November ’16 News Letter

Dear All,

Time flies, doesn’t it, but quite a lot has been happening over the last few months, and I thought it was time to catch up.

The Pulham Memorial Project

In my July News Letter, I announced that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given a grant to the partnership of Broxbourne Borough Council, B3Living and Lowewood Museum to support the conservation of what remains of the site of the old Pulhams’ Manufactory in Station Road, Broxbourne, and to create a Touring Exhibition and supporting Events Programme.   B3Living are the builders and Management Company of the flats that now occupy the ground on which the Pulhams’ house and manufactory once stood.

160702 - Wheel and Kiln 2003

 Fig 1  –  The old kiln and grinding wheel

The Kiln and Puddling Wheel

The one remaining kiln and puddling wheel that had been left on the site when the buildings were demolished in 1965 have now been restored by the firm of Szerelmey Conservation, under the direction of B3Living.   Fig 1 shows what they looked like before work started – repeated from my last News Letter – and Fig 2 shows what a good job was done by the restorers.   The brickwork of the kiln has been completely checked and repaired where necessary, and a new cowl has been fitted to the top.   The wheel and base now has a completely new wooden frame and fittings that used to be the yokes to which two horses or donkeys were harnessed whilst walking round and round to turn the wheels that ground the clay into a very fine powder in the trough at the bottom.


 Fig 2  –  The restored grinding wheel and kiln

 A marketing board has been installed at the site, where it is clearly visible from the footpath, to announce the fact that it marks the home of the old firm of Pulham and Son – manufacturers of the famous ‘Brox Rocks’ (!).   It also contains a small typo that claims 1949 as being the date of the firm’s demise, rather than the real date of 1939.   However, this is a very good start, and I am assured that this poster is only a temporary measure, and that a more permanent signage to mark the Pulham story – hopefully with a rather more elegant title – will be installed in the Memorial Garden next year, when the final design and landscaping is complete.


Fig 3  –  Pulham Memorial Project Site – or ‘Brox Rocks’ – Placards

 The Memorial Garden

The Memorial Garden will be landscaped alongside the kiln and wheel, and it is extremely fitting and appropriate that Valerie Christman, the great-great-grand-daughter of Michael Angelo Pulham – son of James 1, and designer of so many of the wonderful garden ornaments made in the Manufactory – will be involved in its design and construction.   She is a professional garden designer and landscape gardener in her own right – with several awards to her credit for gardens she has helped to create at the Chelsea Show – and she hopes to be able to incorporate a small Pulhamite rockery area into the garden.   Three Information Panels will be installed to record the history of the firm.

The Exhibition

Work on the Exhibition is going well, and it will run from 14th January to 29th April, 2017 at Lowewood Museum under the rather imaginative title of ‘Romance in Stone: The Pulham Legacy’ – I only wish I’d thought of that!   Readers will recall that a ‘Pulhams of Broxbourne’ Exhibition was mounted at Lowewood in October, 2012 to mark the publication of my book, ‘Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy’, and, as far as I know, this is the first time that they have ever mounted a ‘second edition’ of an exhibition.    I naturally feel extremely proud to have had the pleasure and opportunity to research the firm upon which all this well-deserved publicity is now being directed.

A series of interactive videos of some of the Pulhams’ most prestigious gardens is currently under production, and they will enable visitors to take virtual tours of the gardens at Highnam Court, Waddesdon Manor, Sheffield Park, Dewstow Gardens and Danesfield House.

The launch of the Memorial Site and Exhibition is being planned for either Friday, 13th, or Saturday, 14th January 2017 – attendees will assemble at Lowewood Museum, and a minibus will take them to the Memorial Site and back.  Attendance may have to be limited to Invitation Only as the Museum can only accommodate a limited number of people at any one time.

 Special Themed Events

A series of special themed events have also been arranged by Lowewood Museum to support the ‘Romance in Stone’ Exhibition.

A fully-booked Stone Carving Workshop was held under the direction of award-winning carver Simon Keeley in the gardens of Lowewood on Saturday, 22nd October, and Fig 4 shows the carvers holding their blocks at the end of the session.   Val is second from right.


Fig 4  –  Stone Carving Workshop   (Image by Jennifer Roiwland)

Future events are being planned for:

  • Saturday, 11th February, 2017 –  A Public Event Day, including visits to the Pulham Manufactory and more
  • Thursday, 9th March, 2017 –  A Pulham Conferencen at the Spotlight Theatre, Hoddesdon, and Visit to the Lowewood Exhibition (ticket price to be confirmed, but is likely to be £25).   See also below.
  • Saturday, 18th March, 2017 –  A Themed Family Activity Day associated with British Science Week.

After Lowewood, the Exhibition will be available for hire as a Touring Exhibition to other museums or memorial occasions around the country, so, if anyone knows of a venue that might be interested in booking it, could you please telephone Lowewood Museum on 01992 445596, or email for further information.

 How About a Pulham Convention?

