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INTRODUCTION Background Having retired, I thought it would be a good idea to research my family tree in order to create a record that I could hand down to my sons and future generations. The first person I decided to investigate was my grandfather, Frederick Hitching, who used to work as a ‘rock builder’ for the firm of James Pulham and Son the eminent Victorian and Edwardian landscape gardeners who specialised in the construction of picturesque rock gardens, ferneries, follies and grottoes, etc. They also manufactured a wide range of highly prized terracotta garden ornaments, such as fountains, vases, urns, seats and balustrading. I soon discovered that two of Frederick’s brothers – Arthur and John - also worked for Pulhams as rock builders, as did their father, William, and their uncle George. This was something I didn’t know, so I decided to delve further. The firm was based in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and I visited the local museum to see if I could find any archive documents that would give me some sort of insight into their history. Neil Robbins, the Heritage and Education Officer of the Borough of Broxbourne, and Curator of the Lowewood Museum, was very interested in my enquiry. He told me that James Pulham and Son were one of the most important and interesting local firms during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but that, sadly, all their records had been destroyed when they went out of business at the beginning of the Second World War c.1939. ‘In fact,’ he said: ‘I have been looking for someone to research this firm with a view to writing a book about them – and do you know something? I think I’ve just found him!’ This seemed to be an intriguing challenge – especially since it would also give me an interesting insight into the sort of work that my ancestors did – so I agreed to accept it. It proved to be the start of a truly fascinating journey that has enabled me to piece together the history of this firm over more than one hundred years and four generations. I visited my first Pulham garden in 2000. During the course of


my travels, I have been granted access to many places that I would otherwise never have had an opportunity to visit – from the incredible Norman folly at Benington, through the Pulhams’ early church building and restoration projects to a glorious colonnade at the V&A Museum in London. From the beautifully serene and ‘picturesque’ woodland scenes of country house rock gardens to the majesty and theatrical grandeur of the rock gardens at Madresfield Court and Waddesdon Manor, and from the rock gardens in the Royal Gardens at Sandringham and Buckingham Palace, to the open parkland landscape of Dunorlan Park in Tunbridge Wells, with its newly restored 25-ft high fountain for which James 2 was awarded a medal at the 1862 International Exhibition. From the pure subterranean fantasy of the gardens at Dewstow in Wales, Friar Park in Henley-on-Thames, and Merrow Grange in Surrey to the formal dignity of those at Warren House in Kingston upon Thames, Heatherden Hall in Buckinghamshire, and the pristine perfection of the gardens at Danesfield House, Medmenham, Buckinghamshire. From the grand rockwork features at the seaside resorts of Blackpool, Lytham St Annes, Ramsgate and Folkestone to the peaceful tranquillity of the wonderful Japanese Watergardens adjacent to Warren House. The Pulhams created them all.

About the Book Many of the firm’s most prestigious parks and gardens are discussed in this book, and the descriptions and pictures are of the sites as I saw them during my visits – many of which were some years ago now, which means that they may no longer exist exactly as they were then. I know that some have changed hands in the meantime, and some have been restored, which is wonderful. On the other hand, a few may have suffered from a lack of the care that they had previously enjoyed, but it would be impossible to keep a book like this completely up to date in all respects. Over the ten years or so during which I worked on this project, I must have ‘finished’ it at least three or four times – only to find myself diverted into another avenue of investigation. That was mainly thanks to the website I set up at,

which has brought me hundreds of emails, letters and phone calls from people all over the country – as well as from overseas – offering me information or clues that I felt obliged to pursue. By the time I finally decided to draw a line under this project, I had accumulated many megabytes of computer data and picture files, as well as a couple of shelves of hard copy documents. Some of it is background information from members of the Pulham family, but I have also accumulated information about more than 100 of the firm’s gardens and architectural features that I have visited. The only trouble was that, by the time I had written up my notes, it all added up to more than 700 pages, 140,000 words and 500 pictures and illustrations! However fascinating it might be to me – and possibly also to the serious garden history enthusiast – it was obviously far too much for any publisher to consider as a commercial proposition. This book consequently represents a sort of digest of Pulhams’ most significant projects around the U.K. In order to avoid jumping straight in at the deep end, however, the first two chapters are devoted to providing some very brief background details about the Pulham family, and how they gradually became involved in the creation of such fascinating landscaping features as rock gardens, ferneries, follies, grottoes and fountains, and the third chapter is concerned with the manufactory in which they produced their range of extremely high quality terracotta garden ornaments. From that point on, it is gardens all the way. More than forty sites are discussed here, although, in a sense, this is only the tip of the iceberg, because many more have had to be omitted. This is a pity, because they all have interesting stories to tell – in fact, I can already hear the protests from people associated with some of those sites, wondering how on earth it could have been decided to leave them out! There is also the probability that no-one else will undertake this research in the future, and, unless that information is made generally available in some form, access to it will remain denied to the serious gardening student or historian. But fear not, because these ‘additional’ sites are listed as ‘Also Noted’ at the ends of the appropriate chapters in this book, and plans are in hand to provide their stories in a supplementary digital format - such as on CD or as an eBook – under the provisional title of The Lives and Work of James Pulham and Son.

