Christmas 2016 News Letter

161214-christmas-decorationDear All,

It is only a few weeks since I published my last News Letter, but a lot is happening at the moment, and I have been able to put quite a Bumper Bundle together for Christmas.  We even have two video clips for you to access . . .

‘Romance in Stone’ – The Pulham Memorial Project


Plans for the Special Pulham Memorial Project – from 14th January to 29th April 2017 – are progressing well.   The kiln and Puddling wheel at the Manufactory site have now been restored, and plans for the landscaping and planting of the Memorial Garden are under way.   The poster that will be used to publicise the event is shown alongside, and Fig 2 shows the finished kiln and wheel, with Val Christman on the left, and Jenny Rowland – the Exhibition Officer in charge of the project – second from right.

Jenny has produced a Programme of Events, which I have posted in full on a separate page.   This can be reached by clicking on the poster image, but her main headings can be summarised as follows:

Overview and Contents of the Exhibition

  • The Exhibition Tour – Availability, contents and costs for hiring the Exhibition to other venues around the country
  • The Lowewood Museum Blog
  • Friday, 3rd February, 2017Launch Event to unveil the Conserved Manufactory Memorial Site and Garden.   This has been postponed from 13-14th January, as forecast in November.
  • Saturday, 11th February 2017Pulham Event Day of Free family crafts and activities in the Museum
  • Thursday, 9th March, 2017Pulham Conference to celebrate the work of James Pulham and Son at the Spotlight Theatre.   Val and I will be among the speakers, and are working on a special Presentation.  Admission will be £25.  
  • Saturday, 18th March, 2017Family Fun Day for British Science Week.

The online booking system will open on 2 January 2017.   For more information and to book, visit  or email


Fig 2  –  The restored Kiln and Puddling Wheel and the Manufactory site

Is there Pulhamite Rock in France?

I recently received a note from Charles Boot, Newsletter Editor and Honorary Librarian of The Gardens Trust, to which he attached a photograph of some rockwork he found during a visit to the Old Town of Nice.   It is pictured in Fig 3, and he was intrigued to know if this might be a Pulham creation?   Well, it certainly looks as if it could be, but it would depend on the date it was created.


Fig 3  –  A rockwork installation in Nice – is it by Pulham?

We know that Obadiah Pulham was Clerk of Works for Thomas Smith, and that they were in Nice during the building of the Church of the Holy Trinity between 1859-62 – see Chapter 2 of ‘Rock Landscapes’ and we also know that James 2 created his first Pulhamite rock construction whilst working at ‘Woodlands’, in Hoddesdon, c1842.   Obadiah and James 2 worked together for Thomas Smith on a few building projects – including the Ware Cemetery Chapel – between those dates, so Obadiah would have been well acquainted with his nephew’s Pulhamite rocks by the time he got to Nice.   It is consequently safe to assume that, if that was when this rockwork was built, it may well have been his work.    If it wasn’t created by him, it’s an extremely good copy, and would then raise an extremely interesting question.

Is this one of Pulham’s first Terracotta Pieces?

A second picture that has come my way was from James Bettley, and is of the font in the Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, in West Hyde, Hertfordshire – the beautiful little church that was designed by Thomas Smith, and built by James 2 and Obadiah Pulham in 1844-45.   I also included some quite extensive notes about this in Chapter 2 of ‘Rock Landscapes’, although I did not mention the font in those notes.   For some reason, it was not drawn to my attention during my visit, but, bearing in mind that that was in 2000, shortly after I began my journey of exploration into all things Pulham, that may not be too surprising.


Fig 4  –  The font at the Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, West Hyde   Could this be one of the first pieces of terracotta to come out of the new Pulham Manufactory?   (Image supplied by James Bettley)

James 2 built the entire church of St Thomas’s, and it is a beautiful illustration of their work as Master Builders.   The exterior walls are covered in what is considered to be the best example of knapped flint work in Hertfordshire, if not the whole country.   There are ‘Pulham faces’ around the base of the bell tower, and angel figures on the ends of the internal hammer beams – which may themselves be pre-cast concrete painted to make them look like oak – so it is therefore only logical to conclude that the font,– pictured in Fig 4 – was also made by them.   It is certainly in their style, and this makes it even more interesting, because James 2 set up his terracotta manufactory in 1845, which means that this might well be one of their very first pieces in terracotta.

