Well, Spring is here, and it’s time to catch up with what’s been going on in the World of Pulham since my Christmas News Letter. The main thing, of course, is the Pulham Memorial Project, part-funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund award in excess of £56,000 to the partnership of Lowewood Museum, the Broxbourne Borough Council, and B3Living, who acquired the site during the transfer of council housing stock from Broxbourne Borough Council in 2006. There have been some other things going on, but, in view of the importance and significance of this project, I have decided to carry those over, and devote this Letter entirely to that.
It is at a time like this that my mind goes back to the time in 1999 when I was talking to our younger son, Bob, and – like most parents do – got on to the subject of ‘life in the good old days’, and he suggested that I should record our family history so that he would one day have something to hand on to his own children. I was retired, and enjoyed writing, so I agreed to try it, and it wasn’t long before I discovered that no fewer than five of my ancestors – including my grandfather, Fred Hitching – all worked as ‘Rock Builders’ for James Pulham and Son in Broxbourne.
I went to Lowewood Museum in neighbouring Hoddesdon, and met Neil Robbins – the Curator at that time – who told me that all the firm’s records had been destroyed when they went out of business c1939, and, by the time I left, he had invited me to research the lives and work of the Pulham family with a view to writing a book about them. I always claim now that it was a day that changed my life, because, as a result of that invitation, I have met many wonderful people, seen many lovely parks and gardens, and discovered all sorts of fascinating pieces of information that I would otherwise never have known about. It also enabled me to meet Valerie Christman, and team up with her to take the story of ‘The Pulhams of Broxbourne’ to many people right across the country.
But this is not about me. This is all about the three-stage Pulham Memorial Project, comprising the restoration of the one remaining Pulham kiln and puddling – or grinding – wheel on the site of the old Manufactory; the creation of an adjacent Memorial Garden, and the establishment of a special Touring Exhibition called ‘Romance in Stone – The Pulham Legacy of Garden Design’ that has been launched at Lowewood Museum, but will also become available for loaning out to other organisations around the country as and when required. It will be on show at Lowewood Museum until 20th April, 2017.
The Memorial Site and Garden
The restoration of the last remaining, Grade II listed kiln and puddling wheel was undertaken by conservation experts, Szerelmey Conservation, with all ironwork completed by Heritage Blacksmiths, and the adjacent land has been landscaped – with Val’s enthusiastic participation – as a feature Memorial Garden, with a seating area and permanent interpretation boards telling the story of James Pulham and Son.
Fig 1 – The Kiln and Puddling Wheel when the Manufactory was demolished in 1966, and the Plaque celebrating its Preservation in 1986
The left-hand picture in Fig 1 shows the kiln and puddling wheel as they were when the Manufactory was demolished in 1966. The Broxbourne Borough Council decided to preserve these historic remnants in 1985, and erected a plaque to celebrate the occasion, as shown in the right-hand picture. The plaque actually quotes 1945 as the date of the firm’s closure, although it was actually 1939-40, and I have recently been told that this might have been due to the firm being told, at the beginning of the War, to close down the furnaces in the kilns for fear of being visible to enemy aircraft flying overhead on bombing missions, which is something I had never heard before.
Fig 2 – The Manufactory Site in 2003 and during Restoration in 2016 (Second Photo by Matthew Norton, of B3Living)
The left-hand picture in Fig 2 shows the kiln and wheel in their railed-in enclosure in 2003, and the picture on the right shows them during the restoration process in 2016. But Figs 3 and 4 are the pictures that really matter now – Fig 3 shows how well the kiln and wheel now that the restoration is complete, with their surrounding area smartly gravelled, whilst Fig 4 is a view of the newly-planted Memorial Garden, with two of its information boards that provide details of the firm, the Manufactory and the Conservation work that took place. These are massive steps in the right direction.
