A Rocky History – The Pulham Legacy

This year sees an exciting project taking place at Lowewood Museum, showcasing the history of the Pulhams of Broxbourne, a company that really put the town on the map. James Pulham & Son set up a manufactory in Broxbourne in 1845 making terracotta and cast stone garden ornaments. From this base the firm expanded into landscape design, creating beautiful artificial landscapes containing rockeries, grottos and water features. The Pulhams are known to have produced work for at least 170 sites around the UK, from public parks and gardens to large private gardens, including Sandringham and Buckingham Palace.

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Pulham advert from Country Life Illustrated 1900

 

The company was run by four generations of James Pulham. The first James (James 1) was originally apprenticed with his brother, Obadiah, in c.1810 to a master builder in Woodbridge, William Lockwood, where they learnt the skill of stone modelling. The brothers turned out to be highly skilled modellers, and when Lockwood established a London branch, James 1 became the London manager. Following Lockwood’s death, the firm began to trade under the Pulham name. On James 1’s death in 1838 his son James 2 inherited the firm aged just 18 and moved to Amwell Street in Hoddesdon.  He was commissioned to produce his first rock garden for Woodlands, and the landscaping side of the business was born. James 2 saw a gap in the market and moved to larger premises on Station Road near Broxbourne station, where he could make an extensive range of ornaments and artificial rocks. He developed his own form of artificial rock known as ‘Pulhamite’ – a rubble core covered over with cement that was painted to look like real rock.

 

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Pulham Rock Garden at Woodlands, Hoddesdon

James 2 exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and the International Exhibition of 1862. In 1865 his son James 3 joined the family business which became known as Pulham & Son. The company received two royal warrants, the first in 1895 for work at Sandringham for HRH The Prince of Wales, the second for work at Buckingham Palace in 1903. They also produced gardens for Chelsea Flower shows during the early 1900s.

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King George V and Queen Mary visiting James Pulham 4 and the Pulham garden at the 1931 Chelsea Flower Show

 

The years after the First World War saw a gradual decline in work from large estates and a rise in commissions from local councils looking to ‘beautify’ their parks and seaside resorts. Finally, in 1939 the firm closed at the eve of the Second World War. Pulham house and most of the manufactory site were demolished in 1967 as new flats and a larger car park were built near the station. Today just one brick kiln and the puddling mill remains.

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The Puddling Mill next to Broxbourne station car park

 

The Pulham project is celebrating this important history and is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is a joint project between Broxbourne Borough Council’s Lowewood Museum and B3Living. Here at the Museum our Project Exhibitions Officer is developing a touring exhibition showcasing the company’s history, which will be on display from 14 January – 29 April 2017, as well as an events program and online Pulham resources. Keep an eye out on the blog and the website www.broxbourne.gov.uk/lowewood-museum for more information. Our first event is a free stone carving taster workshop on Saturday 20 August.

Stone carving taster session

During 2016 the remaining manufactory buildings will be conserved, and with the help of volunteers B3 Living will also be rejuvenating the surrounding gardens.

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Stephen Warner Diaries, Volume II, July 1916

3Sunday 2 July
“last night a convoy of 79. Today another convoy of 302!! So all of a sudden we are up to the eyes in it! 5700 casualties, so they say. The result was their having operated in the morning, we started again at 8.30pm with eight cases, getting into bed at 3.00am.”
Saturday 8 July
“a most painful thing has happened both yesterday and today namely that a patient died in the theatre apparently in each case from heart failure – once is unpleasant enough but the same occurrence the following day is too much.”
Tuesday 11 July 11
“bad news from England today about father – it irks so that one cannot get away home at once to him and at my application for short leave has been refused by the commandant point blank.”
Friday 14 July
“tonight I shall have been a year in the army! How much longer is this nightmare going on? News from the front is good on the whole and we are certainly pushing them back to a certain extent – but at a great cost.”