(This is the complete article – a few deletions were necessary during the editing process due to space limitations is July 2013 Issue of The Rock Garden)
James Pulham and Son are best remembered these days for the picturesque rock gardens, ferneries, follies and grottoes they constructed during the Victorian years. This was the time when tourists returning home from their ‘Grand Tours’ of Europe sought to create natural habitats in their gardens for the ferns and Alpine plants they had collected during their travels. If natural rocks were not economically available, the Pulham craftsmen would ‘make their own’ by building up heaps of rubble and old bricks, and coating them with their own proprietary brand of cement that soon became known as Pulhamite. The craftsmanship of their ‘rock builders’ lay in their ability to sculpt the surfaces to simulate the colour and texture of natural rock.
As garden fashions gradually evolved throughout the Edwardian years, the Pulhams extended their repertoire to include grand, formal balustraded terraces, and Italian and Japanese-styled gardens that were becoming so popular with the ‘travelling gentry’. The full story of the lives and work of this remarkable firm is told in ‘Rock Landscapes – The Pulham Legacy’ – my book to be published by The Antique Collectors Club in May, 2012 – and all the latest updates can be found on my website at www.pulham.org.uk, where all visitors are welcome.
Suffice to say here that there were four generations of Pulhams, and all of those most directly involved in the family business were named James, so, in order to avoid confusion, I find it easier to refer to them individually as James 1, 2, 3 and 4. The firm became established as James Pulham and Son when James 2 took his son, James 3, into the business in 1865.
Most of the firm’s work was carried out in England, but they also had clients in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and even Denmark. This article is concerned with their known gardens in Scotland, although I have to admit that I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting any of them. The following notes are based on historical records that I have discovered during my research, and from notes and information received from my many friends and contacts in Scotland who have direct personal knowledge of the sites concerned.
1890-91 – Ross Hall Park, Glasgow, Strathclyde
One of the best surviving examples of Pulhams’ work in Scotland is actually the first one they constructed north of the Border. It was in Ross Hall Park – a small park of just over 30 acres, set amidst the White Cart Water in the Crookston area on the south side of Glasgow. In fact, due to the absence of any definitive record of Pulhams’ work after 1877, this garden could easily have remained ‘unknown’ outside its immediate vicinity had it not been for its recent ‘re-discovery’, in which Christopher Dingwall – the then Scottish Conservation Officer of the Garden History Society – played a significant part.
Ross Hall Park was owned by James Cowan J.P. – a wealthy businessman and enthusiastic connoisseur of the arts – who commissioned James 2 to ‘reconstruct the garden, regardless of expense’. As a result of their work, the little rivulet that once flowed through the estate was transformed into:
‘. . . a layout of artificial lakes and rockwork, waterfalls and grottos, furnished with a great variety of plant life.’ [i]
The story of Ross Hall Park is told in the book, but the important thing to note here is that it has recently been the subject of a major restoration project, thanks largely to funds generously allocated by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project was completed in 2010, and Fig 1 shows the boathouse and surrounding rockwork in the rock pool – which was originally designed and used as a swimming pool – taken during the final stage of the restoration in 2006.
1898 – Mount Stuart, Argyll and Bute
James 2 worked with the eminent landscape architect, Thomas Mawson, on a number of occasions. Their first collaboration was in Belle Vue Park, Newport, Monmouthshire, in 1893 – the first contract that Mawson was awarded for a municipal park project – and they evidently got on well because, when the 3rd Marques of Bute commissioned Mawson to design a new garden for him to the west of his house at Mount Stuart in 1898, he invited James 2 to work with him again.
