Thursday, 7 June 2012

Pulpit Rock

Pulpit Rock, title page of Brannon's 1856
Picture of the Isle of Wight

Pulpit Rock, Bonchurch, from WB Cooke (1849)
Further to the previous post, I just love this garden description from William Bernard Cook's 1849 Bonchurch, Shanklin & the Undercliff, and their vicinities (Internet Archive bonchurchshankli00cook). 
The Magnificent View from its Castellated Tower described.

This superb scene, in its varied character and richness of foliage, unquestionably surpasses any other spot in the Island, and will be appreciated by all who possess any taste for the sublime and beautiful. The following description may give the reader some idea of its grandeur.

Immediately adjoining the castellated tower, though at a somewhat lower situation, appears the Pulpit Rock itself, forming the boldest feature in the view — its horizontal ledges weatherbeaten and honeycombed, while the interstices between them are marked in the darkest shade. The crag juts forth beyond its parent cliff, and seems to be almost suspended in the air, while, stained as it is by various coloured lichens, it glows in sunlight in the richest hue. On its summit is placed a rustic wooden cross.

The head of this singular rock was formerly surrounded by a wooden enclosure, to which was appended a slight bridge, that gave access to visitors for beholding the neighbouring scenery, and hence it took its name. The prospect now afforded from the castellated tower above it, is enjoyed with much greater facility, and yields a still more enchanting and comprehensive view.
Immediately below us, are seen the curiously terraced grounds of Pulpit Rock, so remarkable for their charming variety. By cutting away and removing a large portion of the cliff, a lawn of considerable extent has been obtained, where Nature had previously presented nothing but a rugged steep. Several caverns (one of them of a large size and of most extraordinary formation) have been opened, by removing the earth and fragments of stone with which they have been filled up since the disruption of the cliff.

In one of the caverns is a most perfect and unique specimen of the beak of an Ammonite, which was removed while excavating the rock for the building of Rosemount, a villa contiguous to Pulpit Rock. From hence the handsome Villa, named Pulpit Rock, is seen below. A mossy lawn of the finest verdure, sloping to the south and west, bounded on its northern side by overhanging rocks, amidst which, geraniums, mignionette, verbenas, petunias, and a variety of other greenhouse plants flourish all winter long. Parterres of fragrant flowers, and walks adorned at their sides by the choicest shrubs, add to the charming variety of the scene ; whilst winding paths, along terraced slopes, lead to sequestered alcoves, rocky grots, and shady bowers ; and beneath are seen trees of luxuriant growth overhanging the vale. In a flower-garden belonging to these extensive grounds, is a fine old Italian-marble Vase, which formerly embellished the gardens of the late Earl of Dysart, whose thatched Cottage then stood where Steephill Castle now lifts its embattled Tower.

The western Pathway from the tower descends through a woody steep to the foot of the Pulpit Rock, where is placed a sheltered seat commanding a most lovely view of Bonchurch; the immense variety of luxuriant evergreens and ivy rendering the prospect, even in winter, ever verdant, giving it the appearance of perpetual summer.

The eastern descent from the tower leads to a most picturesque natural Archway, through which a pathway has been constructed, which enables persons to observe how the rocks hurled from the solid cliff, have been arrested in their downward course, so as to form this singular specimen of Nature's masonry.

Near the grape-vines which are here trained against the rock, may be noticed the four-foot bed of freestone, (much prized for building purposes,) whose outline is strongly marked by deeply-indented adjacent ledges, resulting from the very soft nature of the intervening strata, and the hard and unyielding character of the beds of Rag, which lie above and below. Higher up, the worn, weather-beaten, and far-projecting crags of flinty strata, termed Shatterwit, forcibly arrest the attention of the beholder, and contribute much, by their rugged masses, to impart a romantic grandeur to the scene, reminding us of the wild penciling of Salvator Rosa.

A romantic and delicious spring of the purest crystal water gushes forth in the lower part of Pulpit-Rock Grounds, falling into a small reservoir containing gold and silver fish.

Between the ivy-clumps situated on a level with the House, we have a glimpse of the Entrance Gates of Pulpit Rock, the piers of which are surmounted by two finely moulded Newfoundland Dogs, after Landseer's celebrated picture, entitled, "A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society."

We have great pleasure in noticing, that access to these grounds was immediately granted, on delivering our card to the gardener.
Those were the days! It sounds twee but quite impressive, and it inspired Albert Midlane to verse in his 1860 The vecta garland, and Isle of Wight souvenir:
The Pulpit Rock ! The Pulpit Rock!
It is mounted up on high,
Where the winged choir in numbers flock,
And trill sweet harmony :
And the ivy green Is clambering seen,
Up its sides, time worn, and hoary ;
 As there it stands,
Where the zephyr fans
A rock in its native glory ! 
And that's just one verse of it; see the Hathi Trust archive for the rest.

Midlane says elsewhere (Remarkable Rocks, Albert Midlane, The Baptist Children's Magazine, ed. Joseph Foulkes Winks, 1853) that it was generally known as "Leigh [sic] Richmond's Pulpit Rock", though he wasn't able to discover why. Ditto: and I haven't been able even to verify that it was. Legh Richmond is author of the classic Island-based religious collection Annals of the Poor and that makes no mention of the rock. I've been able to find only a single example of it called this name, and that in an account by an American visitor, James Cook Richmond of Rhode Island.
Bonchurch village is a beautiful rustic spot, full of a variety of charms, perhaps surpassing all the rest, and I enjoyed the view from Legh Richmond's Pulpit Rock, a lone cliff, before 1 clambered up the steep sides and to the very top of St. Boniface's Down, and then wondered how I ever found my way to Ventnor.
- The Rhode Island Cottage (James Cook Richmond, Newport: R. J. Denyer, 1849, Internet Archive rhodeislandcotta01rich).

Pulpit Rock, 1850 print: note the Jacob's Ladder steps
The Francis Frith site has a photo of Pulpit Rock circa 1883; the rock itself ceases to appear on maps in the mid-20th century - unsurprising, as it looks extremely precarious - though a Grade II listed villa on the grounds below it is still extant. It's directly adjacent to Balaam's Path, mentioned in the previous post, so the rock would have been directly to the north - here - just below the present A3055 Leeson Road. The cliffline and its interesting geological features, all along this section, have become heavily obscured by trees. I'd love to have a mooch round the back of some of these gardens, but I doubt "delivering my card to the gardener" would be sufficient credentials nowadays!

 Ventnor from Pulpit Rock: from SGW Benjamin's The Atlantic Islands as Resorts of Health and Pleasure, 1878 (Internet Archive ID atlanticislandsa01benj).

- Ray


  1. My family used to live in this house in the late 1960s and through the 70s and 80s. There are caves in the garden, too, where we had wild parties, which made the neighbours hate us and describe us as the Bohemians of Bonchurch

  2. Thanks for the further information. One of the historical accounts mentions a previous owner, Henry Beaumont Leeson, using the caves for Masonic meetings in the 1800s. I wrote to the current owner of Pulpit Rock asking how much of the Victorian landscape is extant, but haven't yet had a reply.

  3. i lived there as a child, the mapels. one of those caves was the dustbin shed.

  4. the caves went back from the dustbin shed caves to the caves at the top of pulpit rock where they had doors and windows..there were also gypsy caravans in the early seventies on the land in front of the caves.

  5. i lived there from 62 /67 i made above comment 6th may, i know about henry leeson, please tell me more about the gypsy caravans.

  6. im going to bonchurch in a moment :)


  8. yes the dustbin shed. i played in the walled garden, and ate apples from the orchard :)

  9. found this for you ...