Sarah has written extensively on architectural and garden history, including articles on the Victorian fern craze for the Victorian Society Journal, National Trust magazine, Country Life, The English Garden and Heritage.
Fern Fever: The Story of Pteridomania (2012)
In this beautifully designed and illustrated book Sarah traces the story of Pteridomania, from the invention of the Wardian case, through tales of fern forays, to the creation of verdant ferneries in private homes and gardens. She also reveals the extent of the craze in mainstream Victorian and Edwardian society by describing the incredible variety of public places where it was considered appropriate to erect a fernery. And along the way she introduces some of the authors, nurserymen, designers and colourful characters such as the ‘Itinerant Fern Vendor’, who were associated with fern mania.
Features in the Financial Times, New York Times, Saturday Telegraph, Scotsman magazine, Sunday Times in Ireland and Daily Mail.
‘a superb new book’ (Anna Pavord, The Independent)
‘an absorbing read for those of us who like stories about people and society and our quirky needs and fixations.’
‘It is infused throughout with a wonderful collection of historical images . . . . But what makes this book most interesting is the understanding that the author gives to the way in which the fern penetrated the very psyche of society at the time.’
‘There is a huge amount of inspiration here and I am sure that this beautiful and somewhat amusing botanical analysis of an era will help to unfurl a new generation of fern lovers.’ (Garden and Landscape Designers Association)
‘Fern Fever is thoroughly researched and highly informative. The well-referenced notes and extensive bibliography indicate the quality of the author’s examination of the subject, where it seems no stone is left unturned, or mossy hollow unexplored. The level of detail is admirable and the author’s enthusiasm for the subject is evident in the many quirky facts which bring the story of this Victorian obsession and its eccentric characters to life, making this book a thoroughly absorbing read.’
(Garden History, Journal of the Garden History Society)
‘deserves to become the standard reference on the subject.’ (The Victorian Society)
Editor’s Choice: ‘This lavishly illustrated survey will delight all interested in social history, garden history and the decorative arts.’ (Good Book Guide)
‘Pteridologists, fern lovers, and social historians will find this book irresistible.’ (Martin Rickard, The Plantsman)
‘One picks it up never imagining how such a subject could possibly be compelling, only to finish so beguiled by the topic you have to wonder how on earth these madly delightful fronds ever left center stage. It inspires that sort of fern fever.’ (Dallas Morning News)
‘The perfect recipe for a fascinating literary foray into the fern phenomenon.’ (Canadian Gardening Magazine)
‘Dr Whittingham has done her work well. She leads the reader along the fern gully with a discerning eye, and organises her material with skill and wit. The whole book is enriched with excellent, well-placed and well-captioned illustrations, so it is a pleasure for the eye as well as the mind. It deserves to become the standard work on the subject.’ (Steven Desmond, Country Life)
‘Whittingham charts this charming horticultural craze in a delightfully illustrated book.’ (Bookseller)
‘Sarah Whittingham is a tremendous writer; she manages to convey the fervour of the fern madness that gripped the Victorians, not just here in England but around the world, and simultaneously imparts history, botany, human eccentricity and passion in grippingly readable form.’ (Jinny Blom, House & Garden)
‘This highly illustrated offering provides readers with the finest and most vivid account of the fern craze, covering a gamut of themes including botany, natural and social history, the decorative arts, literature and fine art. Why – and indeed how – ferns became popular is a fascinating topic for anyone with even the slightest interest in social history.’ (The English Garden)
‘This must be the definitive work on Pteridomania. The fern enthusiast will find that every facet of the obsession has been explored, illustrated and described in a clear and comprehensive manner, whilst the unititiated cannot help but be fascinated by the extent to which this ‘fever’ gripped the nation.’
‘It is indeed a ravishing book about a fascinating subject that is extremely well researched and written. Make room in your bookcase for it now!’ (British Pteridological Society)
‘Twenty-first century gardeners interested in the Victorian fascination for collections of particular kinds of plants should look no further for insight than Sarah Whittingham’s new book.
‘Whittingham’s examination of the wider fascination for ferns reveals a fresh insight into the period’s social history . . .’
‘There is much to learn from this book, not only about ferns but about a period in British history that continues to influence a nation’s culture to this day. It is written with great clarity [and] is beautifully illustrated.’ (BBC Gardens Illustrated)
Four out of five stars. ‘Victorians would give their eyeteeth for [this book]; the 21st-century plant enthusiast can just turn the pages in wonder.’ (The Lady)
‘In this authoritative hardback, illustrated with superb paintings, drawings and photographs, Sarah Whittingham . . . examines this passion for ferns in absorbing detail.’ (Cumbria Life)
‘This is just one of the fascinating facts that make this book such a joy to read. It’s packed with information, yet it romps along.’ (Val Bourne, Oxford Times)
‘This is a comprehensive study of the subject, richly illustrated throughout.’ (Western Daily Press)
‘The surprise for modern readers of Sarah Whittingham’s excellent survey lies both in the extent of the British craze . . . and the lengths to which it drove its adherents.’ (The World of Interiors)
‘This is a large, handsome book, with splendid, unusual and fascinating illustrations.’ (Avon Gardens Trust)
‘a thoroughly researched, comprehensive and attractive book which will appeal to horticulturalists and historians, not just fern lovers. Beautifully illustrated, this is a joy to read’ (Devon Gardens Trust)
‘a revelation . . . Supported by a huge bibliography, the book is clearly well researched and this is reflected in the level of detail that brings the subject alive with all sorts of anecdotes about ferns and the people who loved them.’ (Garden Design Journal)
‘Right from the outset this book has something to interest not only gardeners, but social historians and even architects.’ (RHS, The Garden)
Find out how to buy a copy here.
