1909 – Ardross Castle, Alness, Ross-shire

SM 07 – Dec 11

James Pulham and Son did not create very many gardens in Scotland, but one in which they were involved was right up in the north-east – at Ardross Castle, in Alness, Ross-shire.   At the beginning of the 20th century, Ardross Castle was the summer retreat of Charles Dyson Perrins, Director of the family firm of Lee and Perrins, makers of the famous Worcestershire Sauce.   Perrins’ main home was in Malvern, Worcestershire, where he engaged James 3 to landscape his gardens c1901-05 – see ‘Site of the Month’ #28 for September 2013 – with one of its most striking features being a Pulhamite-lined tunnel – complete with a liberal scattering of ‘stalactites’ – that ran beneath a road that separated two parts of the garden.   The family spent several months each year at Ardross, with house parties enjoying the grouse moors, fishing and deer forests.


 Fig 1  –  Curved staircase leading down from forecourt to terraced landing at Ardross Castle   (Photo by Ros Jemmett)

He took a keen interest in his gardens, and, in 1909, engaged Edward White – son-in-law of Henry Ernest Milner – to design a formal garden and terrace for the east front of the Castle.   It was in the Italianate style, with an impressive curved double staircase leading from the balustraded forecourt to a stone-flagged terrace-landing, which was decorated with a niche and half-wellhead set into the retaining wall of the forecourt, as shown in Fig 1.

The second, broad terrace – reached from the top terrace by a single stone flight of steps ornamented with urns – is symmetrically set with two sunken square beds decorated with marble wellheads and benches.   As can be seen in Fig 2, a central stairway – flanked by a pair of sculptured lead stags mounted on stone encasements – leads down from here to the lower, central rectangular compartment that is set to lawn, and lined with cypress trees within a cypress hedge.   Rectangular formal beds flank the central path, and, at the far (eastern) end, the path leads through a low wall to a square compartment set with a circular ornamental pool and sculpture.


 Fig 2  –  The Formal East Garden at Ardross Castle c1920   (Picture provided by Ros Jemmett)

 Pulhams worked with Edward White on a number of assignments, and these gardens are a very good illustration of the way the firm had expanded their portfolio of expertise to keep up with the evolving garden styles of the Edwardian years.   The fact that they were involved here is substantiated on the Historic Gardens of Scotland website, which records that:

‘. . Following the Milners’ tradition, White worked with the company Pulham and Son, who supplied rockwork and artificial stone features for Ardross. . . ’ [i]

It goes on to say that the design of the wrought ironwork and statuary was done by the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts, which indicates that, although Pulhams manufactured, supplied and installed the stonework, it was probably not to their own design.   This balustrading pattern does not appear in their Garden Ornament Catalogue published c1925, but is nevertheless very much in their general style.

Three wrought iron gates lead out from the far compartment to a series of informal walks and glades enclosed by shrubberies and ornamental planting.   The central gateway leads to a flight of steps and through a water garden laid out with natural rock and Pulhamite stone along a natural watercourse.   This led in turn to an informal pool and rocky cascade – features that no longer survive.


Fig 3  –  Bridge across source pond to stream at Ardross Castle   (Photo by Ros Jemmett)

 The second gate, to the south of the far compartment, leads out to an azalea walk, and the third heads north, across an elaborate masonry bridge – pictured in Fig 3 – which crosses the source pond.   It can be seen from this picture that the elegant and intricate balustrading of this bridge matches that of the forecourt and staircases near the Castle.

The Ardross estate was broken up and sold in 1937.   The next owners lived there until 1983, when the estate was purchased by the McTaggart family, who have since been extremely active in bringing the Formal Garden, Walled Garden, shrubberies and lawns back into good management.   It is another excellent example of what can be achieved by the efforts of people who are prepared to invest time, hard work and money in the restoration of their ‘Pulham Legacies’, and of how rewarding and worthwhile this work has proved.

Footnote and Correction – December ‘16

Since writing the above article in my ‘Site of the Month’ article in December 2011, in which I attributed practically all the landscaping and ornamental stonework to James Pulham and Son, I have now discovered that some of the details are not quite true.   Some further information has now come my way that makes some of the above notes redundant.   I recently received a note from Garden Historian Christopher Dingwall, who visited Ardross Castle during the summer of 2016 and discovered some inscriptions in parts of the balustrading along the top terrace surrounding the house.   They were clearly embossed with the name of ‘J M Blashfield’, a firm who manufactured terracotta garden ornaments, just like those made by James Pulham and Son.

According to Wikipedia, John Marriott Blashfield (1811-1882) started his business in London during the 1840s, but moved to Stamford, in Lincolnshire, in 1858, when he renamed the business ‘The Stamford Terracotta Company‘.   However, an attempted move into the American market proved to be disastrous, and the firm went out of business in 1874, so it seems that an inscription like this could only have related to the period between about 1840 and 1858 – while James 2 was still getting his terracotta business established.

Ardross Castle was purchased by Alexander Mathieson in 1845.   He was a rich merchant and merchant banker who spent a fortune on developing the estate and pleasure grounds, so he was almost certainly the person who engaged Blashfield to install the ornamentation of the terrace.   After studying the Ordnance Survey maps from 1875 and 1904, however, Christopher determined that the gardens did not extend beyond the top terrace at that time, which is not surprising, since the ground dips away sharply at that point, and the terrace is supported by quite a high wall.

We can therefore deduce from this that the extensions were designed by Edward White for Charles Dyson Perrins, who bought the property c1907, and one of the first things he would have had to do was create an easy and elegant access to the gardens from the top terrace.  The answer was to build a lower terrace at garden level, reached from the top by the pair of curved staircases pictured in Fig 1.

It was not difficult to find the best contractor to do this, and to create the formal and informal gardens beyond, because Edward White had already worked with James Pulham and Son on other projects, and they had also created the gardens at Dyson Perrins’ home at ‘Davenham’, Malvern, a couple of years previously, as discussed in my ‘Site of the Month’  article in September, ’13.

One very interesting aspect of all this is that the balustrading of the curved staircases matches Blashfield’s pattern along the top terrace.   It does not appear in Pulhams’ Garden Ornament Catalogue, so they presumably removed the sections at the points where the staircases were to be built, and took them back to their Manufactory in Broxbourne to be especially modelled to match – and what a splendid job they did of it.   The rest of the formal gardens, and the informal gardens beyond, would have been constructed as described in my original article above.


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