Welcome to my first News Letter of 2018, and I hope you had a happy time over the Christmas break. We had a quiet but enjoyable time, but, as I think you will agree by the time you get to the end of this Letter, quite a lot has been happening at Pulham H Q since then.
One incident was totally unexpected, and gave me especial pleasure and gratification. It was a letter from the Gardens Trust that arrived amid a bundle of Christmas cards, and informed me that, in recognition of the work I have done in researching and publishing the story of the lives and work of James Pulham and Son, I have been awarded an Honorary Life Membership of the Trust. I could hardly believe it, and I am extremely proud to be the recipient of such a coveted award. Thank you, Gardens Trust, and I hope my readers will forgive me if I put my modesty to one side for a moment, and reproduce the letter here – in Fig 1 – for all to see.
Fig 1 – Copy of one of my best Christmas presents for 2017
Welcome to ‘pulham.rocks’ . . .
Times are changing, or – as I am being reminded more and more these days – ‘the world is moving on’. The days when website addresses had to end with ‘.co.uk’, ‘.com’ or ‘.org.uk’ are apparently over, and we now have a much wider and more imaginative choice of suffixes from which to choose. I had never thought much about this before, but, when someone suggested to me that I could now use ‘.rocks’ as a suffix, the bells began to ring.
So that’s why I have decided to change the name of my website to ‘pulham.rocks’. I just thought this had rather more ‘zing’ to it, and I hope you will agree. And that’s all you need – you can type in ‘www.pulham.rocks’ if you want to, but the ‘www’ prefix is no longer necessary – or you can continue to use the old ‘www.pulham.org.uk’ for some time yet. They will all take you straight through to the Home page of ‘pulham.rocks’, and, amazingly, it already seems to be attracting more traffic to the site, so who’s complaining? Why not check it out for yourself?
Coming Soon – ‘The Pulhams of Broxbourne’ DVD
As my readers will know, the presentation of ‘The Pulhams of Broxbourne’ that Valerie Christman and I did for the Worth Park Friends in September 2017 had to be my last one – Val will continue to do them under another name at some time in the not-too-distant future, but more about that later.
If I have had any regrets during my research into the lives and work of James Pulham and Son over the last few years, it has been my inability to talk more to my grandfather, Fred Hitching, about the work that he and his fellow rock builders did for the firm. It was a prime example of ‘. . if only I could have asked them that while they were alive . .’ – a regret that a lot of us will have had about someone or something at some time or another. I consequently thought that I would like to take this final opportunity to leave something that my grandchildren could see in years to come – something that would help them learn about part of their family history, and the things that their dear old grandad got up to when he was a very old man.
I was lucky, because John Devine, one of the Worth Park Friends, happens to be a video buff, and offered to film the presentation for us. I am delighted to say that – apart from one small glitch in the middle that we have been able to sort out – it came out well, and we are currently putting the final editing touches to a version that may well be of interest among our wider circle of Pulham enthusiasts. For instance, we received several requests to present our story from places around the country that we were unable to fulfil because of the sheer expense of getting there, so this could be one way of spreading the message.
We have overlaid images of our slides in order to optimise their readability, and incorporated a menu system that enables the viewer to either play the complete session from the start, or go directly to any of the five sections into which our story is divided, namely:
- Background – A brief history of the firm, and how I got involved in its research
- Portfolio – Examples of the many types of work for which they became renowned
- Reminiscences – Reflections on some of the incidents that occurred during my research
- Practicalities – How the Pulhams created some of their wonderful artificial rock landscapes
- Footnotes – Some things that have happened since the publication of ‘Rock Lamdscapes’
Everything has its cost, however, and this is no exception. If we publish this DVD for circulation, it will have to be a limited edition, and we would need to know in advance roughly how many copies to produce. My current estimate of the costs is that each copy may have to be in the region of £12 plus P & P – say about £15 for U K, or £18 overseas inclusive, so, if you would like to reserve a copy, it would be very helpful indeed if you could complete and return the reply form – no payment required at this stage – so that I can get back to you with a final price as soon as our final editing is complete.
In my News Letter of July 2916, I included a section headed ‘Discovery, Recognition and Restoration’, in which I passed on notes that I had received from people associated with Pulham sites that had recently been discovered, brought into public awareness and/or restored. One of these was St Albans Court, in Nonington, Kent, a country mansion built by George Devey for William Oxendon Hammond in 1875-88.
William Hammond was included in James 2’s list of ‘satisfied clients’ published in his promotional booklet ‘Picturesque Ferneries and Rock Garden Scenery’ c1877, although no date was shown for it. The entry says: . .
