The Putnams of Farringdon House

    James Putman was the youngest son (and second youngest child) of James senior (10 Nov. 1832 - 9 Jan. 1900) and Ann Reeves of Aylesbury, who had 
    married on 10 Sept 1857.

    The children of the family were:

        Sarah (born about 1852)

        Martha (born 1858)

        Joseph (born 1859)

        George (born 1862)

        Harry (born 1864)

        Anne (born 1866)

        Ellen Esther (aka Nelly – born 1869)

        James (born 1874)

        Mary Ellen (born 1876)


    The family may have originally come over from Holland at the time of William and Mary. They had small village workshops making furniture. They had the Rope Walk at Aston Clinton, near Aylesbury, Bucks. The Company grew and became Putman Tent Contractors and then included Putman's Hire and Gunter’s Catering.

    James probably started school at Aston Clinton Village School, and went on to possibly Aylesbury Grammar School. The story goes that the Putman family were friends with the Morris Bicycle Shop and James and his sister certainly had the first two bicycles from Morris at Aylesbury.

    After school at age 16 (from the 1891 census), young James was described as a 'Rope Maker', following on the trade from his father. At the 1901 census his employment is described as 'Rope tent and flag manufacturer'. His father (James senior) died in 1900.

    When Morris went into motorcars, they asked if James would be prepared to put money into their company. James refused, as he thought the venture was too risky. The Morris Bicycle Shop went onto become the Morris Motor Car Company.

    In the early 1900s James was a champion cyclist. With his tenting work, he and his brothers travelled all over England. James' first wife was Frances Watson, the daughter of Alexander Watson, a very well known North Country athletic outfitters. James and Frances married in early 1901 and had one daughter, Frances Annie Putman (1904-1972). James’ wife (Frances) died in 1904 at the young age of 31, and he was left a widower with a very young child.

    In mid 1906 James married Violet Weeden (1878-1963) and they lived at Haydon Hill House. They had a farm, and helped run the tenting business. They started Putnam House in Aylesbury, a home for young unmarried mothers. (See: Book 'Old Aylesbury'. E.Viney & P.Nightingale. ISBN 0 900 804 211 1994, p.38 Putnam House). James bought into Bessemar, an engineering company. He bought and made French tents for the 1914-18 War at the Great Southern Works, Aylesbury.

    James and Violet had four children:

        Violet Mary (1908-1995) married Philip B. Broadbent in 1932,

        James Eric (1910-1984) married Ursula Tagart in 1937,

        Sheila Elizabeth (1914-1983) married Patrick Wall in 1953

        Philip Edward (1916-2003) married Winifred Roberts in 1941.

    In the 1911 census James is shown as a 'Tent manufacturer and Ball Furnisher'.


    The Cubitt Engineering Co. Ltd. (sister company to Holland, Hannen & Cubitt Ltd.) was a construction company in England who built much of Central London - Covent Garden Market, the Cenotaph and the 'new' east wing of Buckingham Palace. In 1920, they decided to build motor cars in Aylesbury (just outside London), and took over the now empty Great Southern Works factory. James bought into Cubitt. The production target was 5,000 cars per annum and the Bicester Road factory operated from 1919 to 1925. It was also possible to buy a chassis and have a body fitted by a different company. Slogans such as 'Big value for little money' and 'The right car at the right price' were used. In 1921 a 15.9 hp family car that could achieve 50 mph sold for just £442 which the motoring magazines of the time considered good value. In January 1925 AC cars managing director, Mr S. F. Edge, decided to manufacture their own version of the British Anzani engine at the Aylesbury factory of The Cubitt Car Company (in which he had a financial interest) and he immediately cancelled the 30 engines a month order from Anzani.

    In February 1925 a receiver was appointed and Cubitt was declared bankrupt. James lost a lot of money from this. It is thought that only 5 Cubitt cars remain in running order in the world.


    The freehold for Farringdon House, near Exeter, Devon, went up for sale on Thursday 6th June 1918, and James and his family moved in during 1919. They took their award winning champion herd of Haydon Hill Friesians on the train to Devon. In Devon they continued to farm. Horses were a great passion, which they reared and trained to sell on. 'Park Carnation' their award winning Hackney Horse won in both the U.K. and America. 'Punt Gun' and 'Shell of Gold' ran in the Grand National. 'Farringdon' was Champion Hunter. His daughter, Mary, won many awards at Olympia and Richmond on 'Beauty' and 'Playful'. They rode at Point-to-Points. Their horses raced. They all hunted, and 'meets' were held at Farringdon - the butler always carried out a salver of violet buttonholes, which all the Putman family wore.  

