Visitors to Dulwich and Sydenham Woods are familiar with what appears to be a ruined chapel on the south side of the former railway line. It is a garden folly, created as an architectural ruin and a familiar device of Victorian landscape designers anxious to add dimension and atmosphere to a wild garden.
The folly is built of brick covered in Pulhamite, an artificial stone material invented by Messrs James Pulham in the nineteenth century. According to English Heritage who published a guide to the work of Pulham and Co in 2008, some eight residents of Sydenham and Forest Hill employed the services of firm by 1877. Pulhamite was principally used by garden designers to create grottos and rock strewn pools.
The folly actually seems to have been in the garden of The Hoo, built in 1861 and occupied from 1871 by Richard Thornton, a wealthy member of the Leathersellers’ Company and a garden enthusiast. It is possible that the contract for the folly was made after 1877. There is no mention of a folly in William Blanch’s Parish of Camberwell published in 1875 which describes the grounds of The Hoo in some detail. What we may therefore have, is a folly (possibly designed by Edward Milner, the garden landscape designer who lived at 1 Fountain Drive and who executed a number of local commissions), set in the wild area of the garden bordering the railway line which was added to the original plot of the garden after negotiation with the Dulwich Estate.