1891-94 – Gisselfeld, Denmark

SM 12 – May 12

The first indication that Pulhams may have worked in Europe was contained in a book by Annie Christensen, and reviewed by Peter Hayden.[i]   She recorded that the firm may have been involved in the construction of a bridge and some rockwork in the grounds of Gisselfeld Castle, in Denmark, and that the likely date was c.1894.  

Gisselfeld was owned by Count Danneskiold Samsó, whose favourite visitors was Hans Christian Andersen, author of The Ugly Duckling – probably his most popular fairy tale – during one of his visits.   I managed to track down the Curator of the Gisselfeld Archives, who kindly sent me the following historical background notes, together with a selection of photographs that he took especially for me: [ii]

‘. . . The present gardens were laid out in the romantic style under the direction of the English landscape designer H E Milner (the son of Edward Milner) during the period from the middle 1870s to the early 1900s.   Today, visitors can see remnants of earlier garden features, and the romantic style landscape park with a waterfall and grotto (perhaps by Pulham); a fountain (designed by the Danish architect Martin Nyrop); islands, bridges, carp ponds, unusual solitary trees planted in the early 1800s, and a walkway flanked by clipped trees and large artificial lakes dug in the 1700s.   There are three locations in the park – waterfall, subway / tunnel and bridge – and a spring in the hunting forest at the edge of the park which include some typical Pulham rockwork – perhaps the only work that Pulham did in Denmark . . .’

He also quoted extracts from some of Milner’s letters to the Count:

28 August 1889

‘. . . to send you a section of the subway under public road.   This I now enclose.   The arch is calculated to be built of brick and the walls of stone – the whole of second-class work.   If the arch were made of cut limestone, it would not be too thick by 4 inches, but I think the construction shown is the best and cheapest under the circumstances.   The whole of the outside should be coated with tar asphalt or cement to protect water dripping through.’

1 November 1889

‘. . . with regard to the subway – if the faces are all left rough, the rock facing can be applied when it is built.   This, I suppose, will be done by someone accustomed to such work, and there is consequently no need to build projecting pieces of stone, but the work should be left rough so that cement can be applied.’

7 December 1889

‘. . . I send you two more photographs of rockwork.   That built for the Prince of Wales (at Sandringham, Norfolk, discussed in Rock Landscapes – The Pulham Legacy, Chapter 8) shows approximately how the subway under the road might be treated.’

A further piece of information that came with these letter extracts was that Milner worked with a Mr Hughes, ‘who acts as on-site construction supervisor.’

 Fig 1  –  Rocky Stream and lake at Gisselfeld, Denmark, from the top of the waterfall   (Photo by Gregory Kobett)

The first photograph of Gisselfeld – Fig 1 – is of the rock garden and stream that runs into the lake, taken from the top of the waterfall, and the waterfall itself is shown in Fig 2.   Fig 3 is a close-up of the little bridge over the stream, and Fig 4 shows a rocky path between some ‘cliffs’.   The tunnel / subway beneath the road – the subject of the letters quoted above – is shown in Fig 5.

Fig 2  –  Waterfall at Gisselfeldl   (Photo by Gregory Kobett)

Fig 3  –  Bridge over stream   (Photo by Gregory Kobett)

I have to confess that I initially found myself slightly undecided by these photographs.   I wish I could have had an opportunity to visit Gisselfeld to see the work for myself, but the ‘rocks’ in these pictures seem a little bit ‘anaemic’ – especially those along the pathway in Fig 4.   The surfaces are a lot smoother, and the rocks a lot ‘squarer’ than one would find in a typical Pulham construction – almost as if some of it is made of pre-cast blocks that have been assembled and then roughly coated with cement.

Fig 4  –  Pathway between cliffs   (Photo by Gregory Kobett)

However, I am assured that this is not the case – some ‘rocks’ are now beginning to show signs of weathering, and reveal the standard Pulham trademark of cement covering a core of bricks and clinker.   This indicates that they are ‘genuine’, but I do wonder if the ‘rock builder’ responsible for this work really was one of the master craftsmen from Broxbourne.

That doesn’t mean that Pulhams could not have been involved, of course, but I don’t think the ‘rock builder’ could have been one of their best craftsmen.   Perhaps they sent one of their ‘middle ranking’ men over to Denmark to do the job, or another possibility could even be that Milner sent over some photographs of Pulhams’ work so that his ‘on-site construction supervisor’, Mr Hughes, could have a pattern to work from, and create a feature ‘in the style of Pulham’?   I would suggest that the jury is still out on this until some further evidence can be found.

The final point here is the actual date of construction.   Based on the above correspondence, one would normally estimate that it is likely to have been c.1891, although Annie Christensen has quoted 1894.   There must be a reason for this, so I am suggesting 1891-94 as the range.


Fig 5  –  The tunnel beneath the road at Gisselfeld   (Photo by Gregory Kobett)

[i]    Gisselfeld by Annie Christensen, reviewed by Peter Hayden in Garden History Magazine Vol 15/2 (Autumn 1987) pp175-176

[ii]    The historical notes and correspondence extracts relating to Gisselfeld are all based on information provided by Gregory Bryan Kobett, Curator of Gisselfeld Archives

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