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Exploring High Leigh's hidden secrets

November 2023


Have you gone for a walk around High Leigh’s grounds? If so, you may have come across the sunken pump house. Perhaps you’ve taken a stroll through the woodlands and found the rock arch. Or seen the rockery and small cave down by the lake. All these features have something in common. They are made with Pulhamite.

What is Pulhamite?

To answer this question, we need to take you back to the 1800s when a man named James Pulham opened a manufactory in Broxbourne. He had an expanding business in landscaping but his speciality was the creation of artificial rocks.

James Pulham working on his Pulhamite landscaping with a tool in his hand at a workbench

James Pulham at work.

He did this by mixing together heaps of bricks and rubble covered in cement, and ‘sculpturing’ the surfaces to simulate the texture and colour of natural stone. These artificial rocks became known as Pulhamite.

The Rock Arch at High Leigh

As you walk towards the lake you'll come across the rock arch, one of Pulham’s masterpieces. This was part of the landscaping work done in 1871 for Robert Barclay, the previous owner of High Leigh.

The rock arch showing bricks as the Pulhamite coating has disintegrated over time.

It was built purely for aesthetic reasons like most of Pulham's landscaping work and would've drawn the interest of Barclay's guests while strolling the gardens. Bricks can be seen in the structure as the Pulhamite coating has disintegrated over time. 

The rockery and cave at High Leigh

This was one of the main features of James Pulham's landscaping work at High Leigh. It includes the rockery and cave with a cascade leading to the lake.

The Pulhamite rockery and cave surrounded in greenery and down by the lake.

The Pulhamite rockery and cave down by the lake.

According to James’ promotional booklet, the work done at High Leigh included: "Pulhamite rockwork, cave, grotto, cascade, and a pathway across water." [The Pulham Legacy, 2012]

The Pulhamite rockery and cave in 1900 with a lot less trees and foliage.

The rockery and cave in 1900.

The Sunken Pump House at High Leigh

Located just outside the Yew Tree Hall, this historical structure was used to pump fresh water from the lake to the house. The pump was driven by a donkey walking round and round inside the sunken chamber.

The sunken pump house with no roof showing a circular room with 2 doorways leading to dead ends.

James Pulham helped transform the exterior in his own distinctive style, turning what would have been a dull structure into a feature of the gardens.

James Pulham’s connection with High Leigh

High Leigh is located just over a mile from where James Pulham set up his Pulham Manufactory in Broxbourne. It is thought that James Pulham and Robert Barclay knew each other through the Quaker fraternity.

A painting of Elizabeth Ellen Buxton holding a notepad and pen.

A portrait of Elizabeth Ellen Buxton.

It is also speculated that Elizabeth Ellen Buxton, Robert’s wife, would’ve met Pulham through several family connections.

Next time you're at High Leigh, see if you can spot James Pulham's handiwork. The fountain and vases outside the back of the house are also his work. On the subject of history, you can find out more about Robert Barclay or hear The Hayes' exciting history...

Source | The Pulham Legacy, '1871 – High Leigh, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire' 2012: https://pulham.org.uk/2012/01/01/08-january-2012-high-leigh-hoddesdon-hertfordshire/

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