Fig 3 – The Kiln and Puddling Wheel following Restoration (Photo by Matthew Norton)
Fig 4 – The Pulham Memorial Garden (Photo by Matthew Norton)
Official Opening of the Site – 3rd February ‘17
The site was officially opened at a special Opening Event on 3rd February, attended by staff involved in restoring this special part of the Borough’s history, and by local residents and historians from across the Borough. Valerie Christman – a descendant of the Pulham family, who was involved in creating the new landscaped area – also attended the launch
It was a perfect, sunny day, and there were speeches from Mark Mills-Bishop (Leader of Broxbourne Borough Council), Phil Rothwell (Heritage Lottery East of England Committee Member), Sandra Royer (B3Living’s Chair of the Board), and Gary Bagnell (B3Living’s Head of Asset Management). Councillor Mark Mills-Bishop said:
Fig 5 – The Opening Ceremony on 3rd February 2017, with speeches being made by: A) Cllr Mark Mills-Bishop, Leader of Broxbourne Borough Council. B) Phil Rothwell, Heritage Lottery Fund, with Sandra Royer, Chair of B3Living, to the left C) Gary Bagnell, Head of Asset Management B3Living, with Deputy Mayor Cllr Carol Crump behind his right shoulder
‘I applaud all those involved in this project and all those who care to care about our heritage and our environment; especially in this, the Borough’s Year of the Environment. Thank you to the many partners involved in making this important part of our history what it is today.’
Sandra Royer, B3Living’s Chair of the Board said:
‘It’s unusual for a housing association to take on such a restoration project but we have a duty to our community, and especially to the residents of Courtfield Close, who have lived adjacent to this site for many years.’
‘Romance in Stone’ Exhibition Launch – 3rd February ‘17
The Exhibition itself is located at Lowewood Museum, and, as you enter the building, the Reception is in the room on the right, and the Exhibition itself is in the somewhat smaller room on the left. In a way, this is rather a pity, because it can get quite crowded if there are more than about six people in there at any one time.
The welcoming display panel in the entrance is shown in the left-hand picture of Fig 6, and the first two display boards inside the room are shown in the right-hand picture.
There are nine display panels altogether, and three show cases, plus a number of artefacts, and a selection of these is shown in Fig 7. The panel in the top left picture illustrates work that the firm did around the coastal resorts, and an interactive video console on the left, which I shall come to in a moment.
Fig 6 – Entrance and Panels at the ‘Romance in Stone’ Exhibition
The middle shelf of the case shows a notice board used by the firm to introduce visitors to their display garden at the Chelsea Show in 1931. The pot to the right of that was donated to the Museum in 2009 by a local lady who ‘inherited’ it when she bought the house once occupied by Herbert Pulham, son of Michael Angelo Pulham, who was responsible for the design of many of the firm’s terracotta ornaments. Because of this, it was given the title of the ‘Lowewood Pot’, although we have since discovered that this design was originally made for the ‘Kew Fountain’ that now resides in the Bellagio Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, as explained in Chapter 3 of ‘Rock Landscapes’. Michael Angelo also designed and crafted the Angel Memorial in the shelf below for his family grave in Cheshunt Cemetery, but, as Val is a direct descendent, she and her family removed it for safe custody in the Museum.
Fig 7 – Some of the Exhibits (First three images by Matthew Norton)
The two silver cups on the shelf of another Case – shown in the top right picture of Fig 7 – belonged to Michael Goodchild, grandson of James 4. James 4’s daughter, Freda, emigrated to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) when Michael was a baby, and a few years ago – when he was growing old, and felt he had no further use for them – one of his relatives found my website, and sent them to me as a donation to the Museum. This story is also related in the book.
The lower left picture shows a toolbox once used by one of the Pulham workers, and a copy of the firm’s ‘Garden Ornament Catalogue’, whilst the large vase in the bottom right picture is a copy of the Westonbirt Vase – originally made for Robert Holford of Westonbirt Manor. This copy was made by Haddonstone Ltd, and loaned to the Museum.
For more information about the exhibition, visit www.broxbourne.gov.uk
Fig 8 – Guests at the Exhibition Launch (first three images by Matthew Norton)
Guests from the Site Opening Ceremony returned to Lowewood Museum for refreshments and a look round the Exhibition, and the top left picture in Fig 8 shows Cllr Mark Mills-Bishop with Deputy Mayor Carol Crump (left) and another guest. Phil Rothwell can be seen in the top right picture, and Val and Jenny Rowland are chatting in the bottom left.
The picture in the bottom right is a special one for me, because it shows me with Patricia Hobson, a second cousin once removed who I had just met for the very first time – and I am not going to reveal how old we are! Patricia’s great-grandfather was Arthur Hitching – my grandfather Fred’s older brother – who worked in the Manufactory, producing the Pulham terracotta ornaments, and was presumably taught his skills by Michael Angelo. Patricia came all the way up from Somerset especially for the Exhibition, and we had a lovely lunch together afterwards with Val and Patricia’s partner, Robert. As you can imagine, we had a lot of family history to catch up on . . .