I also have copies of the firm’s Garden Catalogue, Garden Ornament Catalogue, and Alpine Plants Catalogue, and the text of James 2’s promotional booklet entitled Picturesque Ferneries and Rock Garden Scenery, published c.1877, so these may also be produced as part of a Pulham Archive volume. All details will be announced at the appropriate time on the Pulham website. Thankfully, most of the Pulham gardens reviewed in this book still survive, and some of them are being maintained in remarkably good order. In view of their importance, the reader deserves the best possible pictures of them, and this is an area in which I have been particularly fortunate, because my research has brought me into contact with two members of the Professional Garden Photographers Association. One of them, Charles Hawes – five of whose photographs appear in this book – was kind enough to introduce me to Jenny Lilly, who happens to be very interested in grottoes and the work of James Pulham. Her beautiful photographs have illustrated many garden magazines – she has a website at – and I was thrilled when she offered to take some pictures especially for this book. I feel sure that they will do much to enhance the reader’s enjoyment of it.

Family Connections My great-grandfather, William Hitching, was born in 1840 in the charming Essex village of Great Bardfield, which, until that time, had been the home of the Hitching family for well over one hundred years. He moved to live with his aunt in the North Hertfordshire village of Wallington c.1860, and married Ann Newling in 1864. They must have moved to Hoddesdon soon after their wedding, because that is where their sons, Arthur, Frederick – my grandfather – and John were born. It seems that William’s brother, George, moved with them. This is just about the time when James 2 expanded his business in Broxbourne to become James Pulham and Son, but whether William moved in response to an advert for additional workers in the local newspapers, or whether he had met James 2 during the course of a recent church restoration project is not known. Whatever the reason, it is inevitable that some of the later sections of this book will include some personal anecdotal notes that reflect the origins and course of my research, but I hope that this may serve to enhance, rather than detract from its interest.


On a Personal Note There are obviously a few people who deserve my very special thanks for their help and support during the course of this project, and the first of these is my lovely wife, Patricia, who has endured much social deprivation with great patience and fortitude over the last several years. I am also grateful to our son, Bob, who helped by setting up my initial website, and to Mavis Batey – a Vice President and past President of The Garden History Society – who has graciously contributed the foreword to this book. Two more people I have to select for special mention are my brother-in-law, Derek Myson, and my friend of long-standing, Bernard Linsell, who also took a number of the photographs included in this book. I am unable to drive a car, due to being partially sighted, which means that I have needed to involve someone else to take me around on my garden visits. Some of these have involved overnight stays, and I could not have been more fortunate in my choice of chauffeurs. We have had some great times together. And then there are Elenora Johnson, Brenda Lewis and Kate Harwood. Ellie is an incredibly knowledgeable garden enthusiast, and has a huge personal library of gardening books. She is also very interested in the work of James Pulham, so her help, guidance, meticulous attention to detail, patience and untiring support has been invaluable to me throughout the extensive editing of this book. She has also been one of my top ‘scouts’, finding and bringing to my attention the wonderful Pulham gardens at Danesfield (see Chapter 28), and Stoke Poges (Chapter 42). Brenda is an extremely active, and well-known member of the Surrey Gardens Trust, and has written and edited a number of books and articles. She proved to be a very strict taskmaster during the early stages of editing my notes, and her advice on such matters as style and targeted approach has been invaluable. Kate was, until recently, the Administrator of the Association of Gardens Trusts, and has also given me much appreciated and knowledgeable support. In fact, I have met many wonderful people whose help and support is greatly appreciated. These include the owners of houses and estates I visited, gardeners, local authority officials, librarians, people at organisations such as English Heritage,1 the Garden History Society and the National Trust, and many others who have taken the trouble to email or write to me with ‘information’. They are listed at the end of the book, and my grateful thanks and appreciation goes out to all of them. Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens, Buckinghamshire, see page 274






Just to the right of the boathouse there is a cute little summer house called ‘The Nest’, which was built as a present for Queen Alexandra by her Comptroller, Sir Dighton Probyn VC, in 1913, and it soon became one of her favourite retreats – hence the name with which she christened it. As can be seen from Fig 8.3, it has a commanding view across the lake, and Fig 8.5 is an imposing close-up picture of the steps and cascade that lead down from it to the lake shore. Fig 8.6 shows another section of the rocky bank of the upper lake.

