The Original Concrete, Pulhamite – Blog #6 by Edmund King

Posted on February 6th, 2013 by Amy

Pulhamite

A review was recently printed in the Alpine Gardener of September 2012 of the book:  Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy by Claude Hitching and Jenny Lilly.

This prompted reminiscences on the part of myself and my wife (a keen gardener), as we had seen in 1999 the magnificent Pulhamite garden at Waddesdon manor, which had been restored. As the Waddesdon website says: “The garden was designed to surprise and delight the Baron’s guests at every turn. In his day, a garden tour would include the Aviary, the ornamental Dairy, the huge glasshouses, romantic Pulham grottoes and a menagerie of deer, goats and llamas.” http://www.waddesdon.org.uk/gardens/garden-history

“Located at the Dairy, the Water Garden is designed as a series of small lakes interconnected by Pulham rock arches, waterfalls, cascades, bridges and paths. Today, the structure of the garden remains the same and much of the original planting still survives.” http://www.waddesdon.org.uk/gardens/explore-the-gardens/water_garden

As the Wiki website says: “Pulhamite was a patented anthropic rock ‘material’ invented by James Pulham (1820-98) of the firm James Pulham and Son of Broxbourne. Pulhamite, which usually looked like gritty sandstone, was used to join natural rocks together or crafted to simulate natural stone features. The recipe went to the grave with him.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulhamite

There are many contemporary citations of the activities of the Pulham family in the nineteenth century, and the British Newspaper Archive contains many descriptions.

In the Nottinghamshire Guardian – Friday 21 July 1876 (p.10. col.4), there is a description of recent work by Pulham in Clifton Hall Gardens: “Facing the fountain in the centre of the house [i.e. the recently erected conservatory, which was …feet long  ] there is a recess in the back wall. This is beautifully arranged in a natural-like style of rockwork by Messrs.  Pulham and Son, Broxborne, Herts. In the cavities of this rockery there are many hardy Ferns growing luxuriantly…”

Nottinghamshire Guardian - Friday 21 July 1876

Nottinghamshire Guardian – Friday 21 July 1876

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000176/18760721/053/0010

By the late 1870s, the work of Pulham must have been sufficiently widespread for the word to be used without particular emphasis. In the Nottinghamshire Guardian – Friday 15 August 1879 (p.10 col 3-4), an article reprinted from the Gardener, discussed ‘Making and planting rockwork’ states: “ Between Pulham on the one hand , and the coke rockery on the other, there is room for many varieties of the art and mystery of rock making. When a rockery is to be made, two primary objects should be kept in view. The first is, that the fabric to be constructed shall be pleasing to the eye, and harmonise with its surroundings, – that it should not look toy-like , too artificial or incongruous, but be an agreeable feature in the garden; and the second is, that it be so constructed that it shall be suitable for the growth of the plants to be cultivated on it.”

Nottinghamshire Guardian - Friday 15 August 1879

Nottinghamshire Guardian – Friday 15 August 1879

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000176/18790815/070/0010

Smaller properties also had work carried out by Pulham. For the sale of the property of Mapperley Road and Chesnut Grove, Nottingham, the house was connected to “… an extensive range of glass houses, including conservatory, 44 feet by 21 feet 6 inches; winery plant-house and forcing house…; tufa built rockeries by Pulham of Broxborne, 135 feet by in part 16 feet, and in other part 32 feet. “ (Nottinghamshire Guardian - Saturday 26 May 1894 p.1 col. 5.)

Nottinghamshire Guardian - Saturday 26 May 1894

Nottinghamshire Guardian - Saturday 26 May 1894

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000176/18940526/002/0001

In a description of Earl Beauchamp’s gardens at Madresfield Court, praise is forthcoming from the writer: “Conifers are very abundant here, especially in the rockery, which is one of Pulham’s best productions. This is well furnished, and the garishness so characteristic of new rockwork has entirely disappeared. The entire construction now looks quite natural.” Worcestershire Chronicle – Saturday 04 February 1899 (p.3. col.6.)

Worcestershire Chronicle - Saturday 04 February 1899

Worcestershire Chronicle – Saturday 04 February 1899

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000350/18990204/053/0003

In ‘The new river gardens at Belper’, developed as a public recreation, “… a beautiful  garden has been evolved out of chaos, …consisting of broad promenade walks, large shrubberies, planted with the choicest of shrubs, glowing beds of flowers, arches for climbing ~Roses, artificial rockeries built by Pulham’s the renowned rock builders, a Swiss tea house with its shady verandahs, all the walks edged with rockery stones… “Derby Daily Telegraph – Thursday 08 November 1906 (p.4. col. 7.)

Derby Daily Telegraph - Thursday 08 November 1906

Derby Daily Telegraph – Thursday 08 November 1906

Image © Northcliffe Media Limited. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000327/19061108/082/0004

The First World War probably diminished amount commissions available to the Pulham business. However, we find reference to the company in 1933. In ‘Horticultural exhibitions in Essex’, held at Silver Leys, the first trade award was made to “Messrs. Pulham and Son for rockery”.  (Chelmsford Chronicle – Friday 11 August 1933 p.2. col. 4.

Chelmsford Chronicle - Friday 11 August 1933

Chelmsford Chronicle – Friday 11 August 1933

Image © Northcliffe Media Limited. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000516/19330811/014/0002

The development of gardens and gardening advanced tremendously in the 19th century. Those who sought  the ‘natural look’ when building or developing their properties at this time frequently turned to the Pulham business to supply rockery, and their works became part of the overall effect that owners wanted.

Ed King

February 2013

Further reading

The Pulham Legacy. Rock Gardens, Ferneries, Follies, Grottoes and Fountains. http://pulham.org.uk/tag/pulhamite/

Durability Guaranteed – Pulhamite Rockwork – its conservation and repair. English Heritage. 2008. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/durability-guaranteed-pulhamite-rockwork/?utm_source=nav.18750&utm_medium=redirect&utm_campaign=redirect

Want to find out more? Discover your own stories by searching The British Newspaper Archive now . . . !

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 6th, 2013 at 1:22 pm and is filed under News from the past. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

  • http://www.pulham.org.uk Claude Hitching

    I sadly switched the radio off just before John McCarthy’s item was broadcast, and have not yet been able to get it back via iPlayer. However, many thanks for the mention of my book, Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy, and any of your readers wishing to learn more about this remarkable firm would be welcome to visit my website at http://www.pulham.org.uk. They can also get a direct link to the Amazon product page via http://pulham.org.uk/buy-rock-landscapes-the-pulham-legacy-by-claude-hitching/.

    If they care to contact me at claude@hitching.net, I shall be happy to include them on the circulation list for my Newsletter, the June edition of which will soon be available. It contains details of a newly rediscovered Pulham garden that has been restored to its original glory, and of a Presentation that Val Christman – a direct descendant of the Pulhams – and I will be doing at Dewstow on Saturday 28th September. I hope this is of interest, and remain, with best wishes,
    Sincerely,
    Claude Hitching

    • BNA

      Hi Claude,
      I’m delighted that you found this article.
      Think this is the first time that one of our references has got in touch with us!
      Best regards,
      Grant.