Time flies, doesn’t it? I just can’t believe that it is now three months since my last News Letter, but my calendar assures me that it is, so it must be time to catch up again. I hope you have all had a good summer, and can look forward to a nice warm, comfortable few months ahead.
Heading Towards Retirement
I announced in my last News Letter that I have now come to the point where I shall no longer be able to travel around and present ‘The Pulhams of Broxbourne’ talks with Valerie Christman. However, that does not mean that I shall be hanging up my boots completely. We have just started on a very exciting new ‘Pulham Project’ that will enable me to ‘administer from the centre’, but details of that will have to wait for another time. All I can say here is that, when that project is completed, Val will be ready to take to the road again with a new solo presentation under a new name. Watch this space for future announcements.
Fig 1 – Valerie Christman with the ‘New’ Worth Park Sundial (Photo by John Devine)
I also explained in my last Letter that the venue for our final joint presentation was going to be for ‘The Worth Park Friends’ at the lovely gardens of Worth Park, in Crawley. These gardens contain a wide selection of Pulham features – including formal gardens, balustraded terraces, a large fountain, a rocky lake and a unique ‘Camellia Corridor’ – but they had become run down over the years, and, thanks to a massive injection of funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Crawley Borough Council, they have now been restored and brought back to life. However, restoration is only half of the story – they now need to be maintained, and ‘The Friends’ have done a wonderful amount of work with that, resulting in several awards, including a ‘Highly Commended’ award from the Landscape Institute in the category of ‘Heritage and Conservation’ and a Silver Gilt medal in the ‘South and South East Britain in Bloom’.
It was a lovely day. We were invited to a most enjoyable buffet lunch by ‘The Friends’, and it was great to meet some old friends during the afternoon talk. These included Nick Hagon – who was Head Gardener and our guide when I first visited Worth Park in 2003 – Charlie Bancroft – a gardener at the nearby National Trust property, Nymans – and Brenda Lewis, a very dear friend who I have known for more years than either of us would care to admit, and who many of my readers will know and remember as Founding Secretary and current Vice Chairman of the Surrey Gardens Trust. We all had plenty of news and memories to catch up on.
Fig 2 – By the restored fountain in the ‘Large Round Pond’ with Sam Worsey, Head Gardener, and Edwina Livesey, CBC Communications Officer responsible for Worth Park events (Photo by John Devine)
Our visitors all had an opportunity to explore the gardens after the talk, and Val had an enjoyable time going round and meeting people. She is shown in Fig 1 with the ‘New’ sundial – the original Pulham sundial was sold off to auction many years ago, and this is a ‘Heritage’ replacement. In Fig 2, she is seen by the Round Pond, talking about the restored fountain to Sam Worsey, Worth Park Head Gardener, and Edwina Livesey, Crawley Borough Council’s part time Communication Officer responsible for Worth Park events.
1898-1902 – Nymans, Handcross, West Sussex
We have made another discovery! I mentioned Charlie Bancroft just now. She is a gardener at Nymans, the National Trust property in Handcross, Haywards Heath, and recently contacted me to ask if I knew whether the rock gardens at Nymans were created by James Pulham. At the time, I didn’t, because I had no record in my database to confirm that the Pulhams had anything to do with these gardens, but Charlie then went on to do some further research of her own, and consulted ‘Nymans, the Story of a Sussex Garden’ by Shirley Nicholson, which confirms that the gardens were laid out between 1898 and 1902, and were constructed from natural sandstone from a local quarry. She said:
. . . a splendid rockery was designed and built by the foremost experts of the day, Messrs Pulham and Son. It was much smaller than the huge affair at Leonardslee, and real sandstone – not the artificial rockwork, which was the Pulham speciality – was used.
A fine range of Alpines, aubretias, helianthemums and arenarias, mixed with dwarf shrubs, such as cistus, cotoneaster and veronica, were planted here.
Sun lovers of any provenance would be accommodated, as before, in the Rock and Heath gardens, where pieris and many of the smaller species of rhododendrons, collected by Forrest, Kingdon-Ward and Rock, also flourished.