    At Farringdon he was seen as the 'County Squire'. Farringdon House was bought with 10,000 acres including 8 Farms. New gates were put all round the land with the code 'JP1919' on the white posts. After the Crash in 1929 a lot of the Farringdon Farms were sold. Farringdon had the largest sprung dance floor in any country house in Devon.


    The Putnam family always kept pets, mostly dogs. There was a spotted Dalmatian, and Bert the Old English Sheepdog was much loved. Most photos involve Terriers, Flatcoats, or Pekingese.

    Farringdon was extremely well run, and James was very particular. The gardens were beautiful. There were a lot of indoor staff, a nanny and governess, gardeners, chauffeurs, and stable hands, as well as all the farm workers and game keepers. Life was very social with entertaining, hunt balls, and tennis parties.

    Sir Alfred Munnings, the great English equine artist used to stay at Farringdon to paint and hunt. He painted a miniature of James' champion bull for Queen Mary's Dolls House at Windsor Castle. It hangs in the dining room of the dolls house.

    James always had Rolls Royce cars, usually navy and magenta colour - his racing colours, but during the war the cars were black. At Farringdon there were three chauffeurs - Smythe, Coombes and Hagar. All his cars were meticulously polished and maintained by the chauffeurs. They wore a uniform and hat. Violet's Rolls had a glass partition and a luggage rack with navy and maroon stripe round (James' Racing Colours). Another car was a Triumph with the registration BTT 1.

    James was very interested in art and furniture. Farringdon was very beautifully furnished. There was a marvellous library of leather bound books. James bought about 20 of Munning's paintings of the Canadians (Violet had Canadian relations) working with heavy horses (Percheron) in Northern France, logging and making trench props in the 1914-18 War. It was in memory and gratitude to the many Canadians who died in the War. These were all eventually bought by Lord Beaverbrook to create a living exhibition in Canada of the Canadian's bravery in The Great War.


    Frances (the first born and known as Frankie) was quite small. She flatly refused to drive a small car, so drove a Rolls sitting up on lots of cushions!

    James was the largest shareholder in Rolls Royce, and would display the Rolls for them. When the Putnam family went on holiday to Monte Carlo, the luggage was sent on beforehand. The Rolls Royce was taken abroad as a way of showing off the 'luxurious' cars from Britain.

    There is a pre-war photo of a Hispano-Suisa car at Farringdon (no more details known).

    In 1932 James' daughter, Mary, who helped train the horses, married in Farringdon Church, and moved abroad. James was getting older, and no longer hunted, so gave more time to his passion for horse racing. When Mary married, James (it is thought) handed the keys of a Rolls Royce to her new husband, and told him to use it for their honeymoon. Driving up the A30 on Salisbury Plain, the car hit a tree and Mary had a black eye for her honeymoon!


    There seemed to be a lot of confusion with the spelling of the family name, although the original tent business definitely shows as Putman. In 1935 James sorted out a document to end the confusion and the name was changed to Putnam.

    The 1939-45 War loomed. James' children joined the ATS, the Navy, the WRENS, and the Army. The RAF and Polish Air Force took over Farringdon House as it was near Exeter Airport. James was forced to move house. Some of the RAF and Polish Air Force arrived early and lived in the stables, before James had moved out. Reginald Baxter who was in Lloyds of London, was in the RAF and a brilliant pianist. Violet heard about him, and invited him to play on her grand piano in the main house. Farringdon was sold by a compulsory purchase order to the Ministry of Home Security, with only 90/100 acres, and one Home Farm, for £20,000.

    In 1938 the Family bought The Bournemouth Times and Poole & Dorset Herald newspapers. During the War years, in Eric's absence, James helped run the business. At the end of the war the works were moved from Commercial Road, Bournemouth, to a new establishment in Branksome, and new Cossor machinery was brought in. They also did printing for Exchange & Mart, Caravan Monthly, two Nature Magazines, a Do It Yourself magazine, and other London magazines.


    From about 1940 to 1946 James and Violet, rented for a peppercorn rent of £1 a year, Bloxworth, in Dorset, on condition that all the resident staff were kept on. These included Anderson, the chauffeur, and Mary McGuigan 'Mary in the Pantry'. It was a very lovely country house but had no electricity. (See: 'The Manor Houses of Dorset', Una Russell and Audrey Grindrod, ISBN 978-1-904-34952-5). He arrived with his Rolls Royce, and Anderson started work by putting Violet's Rolls up on chocks in the garage for the war years. Before and during the war, James ran Gunters Tea Room in Curzon Street, and was determined to take fresh cream and strawberries to London to cheer them all up. He stayed at the Dorchester Hotel.

