Pulhamite Rockwork

Image: (architecture.com): “The Brighton ‘Birdcage’ Bandstand was designed by Phillip Lockwood in 1883 and manufactured and constructed in 1884 by Walter Macfarlane & Co. Originally intended as a shelter for ladies to rest in and take in the sea views, it quickly began to host bands (and gentlemen).”

From: An Economic History of the English Garden (2019), by Roderick Floud:

“…Just as the royal parks of the eighteenth century were built and maintained by higher and higher levels of government borrowing, so too were the people’s parks of the nineteenth.

Public parks differed, of course, both in size and in how they were adapted to the topography of the plot allocated to them. Many included lakes…A bandstand was essential…Artificial, Pulhamite, stone made it possible to devise cascades, rocky streams and picturesque bridges. Battersea Park had a Pulhamite waterfall and cave, as later did the royal gardens at Sandringham. Ramsgate in Kent had its elaborate Madeira Walk…while Folkestone, to the south, had an artificial zigzag path down its cliff…”

Simon Swann (1956-2018) was an accredited stone conservator with a longstanding interest in early cements and Pulhamite Rockwork. He wrote at buildingconservation.com:

“…During the mid-19th century the fashion for garden landscaping, grottoes and ferneries led to the adoption of ‘artificial rockwork’. The best known producer was Pulham and Son, who developed a cement-based system in imitation of natural rocks called Pulhamite Artificial rockwork. This was first used during the 1840s but really developed in the mid-to-late 19th century, with some large schemes being carried out at Highnam Court, Gloucestershire (1847-62), Battersea Park (1865-70) and Madeira Walk, Ramsgate (1894).

The first James Pulham (1793-1838) developed his skills while working for William Lockwood in Woodbridge, Suffolk, but it was the second James Pulham (1820-1898) who was responsible for the rapid development of the business for much of the 19th century. The business closed around the start of World War II.

The Pulhamite Rock-Work system was described by Pulham (in A description of a Naturalistic Pulhamite Fernery, Conservatory, or Winter Garden) as:

‘the building up of natural stone in complete imitation of a portion of rocky cliff with stratified or unstratified stone or rock, and joined, where necessary, with Pulham’s cement, made of the same colour and texture, as lime or sandstone, and tufa. Where no real stone or rock exists, at or near, and too expensive to get then the Pulhamite formation is adopted. The core is formed by building up burrs, rough bricks, rubble etc, to the rude rocky shapes; then covered with cements of the colour, form and texture of the rock, which may be considered to be the most natural or nearest to the locality. Sometimes real rock or stone is used with artificial, for economy and effect; in thin strata, where large blocks of real stone are too expensive, this adds to the naturalness of the appearance, and not too much cost’.

Frequently hydraulic lime was used as the masonry construction mortar, and a series of large cantilever stone slabs, often entirely covered with the Pulham cement mortar, was used to provide projecting plant pockets and strata. Rock embankments and walling could include small sandstone lintels buried below the surface, off which further masonry walling was constructed. In grottoes, the use of natural limestone such as tufa was common, bonded to the walls with Roman cement and the areas between were made up with colour-matched mortar (often hydraulic lime based), thrown on to give a suitable rough texture.

…both the Pulhamite Artificial Rockwork and later 19th-century artificial stone often used pigments to colour the pale cement binders to provide the necessary imitation. In Pulhamite rockwork, mortars of different pigmented colour were carefully manipulated and applied by hand to imitate the variations of colour found within the rock face and strata. This is not always immediately obvious because the rockwork is often now covered in algae, moss, or other deposits.

As well as pigments, the Pulhams also used mortar inclusions such as shells, or impressed designs which imitated fossil bands for example. The later 19th-century artificial stones tended to be more frequently pigmented with reds and browns, no doubt in imitation of red sandstone or even terracotta.

There is no evidence that Pulhamite artificial rockworks were ever pre-cast and placed, all examples seen by the author have been built in situ. Pulhamite is renowned for its durability but has often been extensively restored…”

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