Fig 3 – The Rock Garden at Nymans (Picture provided by Charllie Bancroft)
Charlie sent me some pictures of the Rock Garden, one of which is reproduced in Fig 3, and she also found an article in Garden Life, dated August 5, 1905, under the ‘Famous Gardeners at Home’ series. It reported an interview with Mr James Comber, who was the Head Gardener at Nymans between 1895 and 1953. A few extracts from the interview are:
“Who constructed the rockery of natural sandstone rock?”
“Messrs Pulham and Sons. A feature of the rockery is a series of steps leading to the croquet lawn.”
“Which do you consider your best Alpines on the rock wall?”
“They include Helianthemums, of all colours, and Lithospermum prostratum. Then there are carpets of such plants as Arenarias, Thymes, Cerastium, Saxifrages (especially Guildford Seedling), Aubretias, Antennarias, and the smaller Campanulas.”
“I conclude that the mound adjoining the rockery is artificial?”
“It was made of the soil excavated from the rockery, and modeled as a rough knoll on a Heathy common, with Rosa Wichuriana in many varieties on the base.”
The gardens underwent restoration in 2011, when some of the rocks were moved. This has also happened in other ‘natural’ rock gardens created by James Pulham – such as RHS Wisley, for example – and one has to wonder if the Pulhams would have done the same if they had still been alive. At least, no-one would be able to ‘move’ their Pulhamite rocks . .
A Linked Series of Coincidences
It is amazing how many things – and how much information – has come my way via my website at http://www.pulham.org.uk. I have received so many emails, letters and ‘phone calls over the last few years from people I would otherwise never have known, and who have made such interesting contributions towards my library of knowledge about the lives and work of James Pulham and Son – and all because they took the trouble to track me down via the website.
For some time now, I have been waiting to tell the story of one particular chain of events that illustrate this so well, but lack of space prevented me from doing so in my last two News Letters. It is now time to catch up. . .
The Silver Cups
I explained in the book how the firm finally closed in 1939 – when James 4 was in charge – but, whilst looking around the restored manufactory site early this year, Val and I met an old gentleman who lived through that time, and he explained how this actually happened. I knew that they had been going through a dreadful trading period, but I had never heard before that they were finally forced to close when the Second World War started in September 1939 because they were no longer able to keep their kilns burning all night in case they attracted enemy bombers. Having lived through that time myself, I can quite believe that this is true.
Fig 4 – End of the Pulham Dynasty
I included a chart of the Pulham Family Tree in Fig 1.1 of my book, and one can see from this that James 4 had four younger brothers – Herbert, Sydney, Frederick and Ernest. Sydney worked with James 4 as Production Manager in the firm’s Manufactory, and Herbert set up the Hardy Plants Nursery in Elsenham, near Bishops Stortford, while Frederick and Ernest went on to other things.
As you can see from the abbreviated chart here in Fig 4, James 4 and his wife, Kate, only had one daughter – Freda – and Frederick and Mary also had one daughter named Phyllis, and these were the two descendants who eventually oversaw the destruction all the firm’s records. Freda married Walter Goodchild, and they had one son – Michael – but the marriage broke down, and Freda decided to emigrate to Northern Rhodesia – now Zambia – with her baby son. Phyllis married Patrick Moreton, and they had a son called David, and they all emigrated to South America.
I also recounted in my book the story about the email I received out of the blue in 2009 from Karen Chisa, in Zambia, who told me that she was the step-daughter of Michael Goodchild, whose first wife, Freda, died in 1991, and who then married Karen’s mother. Michael was apparently not too well, and had been going through some of his old possessions, which included two silver cups that had been awarded to James Pulham and Son for their work on the rock garden at R H S Wisley in 1913, and at the Chelsea Show in 1931, and she wondered if I might be interested in knowing about this. Well, of course I was!
I wrote back to explain that, if he was prepared to donate them to the Lowewood Museum, I would be happy to organise it for him, and, some weeks later, a shabby old polystyrene box wrapped in brown paper that had barely survived the journey was delivered at my door. It contained the cups, that were duly passed on to Lowewood, and occupied pride of place in the Pulham Exhibitions held there in 2012 and 2017. They are pictured again here in Fig 5.