    During the war years the cars were black. James had a 1936 drive-yourself 25/30 h.p. with the throttle on steering wheel and spare tyre on the side. Violet's Rolls was chauffeur-driven, with 'glass separe' version of the same done by Oldham (it probably looked like a hearse).

    With the end of War, James finally bought Delph House, Broadstone, in Dorset. The Rolls Royce came too, with Anderson as Chauffeur, and Mary in the Pantry. He created the most incredible 15 acre garden with lakes, azaleas and rhododendrons. He worked very closely with Kingston Lacey, Stour Head, and Compton Acres.

    There was a specialist Rolls Royce Shop at either Brookwood, or Bond Street in London. As James drove up and down to Gunters Tea Room in Curzon Street, and stayed at The Dorchester Hotel, Violet went up too, from time to time. A visit to the Show Room would have been a must for James. Violet meantime had a marvellous shopping spree at Fortnum & Mason, The White House, Mallets, The Burlington Arcade, Harvey & Nichols, and Harrods. They came home laden with dress bags and hat boxes. Everyone turned out at Delph to greet the Rolls Royce. Violet always brought home small presents for everyone. Particularly loved were the tiny coloured sugared almond babies from a specialist sweet shop in an arcade opposite Harrods.

    Two daughters came home from the War and settled for a short time at Delph. James' sons, now married, helped expand Gunters and the newspaper business. Gunters catered for the Lord Mayor's Banquet. The newspapers flourished in their new premises. The newspaper business was sold in about 1958.

    Sometime after the War, James exchanged both Rolls Royce for a beige (or pale blue) and maroon Silver Cloud. The radiator mascot on both Rolls was changed for a silver horse head - to considerable approval, as it was considered bad form to flash the original mascot.

    In about 1955 James went to the motor show. The coachbuilders, H.P. Mulliner, had the finest car in the show. It was awarded the prize and James bought it on the spot. Pip (Philip) was with him. It was cream and pinkish colour, with maroon going round it.

    James was driven in the Rolls to Aylesbury by his son Philip, in about 1956, to visit relations. Returning home to Delph, it was a 'near death experience', with James backseat driving, giving Pip hell!


    I suppose James was an entrepreneur from an early age. He worked hard all his life. He did have an interesting and successful career. He was not an easy man to get on with. He was wonderful and kindly to his small grandchildren. He was utterly devoted to his wife Violet. He enjoyed having a large family, and all the events, and occasions, and trying to control his Putnam Dynasty. There are so many things to remember about James Putnam - Haydon Hill, Farringdon, Bloxworth and Delph. At heart he was always a countryman, and he did live his life to the full. Delph House is now a BUPA Nursing Home. In his old age, James loved reading Westerns from Broadstone Library. He continued to tour his beautiful Delph gardens in a disabled buggy, and would drive down to the lake. The staff positioned a wooden box by the lake that was kept full of neat little squares of bread, so that he could feed all his ornamental ducks. Inevitably, James went too fast, and was always tipping the buggy over, so Mary bought him a whistle to hang round his neck, to summon help. Anderson, their Chauffeur, moved to 'Dixcote' a cottage by Broadstone Station that James gave him.

    James and his wife, Violet, are buried at Broadstone Cemetery, near Bournemouth, Dorset. One of the 'living-in staff' (Mary in the Pantry) is also buried nearby. James (senior) and Ann are buried at Aylesbury cemetery under a 'Kneeling Angel' headstone.
    Possibly around 1960, at a roundabout near Windsor, Philip saw a car with the registration ATT 850. They zoomed around it, stopped the car, and asked the driver where he had bought it. He had bought it at a garage, and was an equerry or administrator wrking for the Queen at the castle. It is though that the number plate was changed from one car to another car at some time. Is it possible that "ATT" stood for "Aylesbury Tenting & Transport"? This was about the time that James bought Cubitt cars. Cars were very new in those days and a personalised number plate would have been very innovative. 


    Wherever James and Violet lived, the vegetable garden was superb, all in neat squares with gravel paths surrounding, and cordon fruit and figs on the brick walls. There was a huge amount of soft fruits grown, strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants’, redcurrants, gooseberries. There were always raised rows of ripe asparagus for cutting. Apart from providing endless fresh produce for the Farringdon Kitchens and entertaining, I am sure a lot of the vegetables went to help feed the vast army of staff and workers. At Delph as a child, I wandered round the paths, looking in amazement, and I was allowed to crawl under the strawberry netting, and sit on the hot straw and eat fresh strawberries straight off the plants.

