1866 – Bedwell Park, Essendon, Hertfordshire
Bedwell Park was the home of Robert Hanbury, son of Robert Hanbury Snr, who was a Senior Partner in the firm of Truman, Hanbury and Buxton, one the leading brewing firms in London. Robert Snr lived at Poles Park – a few miles away near Ware – where James Pulham and Son had worked in 1865. Shortly before his early death (at the age of 44) in 1867, Robert Jnr commissioned James 2 to construct a:
‘Fernery, and cliffs to hide walled garden; Root House for ferns and shrubs . .’
. . at Bedwell Park – possibly after seeing what the firm had done for his father at Poles Park. There was a Walled Garden at Bedwell Park, only about 80 yards away, and in direct line of sight from the house, and the idea was to screen the tall, blank wall from view – in much the same way as the rockwork in Battersea Park was built to screen the view of Clapham Junction railway station, discussed in Chapter 6 of the book.
Fig 3 – Entrance to a tunnel leading to the fernery at Bedwell Park
The wall is about 15-18ft high, and, when I visited in 2002, was still in very good condition, and reasonably maintained. Fig 1 is a picture of the blank wall, taken from inside the garden, and Fig 2 shows the outside – which is about 50 yards long, and visible from the house. It is covered with Pulhams’ rockwork ‘cliffs’, which extend a short way round the corners at each end, and there are planting pockets all along it.
Fig 4 – Small grotto, or dropping well, at end of wall
Fig 5 – A ‘Pulham Face’ to fend off evil spirits
There is the entrance to a small tunnel about half way along the wall – shown in Fig 3 – and this turns out to be the entrance to what must have been the fernery or ‘root house’ mentioned in Pulham’s notes. It is quite small, quite out of sight, and used to have a glass roof, but that no longer exists. There is also a small grotto, or dropping well, at the left end of the wall, and this is shown in Fig 4.
Walking back to the house from the ‘cliff,’ I noticed a typical ‘Pulham face’ on the wall of the house, between the two windows, shown in Fig 5. Pulhams often modelled faces to adorn the outside of doors or windows, and this is believed to hark back to the superstition that they helped to keep the evil spirits at bay.
Looking in through the windows, to what was then the dining room of the London Hatfield Golf Club – soon to be sold for redevelopment – I then saw a freshly painted plaster ceiling, shown here in Fig 6. The Pulham craftsmen used to be expert plasterers, and elaborately ornate plaster ceilings can be found at many places where the firm are known to have worked on landscaping projects, so – although I have so far found no documentary evidence to substantiate such a claim – I like to think that these may be further examples of their work.