Fig 8.4 (left) Upper lake, west lawns and boathouse at Sandringham (Photo by Jenny Lilly)

Fig 8.5 (below) Steps and cascade leading down from ‘The Nest’ to the lake at Sandringham (Photo by Jenny Lilly) Fig 8.6 (bottom) Rocks along the edge of the main lake at Sandringham


Fig 13.3 The new bridge supported by the Pulhamite cliff at Holly Hill Park, with the lower cascade just visible beyond (Photo by Jenny Lilly)

bridge, but a new one put up during the clearance project between 1975-83 to replace the decrepit iron bridge that had carried the old carriageway from Sarisbury Court. The new bridge still rests upon the Pulhamite rocks beneath, as can be seen from Fig 13.3. The boat cave grotto is at the south-western end of the lake. As can be seen in Fig 13.4, there used to be a narrow gap in the top of the cave – presumably to let in the light – which is now covered by a large flat iron-reinforced concrete slab to make it less dangerous for the occasional unsuspecting walker. It is possible to descend into the cave itself, and the entrance to it is shown in Fig 13.5. Care is needed, but Fig 13.6 proves that the effort is well worthwhile. This is an interesting variation of a Pulham cave grotto – quite similar in its way to that at Sandringham, Norfolk – pictured in Fig 8.2. This one also has an inner cave, complete with two small planting pockets, which supports the suggestion that the original purpose of the slit in the roof was to admit the daylight.

Fig 13.4 The boat cave with the slit roof (Photo by Jenny Lilly)


Fig 13.5 Entrance to the boat cave grotto (Photo by Dorothy Turner)

Fig 13.6 Looking out through the entrance of the boat cave (Photo by Jenny Lilly)



Fig 30.1 Rocky banks to an island in the lake at Buckingham Palace (Photo by Jenny Lilly)

Several excellent books have already been written about the history of the gardens at Buckingham Palace, in Central London – one example being The Garden at Buckingham Palace by Jane Brown124 – so there is no need to repeat all the background details here. A central feature of the gardens is the lake, with its two islands, and trees planted along the edges. It was commissioned by King George IV, and constructed by William Townsend Alton, the Royal Master Gardener, and founder of the Horticultural Society in 1804. The huge quantity of spoil was then used to build a tall bank along the opposite side of the lake from the Palace, in order to screen the King’s view of the Royal Mews.


This has always been known as ‘The Mound’, and represents my own particular interest in the gardens at Buckingham Palace, since King Edward VII commissioned James 3 to construct some rockwork on it in 1903 – some 35 years after he commissioned James 2’s work at Sandringham (discussed in Chapter 8). James Pulham and Son were thus awarded their second Royal Warrant, and my grandfather, Frederick Hitching, had the distinction of being put in charge of this project. Fig 30.1 shows the rocky banks to one of the islands in the lake, and the structure here shows natural rocks placed on a Pulhamite base. Initially, the island was completely round, but it was decided to make it look more naturalistic by adding the rocks around the edge.

Fig 30.2 (above) The rusticated facing and natural stone coping of the ‘large’ rustic bridge that crosses to an island in the lake (Photo by Jenny Lilly)

Fig 30.3 (right) The rocks beneath the ‘large’ bridge to the island in the lake (Photo by Jenny Lilly)

Figs 30.2 and 30.3 show the larger of the two rustic bridges that cross to the islands. It is a typical example of Pulham’s ‘rusticated’ style, where ordinary brickwork is rendered with cement that is then sculpted and incised to create the impression of rough-cut stone blocks. It is built on a concrete ‘bowl’ foundation that almost mirrors the arch of the span itself, and is topped with a coping of natural stone.

Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy  
Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy  

The first authoritative book on the lives and work of James Pulham and Son, the eminent firm of Victorian and Edwardian landscape artists wh...