    Cook reigned supreme in the Kitchen. The Kitchen was out of bounds to the children, through the green baize doors. She had a Scullery Maid and various helpers to peel the vegetables, prepare the food, and wash up. The larder had a huge marble shelf to keep the food cool. All the washing up and peeling was done at the big sink in the Scullery. The Kitchen had a vast kitchen table for rolling pastry and food preparation. There were dressers all round with bowls and utensils. Cook always went up to Violet’s bedroom early in the morning with her notebook, to work out the meals for the day, and for how many, and the planning for the week. The Head Gardener would be given instructions as to what was required from the vegetables and fruit, and this would be delivered early each day to the Kitchen. It was a team effort of pride. I cannot ever remember fancy cooking; it was produce from the Farms and garden and glass houses, good English cookery at its best, with roasts and casseroles and puddings. As Violet grew older, a breakfast tray was delivered by the Maid to her bedside, with a beautiful Early Morning Tea Set of matching china and small teapot, perhaps a rose, and a linen embroidered napkin that matched the linen mat covering the tray. There was a ritual and art to laying the tray each day, to provide pleasure.


    The Butler was God, and the Pantry was his domain. He usually worked with a Pantry Maid. There was a sink, and endless wall cupboards, and a table and chairs. He lovingly polished all the cut glass and decanters, and stored them carefully in his cupboards. James had whole sets of wine glasses decorated with vine leaves that all matched. He was in charge of opening the wine for dinner parties, and the ordering, under James’ supervision, and the storing of the wine, probably in the cellar. The Butler was also in charge of the silver, and there may have been a huge walk-in safe (as at Delph). This involved a massive amount of sitting at the table, and lovingly polishing all the silver to be used, and then storing on green baize in the safe. The Butler and Pantry Maid would lay up the table in the Dining room, depending on how many; just family or a dinner party for 12, with the silver and the glass. There were glorious Madeira lace tablecloths, and linen tablemats, with matching linen napkins, probably with the initial ‘P’ embroidered on the corner of each.


    There was a rigid etiquette on the seating of your guests at the table. The host sat at the far end, with the most important/elderly lady guest on his right, and the second most important lady on his left. The hostess sat at the opposite end of the table, with the most important husband on her right, and second most important male on her left.. Great care was taken creating the seating plan, usually drawn on paper, with the guest names on slips, to be moved around until you had created a congenial atmosphere. Like-minded people were placed together, who enjoyed hunting, art or music. Seating only became tricky when you had a Lord, a Countess, a Bishop, a General, or an Admiral, and that took more thought in placement. People did not like having their status ignored. You did not want to upset anyone, and seating plans were a definite art. A good combination created a merry, interesting meal. A bad combination created uneasy silences and forced conversation.


    Telephones were a luxury. A long distance Trunk Call created major panic. All phone calls went through a lady at the local Post Office. You picked up the phone, and it went through to the Telephone Operator, and you told her the number you wanted to reach, which she then dialled, contacting another Telephone Operator in another part of England to reach the person you wished to speak to. As a result, it was an absolute certainty that Mrs. Jones at the local Post Office knew the baby had been born even before you finally managed to get through to the other end! On a local call, Mrs. Jones was bound to say “Oh, Mrs. Williams is not in at present, I’ve just seen her walking up the road to go to the Bakery’. In village life everyone knew everything about everybody, but it was kindly meant, and remarkably useful in a crisis.


    Letter writing was taught from an early age. When you were sent away to boarding school aged 8 years, there was the regulation Sunday letter, to be written after Church, to the parents. You knew all letters were read by the school. Most letters hid the home sickness, and discussed food, sport, and when were the parents going to come and visit. There was a rigid etiquette in letter writing. If you were invited to a party, dance, or wedding, with a Formal Invitation, there was only one way one could word the reply of acceptance or refusal. Having been to the dance, it was obligatory to reply and thank the hostess the next day. If you were given a present you must enthuse and thank politely as soon as possible. If you had been to a Lunch Party or Dinner Party, a nice gesture was to send a letter with a bouquet of flowers - which in those days might have been made up from your own garden. Anyone who forgot to say thank you was probably not invited again to the next event.


    We have received a vast mass of memories and documents from “the Putnams” regarding Farringdon House and life in Farringdon during the first half of the 20th century. One of these memories related to a Polish airman who crashed and died in his aircraft during the war, after clipping trees. We presumed the aircraft was damaged and was trying to land, but this was just an assumption.

    Quite recently a local resident told us of information he had received from a friend who is researching air crashes during the war that a Wellington bomber crashed in Farringdon in 1943. It is a fair assumption these two records refer to the same incident. The report refers to the crash site as Spain Farm. We hope to investigate this in the near future and hopefully report some more information in the next history newsletter.
    The Putnams still have their original visitor’s book from Farringdon House and it has a number of the Polish airmen’s signatures recorded. It would be nice to match one of these to the crash.