Fig 5 – Silver Cup Awards to James Pulham and Son – for the Rock Garden at R H S Wisley in 1913, and for the Chelsea Show in1931
In Search of an Album
During the early stages of my research – in January, 2002 – I discovered an item in an archive copy of the now defunct Hoddesdon Journal, published in April 1966. The writer was reporting on a visit he had recently made to the house of Ernest Pulham – the youngest and last-remaining of the five Pulham brothers – and he said what a charming old fellow Mr Pulham was. He told him about the firm’s history and achievements, and showed him an old family photograph album that obviously made a great impression on him. His article is reproduced here in Fig 6, with the paragraph that caught my eye highlighted. It said:
‘A time-worn album of photographs occupies a special nook in the home of Mr and Mrs Pulham, of 2 Stafford Drive, Hoddesdon. The pictures the book contains, as well as depicting one aspect of an era of gracious living in the late 19th and early 20th century, also show in fine detail some of the intricate landscape designs and distinctive rockeries – the work of Ernest’s grandfather, James Pulham Snr.’
Fig 6 – An article in the ‘Hoddesdon Journal’ published in April 1966
I wonder what you would have done if you had been me, and seen a piece like that? If only I could get my hands on that album – what a prize it would be to pass on to Lowewood Museum! . .
I decided to start by getting a copy of Ernest’s Will, and that was easy enough. It is shown here in Fig 7.
Fig 7- Copy of Ernest Pulham’s Will, 1956
This tells us that, in the event of Ernest’s death, all his property would go to his niece, Phyllis Violet Mary Moreton – daughter of Frederick, who we met in Fig 3 – and, in the event of her death, it would then go to her son, David John Moreton. On the assumption that Phyllis must have died by now, my hunt was on for David John Moreton. Could I find him, and, if I did, might he know anything about this photograph album? If he did, would he be prepared to hand it on to the Museum?
I decided to write to all the David John Moretons I could find, and, by the time I had checked all the U.K. telephone directories, I ended up by writing 31 letters! I explained to each one what I was doing, and asked if they might possibly be the David John Moreton I was looking for. I got 20 replies – each of whom wished me well in my quest, but, sadly, they were not the person I was looking for. That was in January, 2002.
I launched my website in 2003, and posted this story in June 2004 – much more in hope than expectation. I anticipated that there was no hope at all that anyone would follow this up, and so it proved – until five years later, on 2nd February, 2009, when, again, completely out of the blue, I received the email reproduced in Fig 8. It reads:
Fig 8 – Five years later . . .
‘Ex post facto, but I am the David John Moreton you seek / sought! Son of Phyllis Violet Mary Moreton, nephew of Ernest and Nellie Pulham of 2, Stafford Drive, Broxbourne . . .In 1966, when Ernest Pulham (known by me as ‘Nunky’) died, I was in South America, and do not recall any book of photos. My father, Patrick Moreton, and my mother (both deceased) sold Stafford Drive in the ‘70s, and moved to Spain. I fear that you will never find what you are seeking.’
So at least I had found David Moreton – or, at least, he had found me – and I have naturally corresponded with him since. It transpired that he and his wife now live in Adelaide, Australia, but that still hadn’t got me any nearer to tracing the album, so I had to once again assume that that was destined to be a lost cause.
Fig 9 – Danesfield House – site of a book-signing in 2012
Rock Landscapes was published in 2012, and, in August of that year, Val and I went for a book-signing session at Danesfield House, in Medmenham, by the Thames – pictured in Fig 9. It was a lovely day, and I met several friends and other interesting people, but you can imagine my surprise when a man came up to introduce himself.
‘Hallo,’ he said, ‘I’m David Moreton, and this is my wife, Clare!’
They are pictured here in Fig 10, and, as they had planned to come over to England for a family holiday, they decided to come along to meet us. What a lovely idea – and Val was able to meet a 4th Cousin she had never met before. . .
Fig 10 – The Real David Moreton, with his wife, Clare
David wasn’t able to bring an album with him, of course, but, when they got home, he sent me a picture of a silver cup that they had had for several years. It was an award from the R.H.S. for work done at the Chelsea Show by James Pulham and Son in 1914 – shown here in Fig 11 – and I got the feeling that perhaps, one day, when the time is right, it might even find its way to join the others at Lowewood Museum.