One then has to remember that James 2 was only 25 at this time, so one has to wonder who might have been responsible for its design.   It could have been by James 2 himself, or it might possibly have been by his uncle, Obadiah, who would have been 42.   We also know that a lot of the later ornaments to come out of the manufactory were designed by James 2’s younger brother, Michael Angelo Pulham, but he was only 16 in 1845, so it may even be possible that this was one of his first designs.   We shall never know the answer to that particular question, but, as I always tell people, this lovely little church is very well worth a visit by anyone who happens to be in the vicinity.

Two Pulham ‘Paris Vases’ Find a New Home

In my News Letter of December 2012, I included an item about a pair of Pulham’s ‘Paris Vases’ that had suddenly come to light.   I had received some pictures from someone who had just inherited them, and he wanted to know if I could tell him anything about them.   They were obviously genuine, but needed a good clean, and they had suffered one or two small pieces of minor damage, but, incredibly, he happened to be a professional sculptor, and was quite capable of tackling the restoration himself.


Fig 5  – Pulham ‘Paris Vases’ – Before and After Restoration

It took him a long time, but he approached the job as a sort of part-time relaxation from his other work, and eventually declared the work done to his satisfaction early this year.   As you can see from the ‘Before and After’ pictures in Fig 5, he can be justly proud of his meticulous restoration work, which included – among other things – the remodelling of the cherub’s head on the handles.   Fig 6 is a close-up of some of the incredible details that are as sharp as they must have been when they were new.


Fig 6  –  Detail of some of incredible detail of the Paris Vase

However, my sculptor friend then had another question – what to do with the vases now that he had restored them?   As much as he liked them, he didn’t really want to keep them because, at 4ft high and 3ft in diameter, they were far too big and ornate to fit into his own garden.   He wondered if I might be able to recommend somewhere where the surroundings would more appropriately accommodate their very ornate style.   I am delighted to say that I was able to help him – I had a word with a contact of mine at the Rothschild Foundation, who wasted no time in grasping this unique opportunity of acquiring such wonderful pieces for their collection.

The transaction has now been completed, and the Rothschild Foundation tell me that:

‘From early 2017, they will be displayed on the terrace outside the Dairy, where they will feature prominently in the Water Garden, and face the Pulham landscape garden on the other side of the pond    The Dairy is regularly used as a venue for corporate and private entertainment, as well as for public tours, and the rock and water garden outside the Dairy is one of the highlights of the gardens at Waddesdon.   The acquisition of these vases does not only complement existing Pulham work at Waddesdon, but it also means that we will be able to display the full range of Pulham’s production.’

What a rewarding experience this has turned out to be.   My friend is happy because he has felt privileged to have had the opportunity to take his own time to bring these iconic vases back to life, and The Rothschild Foundation are obviously happy to have found them.   I’m sure that the vases would be happy to know that they are due to spend the rest of their lives in such prestigious surroundings, and I am happy because everyone else is happy.

So what about you?   If you click on the image in Fig 6, you will be able to see a short 360° video of the vases, taken by Jenny Rowland for inclusion in the Pulham Memorial Exhibition at Lowewood Museum.   I’m sure that that will make you happy too!

Ardross Castle, Alness, Ross-shire, Scotland 

And now for another intriguing story relating to Pulham’s terracotta.   I wrote about Ardross Castle in my ‘Site of the Month’ article in December 2011, and attributed practically all the landscaping and ornamental stonework to James Pulham and Son.   However, I have now discovered that this is not quite true, because some further information has come my way that makes some of my notes redundant.

Garden Historian Christopher Dingwall contacted me to say that he had visited Ardross Castle – in the far north-east of Scotland – during the summer of 2016, and discovered some inscriptions in parts of the balustrading along the top terrace surrounding the house, which can be seen to the left of Fig 7.   They were clearly embossed with the name of ‘J M Blashfield’, a firm who manufactured terracotta garden ornaments, just like those made by James Pulham and Son, but slightly earlier.

According to Wikipedia, John Marriott Blashfield (1811-1882) started his business in London during the 1840s, but moved to Stamford, in Lincolnshire, in 1858, when he renamed the business ‘The Stamford Terracotta Company‘.   However, an attempted move into the American market proved to be disastrous, and the firm went out of business in 1874, so it seems that an inscription like this could only have related to the period between about 1840 and 1858 – while James 2 was still getting his terracotta business established.