The Interactive Site Video Tours
One major feature of interest is a selection of short, specially-filmed and narrated ‘video tours’ of some of the firm’s most prestigious gardens, including Highnam Court, Waddesdon Manor, Sheffield Park, Dewstow gardens and Danesfield House, and these can all be accessed via the video console shown in the top left picture of Fig 7. For anyone unable to visit these wonderful sites in person, this is a great way of seeing some of the work that the Pulhams did there.
Fig 9 – Interactive Video Tours of the most prestigious Pulham sites – Top Row: Highnam Court, Waddesdon Manor, Sheffield Park, Dewstow Gardens. Bottom Row: Danesfield House, ‘The Paris Vase Restoration, Interview with Valerie Christman, Access to all in sequence.
These videos are all Copyright Lowewood Museum, made available under Creative Commons #Attribution Non-Commercial’ Licence (CC BY-NC), and, thanks to the courtesy of Epping Forest District Council, I have been given permission to provide links from here to their YouTube site for the benefit of those unable to visit Lowewood to see them. I have also included the links to the ‘Paris Vase Restoration’ and the ‘Valerie Christman Interview’ because their link location is now different to what it was when I included them in my Christmas News Letter. All these videos can be accessed simply by clicking on the individual images in Fig 9, or you can play them all in sequence by clicking on the image of the console in the bottom right.
A ‘Three Counties Experience’ – 9th February ‘17
As part of the Memorial Project, and to help promote the Exhibition, Jenny Rowland set up an interview for us with Nick Coffer, the lunchtime host at the BBC’s Three Counties Radio on Thursday, 9th February. We have presented our ‘Pulhams of Broxbourne’ story to live audiences across the country, ranging from 8 to 320 in number, but a potential audience of around 170,000 was something new for us.
It was a fascinating experience, and we think that Nick did a great job – well-prepared, and very sympathetic to the subject. He summed it up by saying:
‘This is a wonderful story – why is it that a layman like me has never heard it before? . . . This is a beautiful, beautiful book, and Congratulations on a magnificent labour of love.’
Fig 10 shows us in the studio after the interview, which was broadcast between 12.30 and 1.00 p.m. By editing out almost all of the introductory music etc, I have cut it down to 18 minutes of trailers and actual talk-time, and you can hear it all by clicking on the picture.
Fig 10 – Nick Coffer, Val. ‘Rock Landscapes’ and Jenny Rowland
The Pulham Conference – 9th March ‘17
What a great day! Once again, the weather was perfect, and the room was full. More than forty people attended the Special Pulham Conference at the Spotlight Theatre in Hoddesdon on Thursday, 9th March, representing so many varied aspects of Pulham-related interests. Most of them came from around Hertfordshire and the London area, but some came from places as far apart as Wiltshire and Suffolk, Folkestone, in Kent, and even Edinburgh in Scotland. It was such a great pleasure to meet them, and discuss so many things of mutual interest, and our thanks and congratulations were once again due to Jenny Rowland, the Pulham Memorial Event Organiser, who put the whole event together.
The Conference began with a welcome and introduction from Tony O’Connor, the Museum, Heritage and Culture Manager of Epping Forest District Council, and Val and I got things under way with ‘Carry on Digging!’ – a talk in which we illustrated some of the Pulham restoration work undertaken around the country, made possible by partial awards from the Heritage Lottery Fund. We then went on to talk about some of the things that have happened – new Pulham sites discovered or re-discovered, and new information that has come my way – since the publication of ‘Rock Landscapes’ in 2012.
Fig 11 – Inside the Conference Room
Simon Scott, Managing Director of Haddonstone Ltd – manufacturers of artificial stone garden ornaments – then traced the history of garden ornaments in this country since the 18th century, and explained how those produced in the Pulham Manufactory fitted into the picture. This was followed by a brief Question and Answer session – shown in the left-hand picture of Fig 11 – before taking a short break and re-assembling for a fascinating talk by Dr John Page – Convenor of the Alpine Garden Society’s History of Rock and Alpine Gardens Study Group – who traced the history of Alpine plants grown in the UK since the 18th century, and explained how the Pulhams created the sympathetic rocky environments that were so essential for sustaining their growth. The right-hand picture in Fig 11 is really to illustrate the room in which we held the conference, and Dr Page can just be discerned on the right during his presentation.
