James Pulham & Son
- Written by Kate Banister
Pulham & Son is born
The firm became Pulham & Son in 1865 when the third James joined the firm. One of the grandest of their works at this time was a terracotta monument to painter William Mulready. Designed by Godfrey Sykes, it was commissioned for the Paris Exhibition of 1867 by the Science and Art Department of the South Kensington Museum (later known as the Victoria and Albert Museum). The painter rests on a raised bier and a large canopy, supported by columns, covers the effigy. This well-preserved monument can be seen today in Kensal Green Cemetery.
It was, however, for rock gardens and ferneries that the Pulhams were best known. Flat land was channelled, streams diverted and lakes formed. Rocks could be made to simulate cliffs and waterfalls, built with elaborate systems for piping the water.
The firm used natural rocks where possible, but if none were available they constructed their own. In his booklet, Pulham stresses the need to imitate nature, to make the rocks consistent with natural formations.
Rough waste material and bricks were covered with a tinted cement mixture. The surface was then figured, tooled and brushed to make the finished effect more convincing, and durability was guaranteed. Many experts were taken in by the geological accuracy of the landscapes thus created.
Most of the places listed in Pulham's booklet mention ferneries, for the 19th century saw the great craze for ferns. The ferneries designed by Pulham varied from a simple ‘rockified' wall at the end of a conservatory to a much larger structure built into the side of a hill. Walls of either real or artificial tufa were constructed to incorporate growing pockets for ferns.
At Danesbury in Hertfordshire, the Pulhams built a fernery in a chalk pit for William-John Blake in 1859. Garden writer William Robinson stated some 20 years later that ‘there is not a better fernery than at Danesbury. Most of these ferneries have been demolished, but a good example of a Pulham fernery survives in the Swiss Garden at Old Warden, Bedfordshire.