Fig 2 – The Calvary Walk at Mount Stuart c1905 (Photo reproduced by permission of Bute Archive at Mount Stuart)
Fig 3 – The Rock Garden at Mount Stuart 2009 (Photo by Graham Alcorn)
His plan was quite small, inasmuch as he created woodland walks that took advantage of the existing trees etc close to the house, but did not appear to include an overall scheme for the ‘policies’, or outer environs of the estate. [ii]
The most prominent feature here was the Rock Garden, which centres around two burns – crossed and re-crossed by a network of gravel paths and stepping-stones – that snake down the hill, and finally converge in a large fish-filled pond at the bottom. Mawson was also asked to help make more of the Racers Burn – an unassuming burn that was originally a small stream that ran from the hill above Mount Stuart to the sea – and the result was the creation of a series of pools and spectacular cascades that are said to replicate the Via Dolorosa – the route of Christ’s suffering and death. It stretches from the shore to the Calvary pond at the top of the hill, and was described by Mawson as ‘indeed a spot for meditation’.[iii]
The Rock Garden was restored and reworked during the 1950s and 1980s, and part of it was also replanted in 2002, but the Via Dolorosa walk was allowed to become overgrown and almost forgotten until 1993, when it, too, was cleared and largely restored. In 2001 the full shape and beauty of the Calvary pond itself emerged from the surrounding woodland after dredging and drainage work was carried out, and Fig 3 shows the rock garden as it was in 2009. The concept and features of this project are very similar to those used by Pulhams at Batsford Arboretum in 1902.
The rock gardens at Mount Stuart and Ross Hall Park are not only very good examples of the firm’s ability to create picturesque gardens that blend seamlessly into their natural surroundings, but also of the results that can be achieved by the hard work and generosity of people who are concerned about the preservation of their garden heritage. An archive photograph of one of the cascades at Mount Stuart is shown in Fig 2.
1901 – Ballimore, Cowal, Isle of Bute
Thomas Mawson’s autobiography [iv] also includes some references to Ballimore, across the Kyles of Bute, on the Cowal Peninsula, where he designed the gardens for Angus Fletcher of Dunans. Michael Davis, a local historian in Argyll and Bute, writes:
‘One of Mawson’s most successful works was his least known – Ballimore Estate, in Cowal. There, his design control extended far beyond the garden to embrace roadways, park trees, and the wider landscape. Within the garden itself, landscaping work was carried out on a monumental scale!
‘Ballimore displayed Mawson’s “composite style” wherein the formal and the informal were bonded together by an intricate mesh of vistas and controlled views. Close to the house, the garden took on a formal, architectural form, with terracing, obelisks, elaborate bedding and clipped yews. But in a variety of ways, this formal setting inter-related and interlaced with the informal gardens and, beyond them, with the wider natural landscape. Thus, from the yew walks along the most formal terrace, stunning views appear over the stream below with its informal plantings and “choice rhododendrons” towards the wild garden and hence to the hills. Rhododendrons are a key component, but Mawson took care that they did not dominate the garden, in order to retain balance.
‘Mawson’s description of the stream at Ballimore as “a somewhat extensive piece of work” was a jovial understatement. Its rocks, pools and falls were all artificially formed from little more than a walled ditch. Such work required the skills of specialists such as Mr Pulham and Mr Cadder to create the effect of natural stratification and so on. The result was so successful and so well publicised at the time through Mawson’s own book that it seems entirely probable that it influenced the design of the new rock garden at the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. . .
‘The gardens at Ballimore are now largely lost, but Mawson’s garden at Mount Stuart in Bute, laid out at the same time, offers an immaculately tended image, on a smaller scale, of the stream at Ballimore.’
Despite the poor state of the gardens at Ballimore today, Mawson included a couple of photographs in his autobiography that show the rocky stream and cascades in their heyday. One of them is reproduced here as Fig 4.
