James Pulham and Son were one of the most well-reputed firms of landscape gardeners of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, it may be more accurate to refer to them as 'landscape artists,' rather than 'landscape gardeners,' because that is the impression one gets when viewing some of their work that still survives today. They used to specialise in the creation of picturesque rock gardens, constructed from both natural and artificial rock, and the greatest possible care was always taken to ensure that it blended, almost blissfully, into its natural surroundings.
Once you know what to look for, it is not difficult to identify a 'Pulham garden,' although you need to know its date of construction before you can identify the individual behind it. This is because there were actually no fewer than four James Pulhams - four generations of Pulhams, with each successive eldest son called James, and each James continuing the business of his father! In order to avoid confusion throughout these Notes, it will therefore be easier if we use the generation suffices of James (1) to James (4) to identify them.
James Pulham (1) - 1788-1838
James (1) was born in Woodbridge, Suffolk, in 1788, and was the eldest of ten children in a very poor family. James and his younger brother Obadiah were apprenticed to John Lockwood, the major builder of the town, and both showed a remarkable talent for stone modelling. In fact, they were so gifted in this respect that James was promoted as a foreman by the time he was thirty.
John Lockwood's nephew, William, joined the firm, and took it over when John retired. He was particularly interested in the current fashion for ornamental stonework, and invented his own 'Portland Stone Cement' to use for this purpose, because he found its natural stone colour to be far preferable to the brown Roman cement that had invariably been used hitherto.
William Lockwood expanded his business to London in 1824, and took James (1) and Obadiah with him to supervise the modelling work. William eventually tired of the travelling backwards and forwards between Woodbridge and London, however, and decided to retire to Woodbridge, leaving the Pulhams in London, where they continued the business on their own.
The one big project for which James (1) and Obadiah are known was the building of a large Norman-style folly at Benington Lordship, near Stevenage in Hertfordshire, for which the designer was probably Thomas Smith, an eminent architect and the County Surveyor of both Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.
James Pulham (2) - 1820-1898
James (1) died suddenly in 1838, not long after the completion of his work at Benington Lordship, and James (2) - who was only eighteen years old at the time - took over the business, working for some years with his uncle, Obadiah. He moved up to Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire, in 1842, where they had a number of influential contacts.
One of these was John Warner, for whom James (2) landscaped a large garden in the grounds of his house, 'Woodlands.' The major features of these gardens were the lakes, cascades and fountains amid clusters of both natural and artificial rocks. They created the artificial 'rocks' by building the rough shapes from rubble and old bricks etc, and then coating them with cement - their craftsmanship being in the way in which they were able to simulate the surface of natural rock with this cement covering.
Their next 'garden assignment' was for William Baker, at Bayfordbury, near Hertford, where they built a rock garden, and later returned to build a grotto and further rockwork in the pinetum on the estate. William Baker's brother-in-law, Thomas Gambier Parry, owned Highnam Court, near Gloucester, and contracted James (2) to create a spectacular rock garden in the grounds of his house. The gardens at 'Woodlands' in Hoddesdon have since been completely 'redeveloped,' as has also the original rock garden at Bayfordbury. Hardly anything remains of the Bayfordbury grotto either, although the gardens at Highnam Court still exist in remarkably good condition, which means that these are effectively the earliest surviving example of a Pulham garden today.
One gets the impression that Obadiah Pulham was not particularly interested in his nephew's diversion into landscape gardening, because he went off to Europe to act as Clerk of Works on a number of church-building projects for Thomas Smith, but, in the meantime, James (2) moved a mile or two south from Hoddesdon to Broxbourne, where he built a new house for himself, and a 'manufactory' in which he produced a wide range of garden ornaments - vases, fountains, balustrading etc - from his own 'Pulhamite' cement and terracotta. These became extremely well known and sought after, and he won a number of medals for his work at the 1851, 1861 and 1862 Exhibitions in London and Paris.
