The Local Historian – May 2013

Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy

 Rock Gardens, Grottoes, Ferneries, Follies, Fountains and Garden Ornaments.  Claude Hitching, with photography by Jenny Lilly   (Garden Art Press 2012 – 320pp – ISBN 978-1-87067-376-1)  £35

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130500 - Local Historian Cover 500 x 700 This excessively illustrated book (there are 450 colour and 340 black and white photographs) is the culmination of over ten years of research, inspired by the author’s family connections with the Pulhams and their remarkable creations in artificial and natural rockwork.   When he retired, Claude Hitching, originally a Management Accountant, started to research his own family, beginning with his grandfather, Frederick Hitching.   He soon discovered that not only Frederick, but also his brothers, father and uncle worked as ‘rock builders’ for four generations of James Pulhams.   Although all the company records had been destroyed, Claude determined to find out more about his ancestors and the famous Pulhams.   For those of us familiar with the story of Pulhamite, the first three chapters of the book give an overview of the family and business, the early architectural rockwork (including the Benington Lordship gateway familiar to many a galanthofile) the ‘invention’ of Pulhamite artificial stone, and the growing fashion for rockwork, follies and fountains and grottoes through the Victorian and Edwardian periods.   The final part of this overview, detailing the terracotta, vases, fountains, and the façade of the Victoria and Albert Museum, adds a fascinating new insight into the lesser known aspects of their work.

 The story of the Pulham family, and of the Hitchings and other workers, is brought up to the present in the final two chapters, neatly leading into the main part of the book, which is a presentation of over forty sites containing Pulhamite work.   Set within a chronological framework, these explorations follow one another in the way that they must have appeared in the order books of the Pulham works.   Over 200 pages detail the work carried out at each of the chosen sites, accompanied by photographic images, quotations from promotional leaflets, examples from the Pulham catalogue, excerpts from contemporary descriptions in gardening periodicals of the period, diary entries, and even poetry – the second James Pulham being inspired to verse by some of his commissions.   The diversity of material, and the quality of many of the images (those from Country Life as always being particularly crisp) make the book far more than a gazetteer of sites, allowing an appreciation of the extent and quality of the Pulhams’ contribution to garden fashion from the early nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries.   In addition to well-known sites such as Madresfield Court (Worcestershire), Waddesdon Manor (Buckinghamshire), and Battersea Park (London), lesser known sites (some now restored to former glories) are included, such as Dewstow House (Monmouthshire), ’The Node’ (Hertfordshire) and the wonderful Madeira Walk at Ramsgate (Kent), portrayed in evocative black and white postcard images.

 In the Introduction, the author draws attention to the fact that the foty sites are only ‘the tip of the iceberg’ in terms of the number of gardens, parks and houses which were embellished by the Pulham family and Manufactory, and a list of additional sites (on which Hitching holds further information) is included at the end of every chapter.   Plans are in hand to make a gazetteer of the many other sites with Pulham connections available in a digital format, with the catalogues and booklets.   Those anxious to access information about specific sites may also refer to the author’s website (www.pulham.org.uk), an excellent resource which many garden historians (including me)  have already had reason to be thankful for!   Claude Hitching’s expertise had been responsible for the careful restoration of many previously neglected sites, and even successful applications for Heritage Lottery Funding to assist in such work.   As its Introduction by Mavis Batey (Vice President of the Garden History Society) indicates, the book will primarily be of interest to garden historians, but the extent of the family’s work within the ‘Country Life’ set, and the context of the research – inspired as it was by family histories – means that the book will also appeal to those with a more general interest in the English country house during the Victorian and Edwardian periods, as well as local and family historians.   It is also, thanks to the inclusion of Friar Park (Oxfordshire) – the home of Sir Frank Crisp and latterly George Harrison – the only garden history book I have ever encountered which has earned a review in The Beatles Fan Club Magazine.

 Twigs Way 

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