Sir George Oatley: Architect of Bristol (2011)
Shortlisted in 2012 for the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion, awarded annually for the best architectural history book.
Sir George Herbert Oatley (1863-1950) was Bristol’s most significant twentieth-century architect. His buildings transformed the face of the city, and his most well-known work, the University’s Wills Memorial Building of 1925, is the last great secular Gothic building to be constructed in Britain.
This is the first book to be written about Oatley, and is the result of over ten years’ research, including the study of thousands of previously unexamined letters and drawings. It includes a catalogue of works that vastly increases knowledge of the wide range of buildings that Oatley designed during his long career, and is extensively illustrated in colour.
‘she has succeeded magnificently. . . . a volume which it is to be hoped will find a place on the shelves both of the specialist and of anyone who loves our city and its buildings.’ (Transactions of The Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society)
‘an exemplary analysis of a substantial provincial practice’ (The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain)
‘This is a deep, extremely well-researched publication which local historians and architects (and no doubt many others) will, over time, find invaluable. . . . Whittingham has managed, through her diligence, to reach into [Bristol's] architectural core. There’s a lot of intriguing social history here too, which may surprise a lot of readers.’ (Bristol Evening Post)
‘A mammoth undertaking . . . and the culmination of many years meticulous work. This lengthy and definitive hardback biography is as lavish in production as Whittingham’s research is thorough. . . . It is a fascinating account and wonderfully illustrated.’ (The Regional Historian)
‘A hugely detailed and informative book, which is rigorously researched and scrupulously cross-referenced, [that] forms a long overdue and most welcome publication on one of the greatest provincial architects of the early twentieth century.’ (The Victorian)
‘adds enormously to our knowledge . . . The study of architects outside London is greatly enriched’. (Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society)
Some readers’ comments:
‘A tour de force’
‘A splendid achievement’
‘A fantastic book!’
‘A real triumph’
‘A fitting testimonial to an outstanding architect’
‘A wonderful, handsome book’
‘I read it in a day – I just couldn’t put it down’
‘A brilliant and beautifully illustrated book’
‘perceptive and interesting text’
‘a meticulously researched and elegantly written work’
‘both brilliant and beautiful. A tremendous achievement!’
Find out how to buy a copy here
Living, Leisure and Law: Eight Building Types in England 1800-1914 (2010)
The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought into being many new building types and radically transformed other, existing ones. Many of these have received little attention before, and this book brings together eight examples, all of them revealing interesting stories from the byways of architectural history.
It includes Sarah’s paper, ‘“Ferns and Fountains and Fishpools; Crags and Caverns and Cascades”: The Victorian Public Fernery’.
Find out more here
The Victorian Fern Craze (2009)
Featured in the Daily Telegraph, Gardens Illustrated, BBC Homes and Antiques magazine.
‘This splendid Shire book is now published. Masses of facts are presented in an easily readable style, and the multitude of coloured illustrations are excellent.’ (Graham Ackers, British Pteridological Society Fern Forum)
I really loved this book… I am afraid I am not close to doing justice to how charming and amusing this book is, in addition to being informative, Whittingham has a light touch as a writer, and recognizes that with describing the scientific work, and studying the collectors, respect and humor go hand in hand. As is to be expected in any book that discusses the scorn in which the “Professional Fern Tout,” was held by serious botanists.’ (crimsonbiblio on http://community.livejournal.com/neovictoria)
‘a fascinating, lavishly illustrated look at this fern craze… I enjoyed this book very much; it is well written and beautifully illustrated and packs a great deal of information into 60-odd pages… a wonderful addition to any collection of books dealing with the history of botany, or of Victorian popular culture.’ (The Virtual Dime Museum)
Find out how to buy a copy here.
The University of Bristol: A History (2009)
Published as part of the University of Bristol’s centenary celebrations in 2009, this short, illustrated history traces the story of how the organisation progressed from its humble origins to today’s thriving, international enterprise.
Find out how to buy a copy here.
Powerhouses of Provincial Architecture 1837-1914 (2009)
Six chapters drawn from papers presented at the Victorian Society symposium held in January 2008 at the Society of Antiquaries, London, look at how architects with considerable local influence gave a distinctive character to urban landscapes of the Victorian and Edwardian periods.
It includes Sarah’s paper, ‘ “. . . the pride of Bristol, and an enduring monument to the genius of Sir George Herbert Oatley” ‘.
Find out how to buy a copy here.
Wills Memorial Building (2003)
‘This is an excellent study that deserves wide circulation . . .’ (The Victorian Society)
‘Sarah Whittingham’s guide to the building is exhaustive, entertaining, and highly informative and really is the next best thing to a proper tour.’ (Bristol Evening Post)
‘[the book] is well written, well designed and very well illustrated . . .’ (Bristol Civic Society)
‘This is a beautifully written, lavishly illustrated booklet . . .’ (The Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society)
A few copies are still available to buy from the author.