1901 – Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow
According to Pulham’s promotional booklet c.1877, [v] the firm constructed a:
‘Temperate and exotic fernery with waterfalls and stream throughout’
. . for a Mr J Findlay, of Kelvingrove Park, in 1873. This appears to be a rather confusing reference, however, because, in 1852, the Glasgow City Council purchased an area of land forming Kelvingrove and Woodlands Estate to create an area devoted to the recreation and amusement of the citizens of the rapidly growing West End of the City. Designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, it was the first purpose-designed and constructed park in Scotland, and now represents an enduring legacy of Victorian urban parks.[vi] It soon became one of the city’s best-loved historic parks, but its connection with Mr J Findlay is unclear. Maybe he commissioned James 2 to construct a ‘fernery with waterfalls and stream’ as a gift to the local community, but the rockwork surviving in the park today bears little or no resemblance to an ‘exotic fernery’, so the indications are that his residence or gardens no longer exist.
Fig 5 – The rocky cliff in Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow (Photo by Christopher Dingwall)
Kelvingrove Park was used twice for International Exhibitions – the first being in 1888, and the second in 1901 – as well as for the Scottish National Exhibition in 1911, and it was for the 1901 Exhibition that James 3 was brought in to construct a rockwork feature close to the Kelvin Way, between two of the main access routes into the park. It occupies a stretch of sloping ground approximately 300m x 50m, and forms an artificial zigzag cliff about 10-15m in height. It is composed almost entirely of natural sandstone blocks, arranged in courses to resemble rock strata, and, although the original layout included a cascade and pools, these have long been dry. A picture of the rocky cliff is shown in Fig 5.
1909 – Ardross Castle, Alness, Ross-Shire
Pulhams’ next assignment in Scotland was c1909, when they travelled all the way up to Ardross Castle, Alness, in Ross-shire, near the north-eastern tip of the country. Ardross Castle was then 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 c.1901-05, 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.
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 consequently falls slightly outside the terms of reference for this article, so suffice to say here that it was in the Italianate style, with an impressive curved double staircase leading from the balustraded forecourt to a stone-flagged terrace landing. A single stone flight of steps leads down from here to the lower, central rectangular compartment that is set to lawn, and lined with cypress trees within a cypress hedge, with rectangular formal beds flanking the central path, as shown in Fig 6.
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.
1910-15 – Craigengillan, Dalmellington, Ayrshire
During the following year, 1910, James Pulham and Son constructed a ‘Rock and Water Garden’ for the McAdam family – of ‘tarmacadam’ fame – on their estate at Craigengillan, near Dalmellington, Ayrshire. Over the succeeding years, the gardens became completely overgrown, and were effectively ‘lost’ until some remnants were ‘rediscovered’ in 2010 by Mark Gibson, their present owner.
Fig 7 – Mark Gibson discovers some Pulhamite rockwork on his estate at Craigengillan in 2010
This is a fascinating story that is recounted fully in the book, but Fig 7 shows Mark hard at work uncovering part of the gardens that were originally constructed exactly 100 years before.
1922-23 – Dunira, near Comrie, Perthshire
The final currently known Pulham site in Scotland is Dunira, near Comrie, in Perthshire, of which very little now remains. Like Mount Stuart and Ballimore, these gardens were designed by one of the greatest English landscape artists of all time, Thomas Mawson, and they were also one of the very few gardens constructed by James Pulham and Son after the First World War.
The original Dunira House – the name of which is probably derived from the Gaelic words Dun-iar-a, which means ‘The fort of the west water’ – was situated alongside the Boltachan Burn, but it was so close that it often got flooded. In 1852 – at which time the estate was about 5,600 acres – Sir David Dundas ordered the demolition of the house and its replacement, in the Scottish baronial style, on higher ground, a half mile to the east of the site of the old one.[vii]
Douglas Macbeth Munro – a wealthy Clyde shipbuilder during the First World War – purchased the Dunira estate in 1919 as a wedding present for his son, William Gilchrist Macbeth. William immediately re-developed parts of the estate, and commissioned Mawson to create terraced gardens around the house.
