1 – Stone Modelling, ‘Pulham Faces’ and Churches

Stone Modelling and ‘Pulham Faces’

During the early 1800s – when James 1 and his younger brother, Obadiah Pulham were serving their apprenticeship as stone modellers with J & W Lockwood in Woodbridge – there was a fashion to surround the doors and windows of houses with animal and human ‘faces’ to ‘fend off evil spirits’.   The two brothers – whose full story is told in Pulham Rock Gardens – were extremely talented artists and craftsmen, so it is likely that they were responsible for modelling at least some of the many stone faces that can still be seen around Woodbridge today.   Their attention to detail was outstanding, and one example of a ‘Pulham face’ is shown in the left-hand picture of Fig 1.1.

Obadiah was particularly proficient at decorative stonework, and Thomas Smith – the County Architect and Surveyor of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire – decided to employ him on the evidence of a coat of arms that he modelled at a site for which Smith was the architect.   He later went on to become Smith’s Clerk of Works at a number of church building projects around the Home Counties and Europe.

Stone modelling was an artistic ability that was passed down to succeeding generations, because James 2, and his younger brother, Michael Angelo Pulham, were both similarly gifted.   There are a surprising number of ‘Pulham faces’ and terracotta coats of arms to be found at places where the Pulhams are known to have worked, and they were also responsible for the design and modelling of most of the Pulhams’ Catalogue of Garden Ornament.


Fig 1.1  –  An early Pulham face in Woodbridge (pictured by Simon Swann), and another outside the door of St Mary’s Church, Clophill, Bedfordshire

Pulham’s Churches

After James 1’s death at an early age in 1838, James 2 took over his father’s business, and moved to Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire – just a few miles south of Hertford, where his uncle, Obadiah, worked for Thomas Smith.   He was thus able to work for Thomas Smith on a number of church-building projects, one of which was in 1849, when they built St Mary’s Church, Clophill, Bedfordshire, and the right-hand picture of Fig 1 shows one of the ‘Pulham faces’ that greets worshipers from the right-hand side of the doorway on their way in.   Here again, the detail is impeccable.

Two other churches that James 2 built for Thomas Smith were the Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, West Hyde, Hertfordshire (1844-45), and the Ware Cemetery Chapel (1855).   There are ‘Pulham faces’ galore in both of these churches, and St Thomas’s Church, in particular, was built to an exceptionally high standard – the knapped flint on the external walls are generally acknowledged as being among the very best in Hertfordshire, and the moulding of the Pulhamite ornamentation is still as crisp and detailed as it must have been when it was built nearly 170 years ago – an enduring example of their expertise and craftsmanship.

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