‘Rocks arranged for Alpine Plants’,
. . but that was all I knew until I received an email from Peter Hobbs, the present owner, who has done his own extensive research into the history of his house. It is a very interesting article, and too long to include here, so I have reproduced it (with his permission) in the Gazetteer section of the website, and you can find it by clicking on the link from this sub-title. It even includes a plan of the ‘Rediscovered Pulham Garden’ so I strongly commend it, and hope you enjoy it.
In my August ’17 News Letter, I passed on the news that the lovely gardens at Leonardslee had recently been purchased by the Mannings Heath Golf Club and Vinery, who plan to restore them and re-open them to the public. This was great news indeed, because these gardens were a prime ‘Chocolate Box’ example of the Pulhams’ work, and it was a great loss when they were purchased by a mystery buyer in 2010, and the public were no longer allowed to visit.
Fig 2 – The Rock Garden at Leonardslee
Eight years on, they have inevitably become neglected and overgrown, but the new owners have engaged Lee Meredith Gardens to bring them back to life in time for their official re-opening in March 2018. Make a note in your diary to visit them sometime this year – you won’t be disappointed!
1904 – Thornby Hall, Thornby, Northants
News of another rediscovered Pulham Garden! I had an email from Will Woodhouse, of Woodhouse Landscape Ltd – builders of natural swimming pools – who told me:
‘I have brought to light the extensive but totally overgrown and hidden Pulhamite cascade and rockeries around the ponds and lake at Thornby Hall. There is an unrestored hidden gem that has been left neglected here for many years in reasonably good condition, but threatened by overgrown trees and vegetation. I am a landscape architect with basic knowledge of this type of garden as I did a dissertation on picturesque rockwork 30 years ago. I just happened to be on a working visit as a volunteer for the new owners, and noticed their significance.
‘The owners wish to restore it and the gardens to attract visitors. The hall will be open to the public as a modern Buddhist – Nagarjuna Kadampa – meditation centre and world peace café, as well as its gardens which have not been accessible before. We would be keen to get the water cascades going again and filter it biologically and with plants for swimming. I am helping the Kadampa Buddhists move first, then will help them with the funding applications and restoration.’
In order to support his funding applications, Will wondered if I might be able to confirm that this was indeed a genuine Pulham garden, and we were lucky. There was a brief reference to a . .
‘Rock and Water Garden, Lake, Terrace Balustrade’
. . In the English Heritage database, and there is also a ‘Thornby Seat‘ listed in the firm’s Garden Ornament Catalogue. The work was done for a Richard Bennett Esq, but the note goes on to say that:
‘Thornby Hall is now a special school for young children, and none of the features remain.’
But that was before Will Woodhouse checked it out. . . I then found another very interesting piece of information. Readers of Rock Landscapes will recall a reference of the Fred Rockett Diaries – Fred Rickett being a Pulham rock builder – like my grandfather – who kept a detailed diary of all the landscaping jobs he did for the firm since he started work with them in 1898 at Friar Park when he was only 13 years old. It included an entry to show that, between January and April 1904, he was building a . .
‘Rock garden, stream and waterfalls’
. . at Thornby Hall, so I was able to confirm not only that Will had discovered a genuine Pulham garden, but we know who built it and when. Job done! . .
1903-22 – Lever Park, Rivington, Lancashire
In my News Letter of June ’17, I included a note about the forthcoming restoration project at Lever Park, Rivington, where James 3 created the spectacular cascades in the Grand Ravine according to the designs of Thomas Mawson, and later came back to create the Japanese Garden. John Harris Consulting were appointed consultants on all aspects of the restoration of the Pulhams’ work, and I quoted an email in which John described the progress that had been made up to March of last year. He wrote again in December and January to say that he had almost completed his ‘Stage 1 Report’, and was currently writing an artistic guide on the work of the Pulhams that he hopes may prove beneficial to the potential conservers of Pulham rock scenery.
Wonderful work, John – I can’t wait to see it. . .
Now here is something a little different. Another of my correspondents was Janet Rogers, from Australia, who writes the ‘RV Living’ blog – ‘R V’ being short for ‘Recreational Vehicle’ – aimed at people who have decided to take up life on the road in a mobile caravan etc. This is something that is particularly popular in America, and Janet has recently produced a blog on ‘100 Things to do in England’. It unsurprisingly puts Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London in the top spots, but Janet happened to have found my website, and was so impressed with it that she wondered if I had any suggestions. I could have made several, but drew her attention particularly to the spectacular Pulham gardens at Dewstow. I’m sure that most of my readers will have seen them by now, but this is a place that deserves to be on everybody’s list of ‘100 Top Places to Visit in the UK’, so, if you haven’t seen them already, please go there and have one of the most amazing days of your life. Other places that I would include in an ‘R V’ list would be Ramsgate, Folkestone and Dunorlan Park, Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, and Waddesdon Manor.
