Did you know Broxbourne was home to James Pulham & Son, one of the most important landscape design firms, between 1845 and 1949? They made their own artificial ‘Pulhamite’ rocks, alpine gardens, water features and a wide range of garden ornaments. Examples of their work can be seen in gardens of both local and national importance, from High Leigh in Hoddesdon to Buckingham Palace in London. Lowewood Museum is lucky to have a small number of items relating to the Pulham family and their factory within the collection, some of which is on display in our Petter Gallery.
From their factory in Broxbourne, the company produced a wide range of very high-quality, classically-designed terracotta garden ornaments, such as vases, urns, sundials and fountains.
In 1868, the firm was awarded its first Royal Warrant for the work it did on royal Sandringham Estate. The firm constructed two lakes, one of which had a large boat cave. Their second Royal Warrant was awarded for the rockwork they did on ‘The Mound’ and around the lake at Buckingham Palace in 1903-04.
Left: Flower pot at the royal Sandringham Estate (Source: Lowewood Museum, photo taken by Jenny Lilly 2010)
Right: Artificial Rocks at RHS Wisley (Source: Lowewood Museum, photo taken by Jenny Lilly 2010)
Led by four generations of the Pulham family, the firm developed its own special ‘Pulhamite’ cement, which was used to create artificial rock landscapes. Cheaper and easier to work with than real rock, Pulhamite can be seen in public parks as well as private gardens across the country. It is so realistic that it sometimes fooled even trained geologists. Working at over 300 sites around the country, the company developed a range of over 200 ornaments, including ornate vases, fountains, sundials, garden seats, figures, and more formal balustrading. Pulhams could name the royal family among their clients. Their services included not only artificial rock landscapes, but water features, ferneries, follies, grottoes, building work, stone modelling, the production of terracotta garden ornaments, advice on planting and much more.
The Pulham Legacy
James Pulham & Son closed in 1939. There had been a steady decline in business over several years and most of the factory and Pulham House was demolished in 1957. All that remained was one of the six brick kilns and the horse-drawn puddling wheel that ground the terracotta, which are now Grade II listed.
The local council originally conserved these in 1986, and in 2016 full conservation was undertaken as part of a joint project between B3Living, Lowewood Museum and Broxbourne Borough Council, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Left: The surviving Pulham kiln at the old factory site in Broxbourne before conservation (Source: B3Living 2016)
Right: The same kiln after conservation (Source: B3Living 2017)
Recognition of the importance of the Pulhams’ heritage has increased over recent years. Claude Hitching (descended from Pulham rock-builder Fred Hitching) has led research into the Pulham’s work which informed a dedicated exhibition at the beginning of 2017 in Lowewood Museum.
If you have any questions on Pulham & Son please contact the museum on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01992445596.
(Left: Bench with decorative ends at Warren House, Kingston-upon-Thames - another major commission for Pulham & Son. Source: Lowewood museum, photo taken by Jenny Lilly 2010)