The Special Pulham Conference being planned for 9th March 2017 raises a very interesting prospect.   Wouldn’t it be great if as many of our contacts as possible could meet up to share their knowledge and experiences of owning, restoring, maintaining or learning about our wonderful Pulham heritage?   This is just an idea at the moment, but, in order to test the possible response to it, I would greatly appreciate your quick initial feedback on the linked Response Form – just fill in your name and email address, together with a short comment about which Pulham site you are associated with (if any), and what topics you may be particularly interested in.   I have used a ‘standard downloadable’ form here, so my control over the headings is limited – don’t bother about the ‘Website’ box if it is not appropriate, and, since the ‘Comments’ box is defined as mandatory, just type ‘xx’ in there if you prefer not to make any actual comment.

Watch this space . .

 Special Pulham Interest Day at Waddesdon Manor

There was a Special Interest Day on Pulham Rocks at Waddesdon Manor on Wednesday, 21st September, attended by about 25 people.   Val and I began proceedings with our ‘Pulhams of Broxbourne’ presentation, and this was followed by a short presentation by Matthew Norton and Carl Oakley, of B3Living, who spoke about the restorations for which they had been responsible on the kiln and grinding wheel at the Pulham Memorial Site in Broxbourne, as described above.


Fig 5  –  Lunchtime at Waddesdon with Val, Sophieke Piebenga (Research Archivist and Garden Historian) and Pippa Shirley (Head of Collections and Gardens at Waddesdon)

 A most enjoyable lunch was followed by another interesting presentation – this time by Sophieke Piebenga, Garden Historian and Research Archivist at Waddesdon – who gave us some fascinating details about her research into the Waddesdon archives, and the discovery of some of the documents relating to the engagement of James Pulham and Son and others working on the landscaping of the estate.


Fig 6  –  Extracts from Waddesdon Accounts for January 1887 and December 1891   (Account books belonging to Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, 1882-1898; Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trust); acc. no. 167.1997.1-7 © National Trust, Waddesdon Manor)

 We then had a Question and Answer session in which a lot of interesting topics were raised, followed by a tour of the Pulham rockwork around the North Drive, Aviary, Tulip Patch and Dairy Water Garden, led by Sophieke and Paul Farnell, the Head Gardener at Waddesdon.   Fig 5 shows Val and myself after lunch with Sohpieke and Pippa Shirley, Head of Collections and Gardens at Waddesdon, and Fig 6 is a reproduction of two extracts taken from the Accounts of Waddesdon Manor for January 1887 and December 1891, when Pulhams were paid £168 and £385 respectively for work on the Rockery.   This was the time when we think the enormous grottoes were built around the Aviary and the top of the North Drive.


Fig 7  –  Inspecting the huge North Drive Grotto

Fig 7 shows some of the group inspecting the wondrously huge grotto at the top of the North Drive, and Val is shown standing by the small cascade near the pool in the Dairy Water Garden in Fig 8.


Fig 8  –  Val at the cascade in the Water Garden

 1901 – ‘The Newgate Gap’, Margate Kent

News of a ‘new’ Pulham installation came my way recently – one that had not previously been recorded in our databases, and of which I had no previous knowledge.   It was created in 1901, and takes the form of a long flight of steps leading down from the promenade into the Newgate Gap, at Cliftonville, Margate, Kent.

It was brought to my attention by two local historians, James Brazier and Newton Whitelaw, and turned out to be a very interesting story, to which you can link directly from the above Section heading.   In fact, it has prompted me to add a new category of Pulham Sites in my website Gazetteer under the prefix of ‘Add xx’, which will include any further revelations that might come my way.


Fig 9  –  The steps at Newgate Gap, Margate   (Image provided by James Brazier)

The Newgate Gap is a deep gorge that runs down from the street level to the shore, and James 3 was asked to install a series of steps leading down into it between two walls of Pulhamite rock.   Fig 9 is from an old postcard taken shortly after the steps were opened, and shows groups of people posed on them.

 ‘Rock Landscapes’ Gets onto a Book Club List

On Monday, 3rd October, we presented our ‘Pulhams of Broxbourne’ talk in the Hertford Theatre to more than 120 members of the Hertford U3A.   It went very well, and one of the most heartening things for us was that, during our usual book signing and sales after the talk, we were asked by two ladies – who each bought a copy – if the stories we had told were all in the book.   When we confirmed that most of them were, they said that they had enjoyed the talk so much that they were going to nominate the book to their Book Club for group reading and discussion.   That’s what I like about Hertford people – such shrewd and discerning doyens of impeccable taste. . .

 Our 2016 Presentation Diary Ends on a High Note

We concluded our Diary of Presentations for 2016 with talks to the Welwyn Hatfield District Association in Welwyn Garden City, and to the Ryde and District Gardeners’ Association in Hatfield, and both evenings were well attended.

