For some years now, I have been researching the lives and work of James Pulham and Son, the eminent firm of English Victorian and Edwardian landscape gardeners who specialised in the construction of picturesque rock gardens, ferneries, follies and grottoes etc, and also manufactured a wide range of high quality terracotta garden ornaments, such as vases, urns, balustrading, seats, figures -- and fountains.
The fountains came in many shapes and sizes -- most produced specifically for a particular site or client. There was a range of small ones, suitable for domestic gardens, as well as a number of large ornamental fountains for erection in large country estates and public parks around the country. Some were exhibited at the International Exhibitions during the 1850s and '60s, and received a number of awards and medals for their design and craftsmanship.
Fig 1 - Small domestic fountain, with cement bowl above a terracotta pedestal
The fountain illustrated in Fig 1 is made up from three standard elements in the firm's catalogue. The basin is a 'quadrafoil' shape, and was used for a great number of Pulham fountains. The pedestal is a hollow terracotta unit that could be used to support a sundial or a vase, and, in this case, they put a special cement vase on top to function as a fountain bowl. I took this photograph in 2001, and the owner assured me that it still works -- approximately one hundred years after it was installed. The bowl has weathered, and now feels fairly rough to the touch, but the terracotta pedestal is as smooth and as tactile as it ever was.
Fig 2 - Country house fountain, with rockwork pedestal and fluted bowl
Fig 3 - Artificial marble fountain, with swan and cherubs
Fig 3 is a picture of another fountain that stands in the gardens of a country house. Here again, the basin is round, but, this time, the pedestal is made from scagliola, or artificial marble, and shows some cherub figures and a swan. This was erected about ninety years ago, but the modelling is still remarkably sharp and intact.
The first large fountain illustrated here was exhibited by the second James Pulham -- there were four generations, all called James -- at the 1862 Grand Exhibition, and stands over fifteen feet high. It is often called the 'Hebe Fountain' because the figure in the top section is modelled after Canova's statue of Hebe, the Greek Goddess of Youth. After the Exhibition -- probably around 1867 - it was installed at Dunorlan, the home of Henry Reed in Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, where James Pulham landscaped the surrounding estate, and incorporated a large artificial lake, complete with cascades and rockwork.
Mr Reed soon tired of his new property, however, and moved to Harrogate, in Yorkshire, in 1870, after which Dunorlan changed hands, and was eventually requisitioned by the War Damage Commission for the War Effort in 1943. This turned out to be quite an appropriate name because, after staying there for fourteen years, the house had degenerated into a very dilapidated state -- in fact, it was severely damaged by fire the following year (1958), and had to be demolished.
The estate was eventually taken over by the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, who developed it into a public park, complete with boating lake. Unfortunately, the fountain was in a very bad state of repair by this time -- the figure of Hebe on the top had vanished, along with the four terracotta kneeling Triton figures that once spouted water into the basin from the corner pedestals -- but, in 2001, the very active 'Friends of Dunorlan Park' persuaded the Council to make a joint application to the UK Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant that would help them restore the parkland and fountain to their former glory.
Fig 4 - The Dunorlan Fountain, in Dunorlan Park, Tunbridge Wells
Another Pulham fountain that has benefited from an award by the Heritage Lottery Fund is the Pierremont Fountain in Darlington, County Durham. It was originally made for the magnificent Pierremont country estate owned by Henry Pease - a member of one of Darlington's foremost Quaker families, and youngest son of Edward Pease, the 'Father of the Railways' in Britain -- where the Pulhams also constructed an artificial lake, complete with boathouse and surrounding rockwork.
Henry Pease died in 1881, and his wife Mary continued to live at Pierremont until she died in 1909. The estate was then sold for building development, and the mansion divided into flats. The fountain was presented to the Borough in 1925, and it was moved to Darlington's South Park, about two miles away.
It, too, suffered some serious damage at the hands of vandals during the latter years of the 20th century, but - just like the Hebe Fountain in Dunorlan Park - was also restored in 2005 with the aid of a Heritage Lottery Restoration Grant, and can be seen in a faithful reproduction of its former glory -- pictured here in Fig 5. The vases around the basin all had to be made from scratch, based on old archive pictures, and, as can be seen, two have already been removed for repair after damage.
Fig 5 - The Pierremont Fountain in South Park, Co Durham
The fountain with which I would like to conclude this article, however, is the one I have always known as the 'Kew Fountain', because it was originally made by Pulhams to stand in the entrance of the Kew Horticultural Gardens at the time of the Grand Exhibition of 1862. The left-hand illustration in Fig 6 is taken from the Art Journal Catalogue produced to celebrate the event, but, in the absence of any further information about it, I have always assumed that it had long since disappeared.
I wrote an article about Pulham's fountains in 2003, and received a call from a terracotta restorer who had read it. He thought it looked just like a fountain that he had recently restored, and wondered if it could be the same one. Unfortunately, he had never previously seen the picture that I used, so he had to make some of the missing pieces based on his assumptions of what they might have looked like, and then had no definite knowledge of how they all fitted together.
He nevertheless did his best, and shipped the assembled fountain off to his clients -- at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, USA, where it can now be seen standing in one of the lobbies. If one studies the comparative details carefully, one can see that the cherub on top is different to the original, and the cherubs sitting around the base have now been transposed with the shells that were once at the top of the four supporting columns. It was good effort, even though it is a pity, in some ways, that its new home is so far away from its original one.
Fig 6 - The Pierremont Fountain that stands in South Park, Darlington
Fig 6 - The Pulham Fountain that played at the entrance to the Kew Horticultural Garden at the Great Exhibition of 1862 - reproduced from the Art Journal Catalogue published to celebrate the event -- and its reincarnation today in a lobby of the Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas, USA (Picture by Susan Williams, Virtual Reference Section of the Las Vegas Library)
This article can naturally only scratch the surface of the catalogue of achievements by James Pulham and Son, but much more information can be found by the interested reader at the author's website on www.pulham.org.uk. All visitors will be welcome.