Fig 11 – R H S Cup, 1914
But even that is not quite the end of this story. Early this year, in February 2017, I received another email right out of the blue – again from someone I had never known before. It read:
My wife is a trustee of Ashdon Village Museum, in North Essex, and, as part of a refurbishment project, they are disposing of some non-Ashdon related material.
One such item is a family Bible from the Pulham family, which I have been asked to try and find a suitable home for. I have looked at several genealogy sites, but none seem to present am obvious contact.
Would you be aware of any family descendants who might appreciate this book? There is an inscription that reads:
‘Michael Angelo Pulham – presented by Mary(?) Reed – on the occasion of his house – (can’t read) – 25 August, 1865.
There is also a page listing some births and burials. I would be pleased to hear from you if you think we can find a taker. And I hope you don’t mind me contacting you.
Signed: John Gant’
It didn’t take me long to write to Mr Gant and confirm that I did indeed know who would like to have it – meaning Val, of course. He responded by sending me a copy of a photograph of a man standing next to a massive stone vase, shown here as Fig 12. It was from a family photograph album that he thought must be at least 100 years old, and he felt sure it was associated with the Bible, but he was unable to prove that because none of the photos were identified in any way. He added:
‘. . . it now looks to be a Pulham family album, so we will pass this on to Val as well – but don’t tell her, we will keep it as a surprise!’
Fig 12 – Could this be Michael Angelo with a King-Size vase?
What a charming thought. But how did this Pulham family Bible and Album end up in Ashdon? It turns out that the Ashdon Museum was given them by someone who spent a lot of time and money buying up stocks of old books at auctions, which indicates that someone must have sold them off as part of a collection of family memorabilia.
Val happened to have a lot of commitments to attend to while all this was going on – including preparations for the Chelsea Show in May – and her efforts to telephone the Gants to arrange a time to collect the Bible always seemed to coincide with times when they were not in. However, the day eventually arrived, and Fig 13 shows the Bible and Album back in their rightful place, with Fig 14 showing the inscription on the front pages of the Bible.
Fig 13 – Michael Angelo’s Family Bible and Photo Album
Fig 14 – Inside Michael Angelo’s Bible
As John Gant had said, the photographs in the album were mostly of unidentified family members, but there were two that were particularly interesting, because they were marked as having been taken in 1901, and were of a family group. As we now know the birthdates of Michael Angelo’s family, we tried to identify who might be who, and our conclusions about the group in Fig 15 were that the couple standing at the back could have been Ada (44) and William (45). The man sitting on the vase at the front could have been Michael Angelo himself (75), with daughters Minnie (37), Clara (41) and Emma (55).
Fig 15 – A Family group in 1901
Fig 16 – Brother and sister?
We think that the couple of the bench in Fig 16 are possibly Clara with her brother, Henry Angelo (57), and the important thing about this is that Clara was Val’s great-grandmother. If this is correct, then it is highly likely that the ‘man standing next to a massive stone vase’ in Fig 11 could also be Michael Angelo himself.
However, the nicest thing of all in this story is that the day that Val arranged to collect her Bible – and remember that she didn’t know about the photo album until she got there – happened to be her birthday! She just couldn’t believe it –
‘I could never have wishes for a nicer birthday present!’ she said.
But one question still remains. From the description given by the reporter in the Hoddesdon Journal in 1966, the photograph album he saw contained pictures
‘. . depicting one aspect of an era of gracious living in the last 19th and early 20th century, also show in fine detail some of the intricate landscape designs and distinctive rockeries – the work of Ernest’s grandfather, James Pulham Snr.’
There were no photographs like that in the album that Val now has, so it looks as if we may still have some searching to do . . .