Janet also sent me a link to a page about Pulhamite in the British Newspaper Archive, which I’m sure you will find of interest.
1841 – The Rectory, Wallington, Hertfordshire
Finally, I also received an email from James Bettley, an Architectural Historian who wrote to ask if I knew anything about the old Rectory – now Wallington Chase – at Wallington, in Hertfordshire. I didn’t, but, whilst searching the Lincolnshire Archives, James had discovered that the building was designed and built by Thomas Smith in 1839-41, and that James Pulham was employed to do the external and internal ornamental plaster work.
This was a particularly fascinating piece of information for me, because it probably provides the key to how my own family first became involved with the firm of James Pulham and Son. But first things first – there is no record of this work in the Pulham database because that is generally restricted to the landscaping projects, and James 2 did not start these until c1842. It is well documented that James 1 worked with his brother, Obadiah – who became Clerk of Works for Thomas Smith – on building the massive Norman folly at Benington Lordship between 1835-38, but James 1 sadly died soon afterwards near his home in Tottenham, and his business was inherited by his son, James 2, who was only 18 years of age at the time.
We also know that Smith often commissioned James 2 to undertake building and ornamental plaster work on the churches he designed and built around Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, and it was because of this that James 2 moved from Tottenham to Hoddesdon c1841 in order to be closer to Hertford, where Smith’s home and business were based. When Smith got the contract to design and build the Rectory at Wallington, it is therefore quite logical that he should have invited James 2 to do the ornamental plasterwork for him.
The building is in the Tudor Gothic style much favoured by Smith – complete with external hood-moulds and head-stops etc – and James Bettley tells me that James 2 created all these external Portland stone cement dressings and mouldings, as well as the internal plasterwork in the hall, staircase and bedrooms etc. Ordinarily, he might have assigned his Clerk of Works, Obadiah Pulham, to the job, but he was working at Thunder Hall, in Ware, at the time, so my guess is that he persuaded Thomas Smith to give the work to his nephew, James 2, and let him demonstrate what he could do.
James Bettley tells me the records show that James 2 submitted four invoices totalling £150 for this work, and they were dated between October 1840 and October 1841, so It was obviously quite a long job. The 1841 Census – taken in June 1841 – shows that James 2 and his family were still living in Tottenham at the time, and, as one has to assume that he could not have commuted between Tottenham and Wallington – 33 miles each way – every day, one can also assume that, working so far from home, a young man of 19 to 21 would need to find lodgings in or close to Wallington while he was working there.
This could well explain why he decided to move up to Hoddesdon later in 1841 so that he could be much closer to Thomas Smith’s base, but it could also be of considerable significance to me. Readers of my book may recall that, during the late 18th to 19th Centuries, the Hitching family were based in the charming village of Great Bardfield, in Essex. My great-grandfather, William Hitching, was born there in 1840, and moved to live with his aunt in Wallington – also 33 miles away, but in a different direction from Tottenham – in 1861. He married Ann Newling in 1864, and moved down to Hoddesdon in 1865 to work for James 2 when he expanded his business in Broxbourne to form the firm of James Pulham and Son. William’s younger brother, George Hitching, went with him.
I had always assumed that William moved to join James 2 because he saw an advertisement for workers in the local press, but this additional piece of information may possibly throw a different light on things. Could it be, for example, that, when James 2 came to Wallington to work at the Rectory, he might have lodged with William and George’s aunt, or maybe another relative of the Hitching family?
Might James 2 have stayed in touch with his landlady, who then recommended her nephews (or grand-nephews), William and George, as potential candidates for two of the new jobs in Broxbourne some 25 years later? Or could it be that John Hitching – their father, and a carpenter by trade – came over to Wallington to also work for Thomas Smith at The Rectory alongside James 2? If he did, he is likely to have stayed with his sister or cousin while he was there, which leads to the possibility that they may even have been living in the same house while the work was going on. If they were, it would hardly be surprising if that had led to a friendship spanning the next 25 years and beyond.
The answer to these questions may not be of any general significance, but, if I happen to be right, then that one job in Wallington could ultimately have been responsible for my great-grandfather, William, moving to Hoddesdon – a mile or so from Broxbourne – to work for James Pulham and Son in 1865. If he hadn’t done that, I would not have got involved with my research into this firm some 150 years later, and I would not be sitting here now writing this Letter. And that’s why this was a particularly fascinating piece of information for me. . .
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Happy reading, and Very Best Wishes to all my readers.