Who They Were

There are four generations of Pulhams involved in this story, and their names were all James, so, for ease of reference, I refer to them as James 1, James 2, James 3 and James 4

James 1 (1793-1838) was born in Woodbidge, Suffolk, and one of his younger brothers was named Obadiah (1803-80).   They were both apprenticed to a local firm of Master Builders called J & W Lockwood, and trained as stone modellers – a trade and skill in which they were exceptionally talented.   William Lockwood expanded his business to London, and took the two brothers with him to manage that branch.

Due to the poor economic situation, Obadiah left Lockwood to work for Thomas Smith, an Architect and Surveyor – based in Hertford, Hertfordshire – who was very interested in the Norman Gothic style, and specialised in the design, construction and restoration of churches.   One of his projects was the construction of a large folly at Benington Lordship, for which they contracted James 1 to help with the building and stone modelling.   James 1 sadly died very soon afterwards, in Tottenham.

James 2 (1820-98), was only 18 at the time of his father’s death, but he took over the business, and moved out to Hoddesdon – just a few miles south of Hertford – and was thus able to become involved in a number of building projects for Thomas Smith, alongside his uncle Obadiah.   This did not take up all his time, however, and one of his other commissions involved the construction of a rock garden, including an artificial lake, fountains and a folly.   He used his stone-modelling skills to form artificial rocks from heaps of old bricks and rubble covered in cement, and ‘sculpted’ the surfaces to simulate the colour and texture of natural stone.  

This triggered his enthusiasm for garden landscaping, and he gradually built up an impressive list of clients including, eventually, Edward, Prince of Wales – later to become King Edward VII – for whom he worked at both Sandringham and Buckingham Palace.   James 2’s proprietary cement soon became known as Pulhamite, and the craftsmen who who built them were called Rock Builders.   Obadiah, meanwhile, had risen to the post of Clerk of Works for Thomas Smith, and was responsible for the construction of villas and churches in France, Italy and Germany.

James 2 was also able to adapt his stone modelling skills to the design and production of garden ornaments – such as vases, urns, balustrading and fountains etc – and he built a Manufactory in Broxbourne, from which to run his expanding business.   He was helped by his younger brother, Michael Angelo Pulham, in the design of his ornaments, and he brought his son, James 3 (1845-1920), into partnership with him in 1865, from which time the firm became known as James Pulham and Son, and business continued to expand significantly.

James 2 died in 1898, and James 3 brought his son, James 4 (1873-1957), into the business, so that it continued to prosper under the same name until the beginning of the First World War in 1914, after which rising costs and the shortage of money and manual labour resulted in a decline that continued until it finally went out of business at the start of the Second World War in 1939.

This story is told in far greater detail in Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy . . . .

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One thought on “Who They Were

  1. Thanks for this, we have an old Kiln on our estate that belonged to Pulham and sons which I have been trying to find more history about.

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