James Pulham & Son
- Written by Kate Banister
A family business
There were four generations of Pulhams involved in the firm. In each case, the eldest son was called James. The first James was born in 1788 in Woodbridge, Suffolk, and was apprenticed to the principal builders of the town, John and William Lockwood. Here he showed great gifts for modeling. As agents for Roman cement, the Lockwoods were involved in making mouldings and ornamental work for shop fronts and private houses.
In about 1820 they began production of their own Portland Stone cement - this was better for making imitation stone than the Roman cement because it needed no extra colouring. The finished product closely resembled real stone and was excellent for interior purposes, such as stucco-work and moulding, and for making external features such as fountains, vases and other artefacts.
The Lockwoods expanded their business to London, acquiring newer and larger premises at Tottenham in 1827. Some seven years later James Pulham and his brother Obadiah took over the running of the London business, making architectural ornaments such as porticoes, entablatures and pediments in the current classical style, as well as arms and insignia for London companies.
In 1838 the first James Pulham died. The business was taken over by his eldest son, another James, at this time only 18. In the early 1840s, James and his family moved to Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, where the Lockwoods had also had business connections.
The Pulhams' manufacturing methods
In the mid-1840s James built Pulham House near Broxbourne Station, Hertfordshire, where it was conveniently sited for the transport of materials. On adjoining land he built brick kilns and a grinding machine. Here pieces of claystone were fed into a channel and ground to a powder by huge concrete wheels, pulled by horses. This powder was then transported to the works and moulded into tiles, sculpture and ornaments.
A richly ornamented vase made and entered by James Pulham won a prize medal in the Great Exhibition of 1851. Contemporary accounts praised the sound principles involved in producing both common articles for the building trade as well as items of. more artistic interest.
The factory produced cement-based artificial stone and two colours of clay-based artificial stone, one buff and the other a rich red. All of these products were known as Pulhamite.
A Romantic folly
Probably the most impressive of the follies built by the Pulhams is the Norman gatehouse at Benington Lordship , near Stevenage. In 1838 the owner, George Proctor, decided to romanticise the ruins of the Norman castle by adding a huge gatehouse, complete with inscribed stone, a mock dining hall along the side of the house and a summerhouse let into the Norman wall. The walls are mostly flint-covered but the facings, columns and stones of the gatehouse are of the artificial stone that was the hallmark of the firm.
This same artificial stone was used in the construction of West Hyde Church, Hertfordshire (1843-4) and Ware Cemetery Chapel, Hertfordshire in 1854.