Yesterday’s post at the reliably excellent things magazine weblog discussed an on-line project about the Cane Hill Asylum in Surrey. This prompted me to remember that there had been an asylum not far from Redhill, the Surrey town where I lived for most of ’99 and ’00, and I wondered, momentarily, if this were the same asylum. After a few minutes’ rifling through some dusty boxes in my memory I concluded that it was not, when I recalled the name of the place, Royal Earlswood: originally an ‘Idiot Asylum’, it is now a luxury apartment complex.
I had heard it said that Earlswood Asylum had become ‘Royal’ because one of Queen Victoria’s feeble-minded relatives had been confined there. I could find no confirmation of that claim, but did discover that there was one inmate of the asylum who attained a certain celebrity. His name was James Henry Pullen, who earned a reputation as an idiot-savant thanks to his fantastically elaborate carvings and meticulously-built models.
This amazing model has been described as the Mystic Representation of the World as a Ship, and was built by Pullen in 1866. He created a half-hemisphere globe, with a central sun through which could be seen the Queen’s cabin with table, writing materials, despatch boxes and ‘other requisites for use and ornamentation’. It is decorated outside by the moon, stars, a rainbow, clouds and flashes of lightning and a comet for a rudder - Freda Knight.
Pullen made highly-detailed models of real ships, too, including his masterpiece, a model of Brunel’s The Great Eastern that took him three years to construct. Pullen also made some striking works in other media, including a pictorial record of what he considered the major events of his life…
…and a collage made from hundreds of cigar bands, many of which were likely given to him by Edward, Prince of Wales, whom Pullen apparently referred to as‘friend Wales.’
I was dismayed to learn that I must have passed right by some of these objects many times without ever sparing them a glance, as part of the collection of the Royal Earlswood Museum has, since the hospital’s closure, been on display in ‘The Belfry’ shopping centre in Redhill, a characterless place that I walked through hundreds of times, never once suspecting that there were fascinating treasures close at hand.Posted by misteraitch at November 7, 2003 08:27 AM | TrackBack