Fig 12 – The Conference Speakers
After an excellent light buffet lunch, our photographer, Shaun Kiddell – Parks Policy Adviser for the Heritage Lottery Fund – assembled all the speakers outside in the sunshine for a group photograph, shown here in Fig 12. It shows me lining up with, from left to right, Tony O’Connor, Kate Banister, Tina Rowland, Simon Scott, Val Christman, John Page and Matthew Norton, of B3Living.
The afternoon session began with presentations by Kate Banister and Tina Rowland – well-known researchers with the Hertfordshire Garden Trust – who spoke about some of the Pulham gardens in and around Hertfordshire, which I found most interesting, since it helped to bring some of my own notes up to date. Matthew Norton, of B3Living, then closed the proceedings with another very interesting presentation about the restoration and rebuilding process at the site. He said that it had been a fascinating experience for him, because it was such a change from his normal day job. ‘In a way’, he said, ‘I am almost sorry that it has finished!’
After the Conference, we all adjourned to the adjacent Lowewood Museum to look around the Exhibition, and compare notes and make new friends over a very welcome cup of tea.
What a great day, and what a splendid, worthwhile project!
Spreading the Message
As if all that was not enough, I also had a call from a Journalist who had been commissioned to write an article about the Exhibition and the Pulhams’ story for the April 2017 edition of the ‘Hertfordshire Life’ magazine, and I really appreciated the fact that she took the trouble to check through the details before it was submitted for publication. The magazine is now in the shops, and the cover image alongside clearly shows ‘Romance in Stone’ as one of the feature articles. You may also notice another article noted in the bottom left – something about ‘Hitchin’s Marvel Man’, but, even allowing for a little license in the spelling, I would have to admit that ‘all characters appearing in this article are fictitious, and any resemblance to the real Claude Hitching is probably coincidental.’
The ACC Publishing Group – publishers of ‘Rock Landscapes’ – also mounted a special email campaign in support of the project, so our message is really getting some publicity at the moment.
During the course of my travels over the past few years – and particularly during this Pulham Memorial Event – I have often wondered what my grandfather, Fred – plus all my other ancestors and the Pulham family – would have thought if they could have known that their work would be so respected and treasured after all these years. I doubt that they would have thought that possible, but, if they had been able to imagine it, I know they would have been justifiably proud.
In fact, it is at a time like this that my mind goes back to that day in 1999, and the quiet chat I was having with Bob, and I can’t help wondering what might have happened if I had not started to talk to him about ‘life in the good old days’. Surely, I would not have gone to Lowewood Museum to enquire about the Pulhams, or been invited to research them with a view to writing a book about them. I would not have met all those wonderful people; seen all those lovely parks and gardens, or discovered all those fascinating pieces of information, and I would not have met Val, with whom I have so much enjoyed talking to so many people about this remarkable firm. Could it be that the Pulham Memorial Event might not have taken place at all – no restored kiln or puddling wheel; no Memorial Garden; no Touring Exhibition, and no Pulham Conference? . . .
We’ll never know, but that’s irrelevant. I did chatter on about ‘life in the old days’, and all these things did happen, and I am so grateful that they did. They provided a totally consuming interest that completely transformed my retirement years, and I feel very privileged to have been able to make some contribution to the preservation of this particular segment of our garden heritage.
Come to think of it, Bob has now got his family, and I still haven’t got back to that record of the Hitching family history that I promised . . .
I know that some of you will already have a copy of ‘Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy’, but what about all your family and friends? Don’t forget that the book is still available at a very special discount price from my www.pulham.org.uk website, and you know it would make a lovely present for them. More than 40 of the Pulhams’ most important creations are fully discussed and beautifully illustrated, with some stunning photographs taken by Professional Gardens Photographer, Jenny Lilly.
Check out he ‘CONTENTS’ Page here, or visit the ‘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 were so eloquently summed up by Nick Coffer as:
‘A Wonderful Story, and a Beautiful, Beautiful Book’
Click on the Image – or any of the above links – now to go direct to the Book Shop.
Happy reading, and Very Best Wishes to all my readers.