James Pulham (3) - 1845-1920
James (2) took his son, James (3) into the business in 1865, and from that point the firm became known as James Pulham and Son. They continued with their manufactory, and their list of clients for whom they created picturesque rock gardens, ferneries, grottoes, follies etc expanded steadily, taking in many of the most notable country estates and parks around the country, including Battersea Park, Audley End, Sandringham Royal Estate, Waddesdon Manor, the Swiss Garden, Old Warden, St Stephen's Green in Dublin, Madresfield Court and Bawdsey Manor, near Woodbridge.
They produced a comprehensive promotional booklet entitled 'Picturesque Ferneries and Rock Garden Scenery' c.1877, in which they extolled the natural beauty of their creations, gave a list of their 'satisfied clients,' and appended a list of fernery and alpine plants that they recommended for use in these environments. They opened a London office in Marylebone Road during the 1880's - probably around 1883 - and later moved to Finsbury Square.
James (2) moved to live in Tottenham at about that time, leaving James (3) to take over the house and manufactory in Station Road, Broxbourne, so this indicates that, from that point on, James (2) concentrated on the marketing aspects of the business, and left his son to concentrate on production. It was also about this time that they decided to abandon their building and restoration work in order to focus their efforts on landscape gardening.
This was their most prolific period, and one of their most spectacular projects was the recently re-discovered 'Hidden Gardens of Dewstow,' near Newport in South Wales. This featured streams, cascades and lakes, a gazebo, and a wonderful series of sunken caves, grottoes, tunnels and ferneries.
Henry Oakley bought Dewstow on 1893, and apparently wanted his gardens to be 'something different.' He was also somewhat of a recluse, because it doesn't appear that he told anyone about them! After his death in 1940, the estate went through several hands, and one owner buried all the rockwork under topsoil so that he could graze his cows over the land.
Due to the fact that the rockwork was constructed after the publication of Pulham's booklet c.1877, no records survived of the gardens, although it can be assumed that they date from around 1895. Remarkably, they were only rediscovered in 2000 when W E Harris and Son bought the land and house for incorporation into Dewstow Golf Club. They are now undertaking a massive restoration project that will hopefully reveal all. Thankfully, most of the features are in remarkably good condition, and this will certainly become one of the brightest jewels in the crown of our Pulham heritage.
James (2) continued to work until within a week of his death in August, 1898, which then left James (3) in charge of the business. His son, James Robert (4) was twenty-five at this time, so there seems little doubt that this would have been the point at which he was taken into the firm as the new Junior Partner in the 'updated' James Pulham and Son.
James (3) decided to keep a London office, although its location was changed again in 1902, when they moved to 71 Newman Street, off Oxford Street. It is not known for sure how this was run, or how the responsibilities were split during this period, although it is probable that James (3) decided to follow his father's example, and move to London to take over the marketing reins, leaving the manufacturing aspects to his son in Broxbourne. In any event, the firm continued to prosper for a further twenty years, adding such names as the Gardens at Buckingham Palace, the RHS Gardens at Wisley, Merrow Grange, Bracken Hill and Rayne Thatch in Bristol, and the seafronts at Blackpool, Lytham St Anne's, Ramsgate and Folkestone to their list.
James Pulham (4) - 1873-1957
The Great War of 1914-18 and the subsequent depression virtually put an end to this sort of work, as the money and the men required to undertake the garden maintenance work were no longer readily available. James (3) retired, and died in 1920, and the fortunes of the firm declined steadily after that until they eventually went out of business during the World War of 1939-45. James (4) died in 1957, and the family house and manufactory were demolished in 1967 to make way for a new station car park and flats.
Sadly, no records of the firm survived, and it is thought that these must have either been lost or destroyed. However, Claude Hitching, a descendent of five of the Pulham 'rock builders,' is currently doing his best to piece together as many pieces of the Pulham jigsaw as he can, in the hope of eventually producing a book about their lives and work. It is a fascinating project, and he would be delighted to hear from anyone with any information that may be relevant or of interest. He can be contacted at:
11 Asquith House,
Welwyn Garden City,
Tel: +44(0) 1707 323391, or e-mail: email@example.com