed windows in the walls and the roof to control the specific tropical environment. The red brick walls have been restored, pathways widened, and new triple glazed windows installed to retain heat. New interpretation is being installed to enhance the visitor experience for the public, educational, and specific user groups, as well as sensory facilities for sight and hearing-impaired visitors.

The Tropical Ravine is a true heritage treasure that rewards visitors with a unique, entertaining and educational experience.

Sir Peter Luff, The National Lottery Heritage Fund