The Autumn Season has got off to a flying start for Valerie and myself! Our ‘Pulhams of Broxbourne’ Presentations have gone down very well, and we had a fascinating day in Woodbridge. Let’s get down to the details:
The ‘Pulham Study Day’ at The Swiss Garden
Saturday, 3rd October was a big day for us. Twenty-five people – including some custodians, archivists and landscape architects associated with some notable Pulham installations – turned out to attend a full morning of presentations at The Swiss Garden, Old Warden, followed by a buffet lunch and a tour of the gardens in the afternoon. Fig 1 shows all of the speakers relaxing after their turn at the podium.
Corinne Price, Swiss Garden Manager, began the day by welcoming us all to The Sun Room in The Swiss Garden, and gave a very interesting and informative presentation about the history of gardens from the time, about 200 years ago, when Lord Robert Henley Ongley transformed a boggy brickfield on his Old Warden Estate, near Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, into a romantic and picturesque ‘Swiss Garden’ – his own vision of a private pleasure garden for sanctuary, relaxation and show. It involved the creation of a series of ‘rooms’, each with its own individual scenic character – intimate lawns informally bordered by a variety of evergreen shrubs, and adorned with sculptures; an expanse of water; ornaments; bridges; quirky little buildings like the Swiss Cottage and the Indian Kiosk, and bowers draped with ivy and other climbing plants. The ‘rooms’ were all linked together by pretty meandering paths, but separated by carefully positioned ‘hillocks’, shrubs and trees to ensure that the visitor would always be wondering what was to be seen ‘around the next corner’.
The estate was sold to Joseph Shuttleworth in 1872, and he added his own touches of Victorian taste. Some of these, including the refurbishment of the magnificent grotto, and some rockwork around the lake, and a small balustraded bridge over an underpass, were the work of James Pulham and Son, and are fully discussed in Chapter 10 of Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy.
Following the Second World War, The Swiss Garden fell into a state of serious disrepair, but some valiant efforts of restoration were made during the 1980s and ‘90s, and again during the early 2000s, when a massive injection of £3.6 mil – £2.8 mil of which was from the Heritage Lottery Fund – finally restored the gardens, and all their features, to their original glory. They were re-opened in July 2014, soon after Corinne was appointed as Swiss Garden Manager.
Fig 2 – Enjoying the Regency Garden Party at The Swiss Garden (Photos by Darren Harbar Photography)
The Special Pulham Study Day is just one of the innovative and creative features that Corinne has added to The Swiss Garden Events Calendar. Another was the Regency Garden Party – organised to celebrate the first anniversary of the opening of the gardens – in July 2015 – Fig 2 shows two photographs taken during this event – and another is ‘The Swiss Garden in Lights’, to be held between Saturday, 5th and Thursday, 10th December 2015.
This will be a contemporary twist on Lord Ongley’s lamp-lit gardens, and include a route of key garden features highlit and enhanced by creative, intriguing lighting created by the e-Luminate Studio. The gardens at night will be brought to dazzling life with magical, tasteful colours and fun interactive elements that can be enjoyed by the whole family, and there will also be the re-creation of an aviary that is believed to have existed as a feature within the garden. It promises to be something to be looked forward to by everyone able to attend, and reservations can be made here.
Drew Bennellick, Head of Landscape and Natural Heritage, HLF, then gave us a fascinating presentation about the work of the Heritage Lottery Fund. Some of the figures he gave us relating to money that has been awarded were quite mind-boggling, such as:
- £150 mil on 86 Landscape Partnership Projects
- £850 mil on 700+ Public Parks and Gardens Prpjects
- £435 mil on 3,100 Biodiversity Projects
These projects represent about 20% of the total grants awarded by Heritage Lottery Fund.
Drew also produced a chart, shown in Fig 3, that shows some interesting statistics about our public parks. For example, it is estimated that £30 mil is raised each years by ‘Park Friends’ and other groups, and that 83% of households with children aged 5 and under visit their local park at least once per month. However, this is counter-balanced by the fact that more than 80% of Park Managers are losing skilled staff as a result of cuts in local government budgets.