Ardross Castle was purchased by Alexander Mathieson in 1845.   He was a rich merchant and merchant banker who spent a fortune on developing the estate and pleasure grounds, so he must have almost certainly been the person who engaged Blashfield to install the ornamentation of the terrace.   After studying the Ordnance Survey maps from 1875 and 1904, Christopher determined that the gardens did not extend beyond the top terrace at that time, which is perhaps not surprising, since the ground dips away sharply at that point, and the terrace is supported by quite a high wall, as can be seen quite clearly in the picture.


Fig 7  –  The curved balustraded staircase at Ardross Castle, leading down from the top terrace to the one below

Charles Dyson Perrins – proprietor of the famous Worcestershire Sauce brand who lived in Malvern, Worcestershire – bought the property in 1907, and one of the first things he did was engage Edward White to extend the formal and informal gardens in the grounds below.   He needed to create an easy and elegant access to the gardens from the top terrace, so his answer was to build a lower terrace at garden level, reached from the top by the pair of curved staircases shown in Fig 7.

It was not difficult to find the best contractor to undertake all this work, because Edward White had already worked with James Pulham and Son on other projects, and they had also created the gardens at Dyson Perrins’ home at ‘Davenham’, Malvern, a couple of years previously, as discussed in my ‘Site of the Month’ article in September 2013.

One very interesting aspect of all this is that the balustrading of the curved staircases matches Blashfield’s pattern along the top terrace.   This pattern does not appear in Pulhams’ Garden Ornament Catalogue, so they presumably removed the sections along the top terrace at the points where the staircases were to be built, and took them back to their Manufactory in Broxbourne to be especially modelled to match, and what a splendid job they did of it.   This must be a unique example of identically matching balustrading having been made by two manufacturers on the same site.   The rest of the formal gardens, and the informal gardens beyond, would have been constructed as described in my original article of December 2011.

St Fagan’s Castle, near Cardiff

From a castle in Scotland to a castle in Wales.   Chapter 9 of Rock Landscapes is devoted to the gardens at St Fagan’s Castle, near Cardiff, and once the home of Lady Mary Windsor Clive – for whom James 2 designed and created the gardens.   St Fagan’s is now the hone of the Museum of Rural Life, part of the Museum of Wales.

The Italian Garden here originally contained a fountain – the one on the left of Fig 8 – that was almost certainly made in the Broxbourne Manufactory – but which was then replaced some time afterwards by the one on the right.


Fig 8  –  The Original and Current Fountain in the Italian Garden at St Fagan’s Castle, Cardiff

I was unable to ascertain the reason for the replacement, or the date at which it happened, but Michael Statham has written to me with the answer.   He has been researching the firm of W Clarke of Llandaff, a firm of Church Craftsmen and Restorers, and tells me that the new fountain was installed by them in June 1900.   He says that it could have been made by them, but thinks that it was probably made elsewhere.   And where do we think that might be?   Well, that’s another question to which I can only guess the answer.

The Pulham Picture Puzzle

jp10-v-a-colonnadeMost of the items covered so far in this edition have related in one way or another to various aspects of Pulham’s terracotta work, so it is only appropriate to draw your attention to my latest Picture Puzzle, which is of the Colonnade at the V & A Museum in Exhibition Road, London.   This has to be one of their most spectacular works in that medium, so click on the image to go to the Puzzle Page, and select this and / or one of the other puzzles.   Go on, you know you like jigsaws . . .

Abbots Pool, Leigh Woods, Bristol

I concluded my November News Letter with a note about Dunorlan Park, in Tunbridge Wells, which is described and illustrated in Chapter 5 of Rock Landscapes.   Thanks to an extremely generous Heritage Lottery Grant in 2005, the artificial lake, gardens, rockwork, summerhouse and Exhibition Fountain were beautifully restored and brought back to life, and have since been lovingly cared for by Head Gardener Tony Ewins and the enthusiastic group of Friends of Dunorlan Park.   Tony will be retiring soon, and the ‘Friends’ are beginning to get concerned about their ‘increasing maturity’ over the passing years.

They are beginning to have difficulty in finding new people to take their places, and I have to say that this item left me with a feeling of some concern,.   However, this month I have got two examples of Pulham-landscaped parks and open spaces that will surely bring gladness to your hearts.   Let’s start with Abbots Pool, Bristol, which was discussed and illustrated in Chapter 30 of ‘Rock Landscapes’ – Fig 9 is a picture of its grand double waterfall.