1905-09 – Dyffryn Update
In my August News Letter, I included an item about the gardens at Dyffryn, South Wales. This was in response to an enquiry I received from David Edmunds, who wanted to know whether or not these were a Pulham creation. Some features – like the sunken rock garden, bowling green and figures etc – did bear a resemblance to those created by the Pulhams, but I had some doubts about other features, some of which might possibly have been by them, and some that were definitely not. One of the factors that tended to influence me was the fact that the gardens were designed by Thomas Mawson, with whom James Pulham had worked at several sites.
This item sparked off a lot of responses. Simon Scott, Managing Director of Haddenstone Ltd, wrote to say that the planter and balustrade along the terrace was likely to be theirs, and Alun Salisbury – who has done so much to preserve the Pulham rockwork at nearby Insole Court – was convinced that there are no Pulhamite rocks at Dyffryn, and he thought that the walls surrounding the sunken garden had been constructed with wooden shuttering and poured concrete, which was not the normal method of construction used by the Pulhams.
However, the most conclusive piece of information came from Pam Herron, who wrote to say that the rockery at Dyffryn was built by her grandfather, Fred Staddon, who worked for F W Meyer (1852-1906), the Veitch Landscape Gardeners based in Exeter. You can find out all about Meyer in Carolyn Keep’s book ‘F W Meyer (1852-1906) – a Landscape Gardener in Devon’.
1898-1929 – Bournemouth Gardens
Pam has also told me some fascinating facts about her grandfather, and, even though they may not all be directly related to James Pulham, are well worthy of inclusion here.
Fred was born in East Budleigh, Devon, in 1877, and worked for a time with his father at nearby Bicton. He went on to become apprenticed to the Veitch Family Nursery, working on rock gardens, and Pam sent me the image, reproduced here in Fig 17, of Fred (with spade) on a site with Mr Meyer, who is standing on the right. She added that Fred was a pallbearer at Mr Meyer’s funeral in 1906, so they must have been very closely associated.
Fig 17 – Fred Staddon (with spade) with F W Meyer on right (Picture provided by Pam Herron)
Fig 18 – The Pavilion Rock Gardens in Bournemouth, landscaped by Fred Staddon in 1928
Following Meyer’s death, Fred worked in several grand houses around the South and Wales – including Dyffryn – and then moved to Christchurch, where he established his own nurseries, and worked on rock gardens in the surrounding area. One of these was in Bournemouth, where, in 1929, he worked on the Pavilion Rock Garden (Fig 18) – possibly under the direction of the Head of Bournemouth Gardens. He also worked on the gardens at nearby Compton Acres, the famous gardens in Poole, pictured in Fig 19.
Fig 19 – The Rock and Water Garden at Compton Acres
The other little nugget of information that I got from Pam was that, in 1898, James Pulham and Son were engaged to work on the improvement of the Upper and Lower Bourne Stream that runs through the centre of the lovely Bournemouth gardens. This brought back many happy memories of my youth, when, during the ‘50s, I often went to Bournemouth on holiday, and wandered through the gardens along the Bourne stream. I also loved to dance the night away in the Pavilion Ballroom, but those days are now sadly long gone. . . I have often wished over recent years that the Pulhams might have had something to do with the landscaping here, but, until now, have never been able to find the proof. Fig 20 shows a section of the Bourne Stream in the Lower Bournemouth Gardens, and I am so grateful to Pam that I am now able to attribute it.
Fig 20 – The Bourne Stream in the Lower Bournemouth Gardens, ‘improved’ by James Pulham and Son in 1898
It has been a pleasure to be able to give several updates on the progress of the Friends of Danesbury Fernery, under the robust leadership of John Roper, in my recent News Letters, and I am delighted to say that they are still hard at work on the restoration of this Pulham gem from the 1850s. The Friends now have a website of their own that contains all their latest news, and is well worth a visit at https://danesburyfernery.org.uk/.
Even though we still have nearly two months to go before Christmas, one only has to walk into any shop now to be reminded of how close that really is. So let’s think about it – if you have not yet read my book ‘Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy’, published by The Garden Press, why not treat yourself to a copy, or get someone else to treat you to one? More than 40 of the Pulhams’ most prestigious creations are fully discussed and beautifully illustrated, with some stunning photographs taken by Professional Gardens Photographer, Jenny Lilly.
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Happy reading, and Very Best Wishes to all my readers.