Our followers will be well aware that many of our public parks around the country – some of which used to be private estates – contain features created by James Pulham and Son, and that quite a few of these have been the subject of restoration work part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. These include Dunorlan Park in Tunbridge Wells, Belle Vue Park in Newport, Mesnes Park in Wigan, Ross Hall Park in Glasgow, Avenham Park, Miller Park and Moor Park in Preston, and Worth Park in Crawley, and we are all extremely grateful for the work that has been done by volunteers, and the money that has been spent on bringing these treasures back to life. Two examples of this work are shown in Fig 4.
Fig 4 – The ‘Temple’ Summerhouse at Dunorlan Park and the Fountain at Worth Park, which have both benefited from Heritage Lottery Funding (Photo provided by Drew Bennellick)
Valerie Christman and I gave our presentation about ‘The Pulhams of Broxbourne’ between morning coffee and a light buffet lunch, after which Simon Swann – of Simon Swann Associates, who were responsible for the recent Restoration Project – spoke about all the specialist work that went into the ‘Restoration of the Swiss Garden Pulhamite Features’, and then, together with Corinne, led the guests on a tour of the gardens. One particular feature of interest is the punt cave – there has been some conjecture about whether or not this was constructed by the Pulhams, but the general concensus now is that this is likely to have been initially built by Lord Ongley, and that James Pulham and Son added the ornamentation around it later.
Fig 5 – The Pulham bridge over the underpass, and Corinne makes a point
It all added up to a most interesting day, and the only thing missing was the Question and Answer session that was scheduled to follow the three morning sessions. Sadly, we ran out of time, which was a pity because it would have provided an excellent opportunity for the guests to ask questions of the unique assembly of speakers available. They would, I know, have been only too happy to do their best to respond to them, and I couldn’t help myself wondering – not for the first time – what it might have been like if only my grandfather, Fred Hitching, and all his fellow real-life Pulham Rock Builders, had still been around to take part. They could have provided a lot of the answers, and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if they’d had some questions to ask as well . . . ..
Fig 5 shows the Pulham bridge over the underpass, and Corinne speaking to a group of the visitors, and Fig 6 shows Simon Swann explaining some of the restoration work undertaken by his firm. The two charming views in Fig 7 show the Swiss Chalet and the view through the top of the Fernery – all the photographs in Figs 5 to 7 were taken by The Swiss Garden Supervisor, Rosemary Sanderson, during the tour of the gardens.
Capacity Turnout for the U3A in Welwyn Garden City
Our next presentation was to the Welwyn Garden City U3A Gardening Study Group on 12th October. I understand that the average attendance for these meetings is around 40 people, so we were extremely gratified to welcome an almost-‘Standing Room Only’ audience of 50 people to the event.
A Fascinating Day in Woodbridge
Val and I spent a fascinating day in Woodbridge, Suffolk, recently. This is the town in which James 1 and his brother, Obadiah, were born during the 1790s, but I plan to report on this in my next News Letter, rather than hold up the circulation of this one. Watch this space . . .
Future ‘Pulhams of Broxbourne’ Presentations
Further presentations for the Ware, Broxbourne and Hertford U3A groups are included in our Presentation Diary, details of which can be found by clicking on the ‘Forthcoming Presentations’ image.
‘A Wonderful Book to Own . . .’
With Christmas approaching fast, now is the time to consider you r present lists. If these include garden-loving friends – or if you want to treat yourself to something special – then ‘Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy’ could provide the perfect answer. More than 40 of the Pulhams’ most prestigious sites are fully discussed and beautifully illustrated with some stunning photographs taken by Professional Gardens Photographer, Jenny Lilly. Check out the ‘CONTENTS’ Page here.
Why not visit our ‘Book Shop’ Page, which provides a direct link to the publisher’s website, ACC Art Books. All you have to do is follow the link and enter the ‘PL1’ Promotion Code in order to buy a copy at a massive 40% discount from the RRP of £35!
Yes, £21 (+ £4 P&P) = £25!
The book has been critically acclaimed by all the major Professional Reviewers, whose comments can be summed up simply as:
‘A Wonderful Book to Own, and the Perfect Present for a Garden-Loving Friend’
Happy Reading, and we look forward to meeting you at one of our ‘Pulhams of Broxbourne’ Presentations soon. Very Best Wishes for now,