In fact, our final presentation at Hatfield was a particularly rewarding occasion on which to close the season, because we collected three treasured additions to our collection of testimonials at the end of the evening – which I believe is colloquially known in the World of One-Armed Bandits as ‘Three in a Row’ or ‘Hitting the Jackpot’.   I hope my readers will forgive me if I put modesty to one side for a moment to report that, in his generous Vote of Thanks at the end of our talk, Chris Hale – a Member of the Ryde Gardeners’ Association – said:

‘. . . It was an absolutely enchanting story, told in such a light and entertaining way. . .’

Another member of the audience said:

‘That was one of our best presentations . .’

. . . and, just to put the cream on the cake, I received an email the next morning from David George – the Club’s Chairman and Events Organiser – to say:

‘Thank you for your excellent presentation to the RDGA last evening.   Everyone enjoyed it and learned so much.   Those members who did not attend missed a treat!’

That’s what I like about Hatfield people – they’re just like Hertford people . . .

Just as a matter of interest, I checked over our statistics for the four years during which we have now been doing this presentation, and found that we have now told our story 24 times, to more than 1,200 people, and signed and sold just over 100 books.   Most of the venues have been within about 20 miles of the Pulhams’ home in Broxbourne, but we have been as far as Swansea and Dewstow in Wales, Woodbridge in Suffolk, Henley-on-Thames, Shipton-under-Wychwood in Oxfordshire, The Swiss Garden near Biggleswade, and Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshie.   They were all great venues; we met many lovely people, and we have enjoyed every minute of it.

 Does Your Local Park Need a ‘Friend’?

I would like to close this News Letter with a reference to a note I received recently from Diana Lamb, Chair of the Friends of Dunorlan Park, a group established in 1996 primarily to work with the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council on the application for Heritage Lottery Funds, and to monitor the major works to be carried out in the Park.   The results of this work are described fully in Chapter 5 of my book, and what glorious results they were.

Subsequently, the Friends became a thriving group, with around 300 members who built up an excellent relationship with the local Council, with whom they have conducted several major projects.   Dunorlan Park retained its Green Flag and Green Heritage status in 2016 – which it has done consistently since 2006 – and managed to retain its Gold Standard in the Large Parks category, despite the difficult times and continued budget constraints.


Fig 10  –  With Tony Ewins and Marian Williams at Dunorlan Park, 2010

Large numbers of visitors still come along to enjoy the landscaping and facilities of the Park – which include an excellent café and boating lake –maintained in such good order by Tony Ewins, the Head Gardener, and his team of hard-working volunteers.

However, the Friends now feel that they have reached a mature stage where they no longer have a role to support further major developments in the Park, and the gracefully ageing membership are trying to recruit younger members, which has not been too easy.   Diana is planning to retire as Chair next year, after 20 years in the post, as is also Tony Ewins, so it looks like some difficult times lie ahead.

Friends Groups, such as the one at Dunorlan Park, are crucial in maintaining the health and wellbeing of our Parks – and not just the ones that contain Pulham features.   As public funds continue to be squeezed – and with no respite in sight – volunteering, fund-raising and advocacy will continue to be vitally important to keeping our parks high on the political agenda.   We need to demonstrate public support, and to supplement what our local Councils are able to afford., because any future grant applications they may make will – as with Dunorlan’s HLF bid – need a body like the Friends to show that the community is fully engaged.   The same applies to awards like their Green Flag and Bloom, so it is up to all of us to show our support, and get involved as far as we can.

Fig 10 was taken in 2010, when Val and I visited Dunorlan Park, and met Tony Ewins, Head Gardener, and Marian Williams, who, until her retirement soon afterwards, was the Strategy and Projects Officer at Tunbridge Wells Council.   Tony had the fountain running, and the Avenue leading up to the Temple Summerhouse was flanked by gradually maturing trees that were planted to replace the original ones during the restoration programme of 2004.   I am pleased to say that I have since lost some weight.

 ‘A Wonderful Book to Own . . .’

We have put the clocks back, and the evenings are drawing in.   We are getting invitations from all the Charities to buy their Christmas cards, and the shops are already filling up with Christmas decorations, so I must not miss this opportunity to remind you that ‘Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy’ is still available at a very special discount price from my website – the perfect Christmas present for a very special person.   More than 40 of the Pulhams’ most prestigious creations are fully discussed and beautifully illustrated with some stunning photographs taken by Professional Gardens Photographer, Jenny Lilly.

AGS1 - Rock Landscapes Front Cover Check out the CONTENTS’ Page here, and visit our ‘Book Shop’ Page, which provides a direct link to the publisher’s website, ACC Art Books.   All you have to do is follow the link and enter the ‘PL1’ Promotion Code in order to buy a copy at a massive 40% discount from the RRP of £35!

             Yes, £21 (+ £4 P&P) = £25!  

The book has been critically acclaimed by all the major Professional Reviewers, whose comments can be summed up simply as:

 ‘A Wonderful Book to Own, and the Perfect Present for a Garden-Loving Friend’

Click on any of the above Cover Image – or any of the other links here – to go direct to the Book Shop.

Happy reading, and my Very Best Wishes to all my readers.

Yours Sincerely,


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