There is an interesting reference to these gardens in Mawson’s autobiography,[viii] in a Chapter entitled Post-War Activities. Part of it reads as follows:
‘The beginning of 1920 marked further progress in the post-war reorganisation of the practice. Old members of the staff resumed to their accustomed work, and pupils whose studies had been interrupted returned to complete their course of tuition. Old clients looked out their progress schemes, and new clients for both public and private projects were filling the office with interesting work. . . .
‘Dunira is one of the most beautiful estates it has ever been my pleasure to study. . . . My instructions were to design the gardens, in both their character and extent, as I would like to see them. . . .
‘On the west side one of the most interesting features is the rose garden and lily pond, the pond fed from a wall fountain by way of a narrow canal which was constructed with a number of side recesses, planted with iris and reeds. The feature my client most appreciated is the rocky stream which enters the gardens to the north and passes southward beyond the line of the rose gardens until it loses itself in the artificial lake below. The rock-builders were fortunate in having to hand an abundance of picturesque moss-grown rocks, which they handled with great skill, to construct the cascades, pools, and the Alpine gardens. In this work we had the able assistance of Mr. Pulham, who continues the sterling reputation of his father and grandfather as rock-builders. . . .’
Fig 8 – Rocky pools and stream at Dunira (from ‘The Life and Work of an English Landscape Architect’ by Thomas Mawson)
Dunira was used as a convalescent hospital during the Second World War, and it was sadly almost totally destroyed by fire in 1948. It changed hands a number of times after Mr Macbeth’s death in 1948 – ten months after the fire – and parts of the estate have since been sold off into various private ownerships. The gardens were then totally neglected until 1999, when Channel 4 produced its television series about Lost Gardens. One of these was Dunira, and the tale of the research for these programmes is told in Jennifer Potter’s book of the same name.[ix]
That did not prove to be of any long-term help, however, because, in 2007, I received an email from Ted Rushworth, a local resident, who brought things up to date:
‘Outline plans were submitted for a large house quite sometime back, but nothing seems to be happening. The garden which the “Lost Gardens” TV programme restored has gone “back to nature”! I have no idea what is likely to happen. It is a local firm who have bought the policies with the gardens, but there is a rumour that the entire Dunira estate may be sold before too long. Come what may, I doubt very much if the gardens are ever likely to look anything like they ever did just before World War II.’
This is a realistic assessment of the fact that our garden heritage can only remain intact if a large number of interested people are prepared to devote of considerable amount of energy and hard work towards its restoration and preservation. The Heritage Lottery Fund may be able to help, but it can only do that if it is backed up by the support of local people and their Council representatives.
Scotland contains some good examples of the various garden styles with which James Pulham an Son were involved over the years, and of how their work has fared as a result of varying levels of care and attention throughout their lifetime.
As noted at the beginning of this article, my book about the lives and work of the Pulhams – Rock Landscapes – The Pulham Legacy – will be published in May of 2012, and my website at www.pulham.org.uk will be continually updated with the latest information received. There is undoubtedly still a lot to learn about this remarkable firm, and, if anyone has any information that may be relevant or of interest, I would be delighted to hear from them.
© Claude Hitching 2012
[i] A collection of ‘Letters of Mr Lachlan Cowan – written during his journey round the world to his uncle, James Cowan Esq, of Ross Hall’ discovered by Catriona Morrison, a Project Assistant who recently worked on the Cart River Valleys Project
[ii] Seeing the Wood and the Trees – Thomas H Mawson and Garden Design in Argyll and Bute by Michael Davis, in an article in the Argyll and Bute Local History – Issue 1, published by Argyll and Bute Library Service, 1996
[iv] The Life and Work of an English Landscape Artist by Thomas Mawson, published by Richards Press, 1927
[v] Picturesque Ferneries and Rock Garden Scenery, written and published by James 2 as a promotional booklet c1877
[viii] The Life and Work of an English Landscape Architect – An Autobiography by Thomas Mawson, Richards Press, 1927
[ix] Lost Gardens by Jennifer Potter, Channel 4 Books, 2000