1874-75 – An Exciting New Discovery in S.E. London

SM 58 – Mar 16

There is a small, and fairly insignificant entry in James 2’s promotional booklet, Picturesque Ferneries and Rock Garden Scenery, which tells us that the firm built a ‘Dropping Well’ for a Dr Barry, who lived in S E London, in 1874-75   Dr Barry was born in County Down during the 1820a, and studied Medicine at Trinity College, Dublin and the University of Edinburgh, from where he qualified as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1844.[1]   We don’t know his speciality – if, indeed, he practised at all – but we do know that he moved to India soon after qualifying, and married Emily Jane Parker (who was born in India) in 1851.   He was still living in India when his youngest child – also Emily Jane – was born in Calcutta in 1860.

 5-1-58-1 - Sydenham Barry - Dropping WellFig 1 –  The Dropping Well in the shallow gulley at the bottom of the garden

By the time of the 1871 Census, he had moved to S E London, to a house that was built during the 1860s.   The garden was planted out with a considerable amount of shrubbery, set among the surrounding woodlands, and he engaged James Pulham and Son to create his dropping well a few years later.   He seems to have kept his links with India because the Probate Register – following his death at the Grand Hotel, Brighton, on 19th August, 1880 – states that he was still living in London at that time, and was ‘. . late of Cannon Street, in the City of London, and 5, Lyons Range, Calcutta.’   He was also described as a merchant, and owned shares in a number of Indian companies.   His wife, Emily, continued to live in their London home until her death in 1915.[2]

I have to admit that I would never have known all these details had it not been for an email that recently dropped into my Inbox from a lady who now lives at the house occupied by the Barry family all those years ago.   She has inherited the dropping well, which sits in the shallow gulley at the bottom of her garden, and, from the evidence shown in the photo she sent me – reproduced in Fig 1 – she is taking very good care of it.   She tells me that there is still a well under the house that presumably provided the source from which water was pumped so that it dripped through the narrow cleft at the top of the rockwork into the basin below.

5-1-58-2 - Sydenham Barry - Grotto

Fig 2  –  A Pulham grotto that used to exist along the gulley at the rear of a nearby property

A short way along the gulley, at the bottom of the garden of a nearby house, there used to be – but is no longer – quite a large Pulham grotto, shown in Fig 2.   This scene is very reminiscent of the features constructed a short distance away by James Pulham and Son along a similar gulley at the rear of Park Hill Mansions a few months earlier.   That was for William Leaf – a successful London soft goods merchant who specialised in silks and ribbons, and it consequently seems quite likely that the two men knew each other, and that William Leaf was probably the person who introduced Dr Barry to James 2.   As described in my ‘Site of the Month’ feature No. 14 for July 2012, William Leaf died soon after the Pulhams completed their work there, and, in 1880, the Park Hill estate was purchased by Henry Tate, founder of the Tate Gallery, and proprietor of the famous sugar company that is now known as Tate and Lyle Ltd.

But that is by no means the end of this story.   After completely renovating the house, the current owners of the Barry’s property turned their attention to the garden, in which there sat the remains of an elaborately ornate Victorian fountain, which they decided to have restored.   Being initially unaware of its provenance, they decided to invest a considerable amount of money in its restoration.

 5-1-58-3 - Sydenham Barry - Basin BitslFig 3  –  The top of the fountain before clean-up and restoration

 5-1-58-4 - Sydebnham Barry - Basin Before Restoration

Fig 4 –  The top basin of the fountain basin before restoration

After further investigation, she eventually found my Pulham website, and wrote to me, attaching the ‘before restoration’ pictures reproduced here in Figs 3 and 4.   My initial reaction was not absolutely conclusive because, although the pieces certainly looked ‘Pulhamesque’ in style, I had never seen a quatrefoil fountain basin quite like this before.   The features that intrigued me most, however, were the small round terminals around the base and on top of the central pedestal, which were almost identical to some I had seen elsewhere, so I asked the lady to send me some more pictures.

The one she sent me is shown here in Fig 5, and confirmed the fountain’s provenance without any doubt.   Seen in full view, it is an absolutely typical ‘Pulham Exhibition’ fountain, whilst still being unique in detail design.   The nearest I could find in the firm’s Garden Ornament Catalogue was the ‘Sunderland Fountain’, which had an almost identical base, but with a different pedestal and top basin – shown in Fig 6.   This wonderful fountain stands proudly just a short distance away from the dropping well, so its water source would also have come from the well under the house.

 5-1-58-5 - Sydenham Barry - Fountain after restorationFig 5 –  The complete restored fountain

This is a most exciting discovery for me – as I am sure it will be to all my fellow Pulham enthusiasts – as fountains of this size and quality are so rare these days, and those that do remain are almost always in public parks, rather than in private hands.   The fact that its owners have been prepared to invest so much in its restoration is even more remarkable, and we must all be extremely grateful to them for their interest and commitment to the preservation of our garden heritage.

Sadly, I am unable to reveal the precise location of this treasure the owners’ privacy must be respected, and uninvited visitors would not be welcome.   It would also be unwise for security reasons, because I know of one particular instance in which a pair of Pulham vases were stolen by helicopter, and I have never revealed a location since!

Sunderland FountainFig 6 –  The ‘Sunderland Fountain’, illustrated in the Pulham ‘Garden Ornament Catalogue’ c1925

It is noticeable that James 2 never referred to the firm’s terracotta installations in his promotional booklet.   His references to their ‘satisfied customers’ were generally restricted to those for whom they created their landscaping features, which could indicate that he and his brother, Michael Angelo – who I believe was mainly responsible for the terracotta designs – tended to regard their ornaments as a completely distinct branch of the business.



[1]   Detail provided by the Royal College of Surgeons

[2]   Steve Grindley, Sydenham Local History Society

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