Diane Stewart tells me that The Friends of Abbots Pool are very active, and North Somerset Council – the local Authority – are very keen to keep up the maintenance of the site.   Most of the area around the Pool is now a local Nature Reserve, and members of the local Wildlife Group put on a display of insects for the local children this summer, so that they could do some ‘pond dipping’.   A very rare water snail was discovered.   Click on the link in the title of this section to read the full update.


Fig 9  –  Cascade at Abbots Pool, Bristol   (Photo by Carl Jennings)

Worth Park, Crawley


Fig 10  –  The Fountain Garden at Worth Park Before and After restoration

My second example concerns Worth Park, Crawley, some 180 miles east of St Fagan’s Castle, and 620 miles south of Ardross Castle.   Worth Park is similar to Dunorlan Park in that it also received a generous restoration grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, as readers of my previous News Letters will know.   The large round fountain in front of the block of flats on the site of what was once the main house was ‘re-opened’ in 2015, and the rest of the gardens were completed this year.   Fig 10 shows the ‘Fountain Garden’ as it was in 2003, compared with as it is now, and Fig 11 shows the restored ‘Sundial Garden’ and some of the extensive range of balustrading that has now been restored or replaced.


Fig 11 –  The Sundial Garden and Balustrading at Worth Park

There is not sufficient space here to recount the full story of this mammoth piece of work, but I have posted all the details as an update to my Worth Park web page, which is linked here and to the title of this section.  There are some headlines that do deserve a special note here, however – the first being the ‘Totem Timeline’ project that was officially launched by the local Mayor on 10th November 2016, as shown in Fig 12.   This intriguing idea is explained on the web page.


Fig 12  –  The Worth Park Totem Timeline Opening Ceremony

Perhaps even more impressive is the incredible list of awards that the Worth Park Restoration Project has picked up.  These include the:

  • Highly Commended’ accolade in the Public and Community Award by the Sussex Heritage Trust,
  • Silver Gilt medal in ‘South and South East Britain in Bloom’,
  • The Landscape Institute Awards in the category for ‘Heritage and Conservation’!

Worth Park Friends also now have a new fully-equipped lecture room; a kitchen, cloakroom and a meeting room, and two exhibition rooms in which they hold monthly lectures.   In 2016, they organised group outings by coach to other notable gardens, and they have a weekly gardening group that keeps on top of the weeding under the supervision of the Head Gardener.   Crawley Borough Council appointed a part time Participation Officer in 2012. who has overseen major Seasonal events such as monthly walks, school educational visits, and weekly activities for children in the school holidays, and, more recently, an ongoing Costume Project.

That is truly inspirational!   That’s what ‘Friends’ are for, and, as I said last month, every Park could do with Friends like these!   Everyone concerned with the Worth Park Restoration Project should be extremely proud of themselves, and deserve our Congratulations and Best Wishes for the Future.

Val Gets the Last Word 


To close this Letter, I would like to offer you the opportunity to preview another video that has been prepared especially for the Pulham Memorial Exhibition.   In this one, you can hear Val explaining how she first became aware of her family heritage, and her introduction to the Pulham Legacy.   She did the interview in the lovely Pulham gardens of Danesfield House, and I am sure you will find it of interest.

I can’t promise that I shall be able to include videos like this in all my future Letters, but Hey, it’s Christmas, so let’s just enjoy it while we can!   Just click on the image, and let Val tell you all about it . . ..

‘A Wonderful Book to Own . . .’

141114 - Book CoverYou will notice in Val’s video that she is holding a most impressive-looking book on her lap, so why don’t you treat yourself or a special garden-loving friend to a copy for Christmas?   ‘Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy’ is still available at a very special discount price from my website, and you know it would make a lovely present.   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.

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 the Image – or any of the above links – now to go direct to the Book Shop.

Happy reading, and a Very Happy Christmas to all my readers.   We look forward to meeting some of you in the New Year.

Yours Sincerely,


2 thoughts on “Christmas 2016 News Letter

  1. Interestingly, when reading of the terra cotta work, I recalled that when my grandfather William Stracey married in Scotland in 1901, his occupation was recorded as ‘Terra Cotta Worker. -Regards – Janet Sanders

  2. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a friend who
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    it for him… lol. So let me reword this….

    Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending the
    time to discuss this matter here on your blog.

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