What is Coade Stone?

What is Coade Stone?

It is an artificial stone developed in the 18thcentury  for the making of statues, garden urns and other ornaments, and was much used by architects for the supply of figures to adorn the pediments and friezes of buildings. For instance, John Nash used it for figures on Buckingham Palace. It was used extensively on the Royal Hospital at Greenwich.

What does it consist of?

10% grog (ball clay from Dorset and Devon) Ball clay contains titanium, unlike china clay (kaolin).

5-10% rounded quartz grains

5-10% angular crushed flint

Soda-lime-silica may have been added to enhance the degree of vitrification.

These ingredients comprise material which would not shrink on firing.

Firing at a temperature of about 1150⁰ centigrade lasted for 4 days.

Mrs Coade called her artificial stone Lithodipyra – meaning Stone twice fired.

It is the highly vitrified nature of the product which is responsible for the hardness and low porosity of Coade stone, and these qualities are responsible for its resistance to weathering.

Who was Mrs Coade?

Eleanor Coade was born on 14 June 1733 in Exeter. She died in London on 16 November 1821.

Her father was a merchant who went bankrupt in 1759, when the family moved to London, leaving their former home in Lyme Regis, Dorset. Eleanor was then 26 years old. She never married, but because she became the proprietor of a business she was accorded the courtesy title of Mrs.

Eleanor proved to be a capable and determined business woman – unusual at that time. In 1766 she was trading in the City of London as a Linen Draper, but in 1769 she made a dramatic change in her life, becoming Proprietor of an Artificial Stone Manufactory near King’s Arms Stairs, Narrow-Wall, Lambeth – close to the site of the Royal Festival Hall.

She was astute, and engaged the services of John Bacon, then a rising figure in the art of sculpture, as superintendent of the factory.  John Bacon was known to be a capable sculptor and his work for Mrs Coade brought her an increasing number of clients and orders for her products. In an advertisement of 1773 she wrote: “This Composition, from its Durability, seems to be peculiarly adapted to such Monuments or Tombs as are to be exposed to the Weather, several  Designs of which may be seen at the Manufactory.”

The architects who used her products included Robert Adam, Samuel and James Wyatt, Sir William Chambers and Henry Holland, who was working for the Prince of Wales (later George IV) in the 1780s on the building of Carlton House.  Later orders were placed by Sir John Soane (for the Bank of England) and John Nash (for Buckingham Palace).

The period of greatest prosperity of the manufactory came at the beginning of the 19th century, when Great Britain was at war with France under Napoleon.

In an article in the Dictionary of National Biography (2008) Alison Kelly writes:

“Sizes range from the statue of Lord Hill in Shrewsbury (16 feet tall – actually it’s 17 feet)  to ornaments 1 inch long”.  The implication of this information must be that the statue of Lord Hill was the largest, or almost the largest, single figure ever ordered in Coade stone. It cost £315, a very considerable sum in 1816.

It was modelled by Joseph Panzetta, of whom an article in The Dictionary of British Sculptors records: “Panzetta , Joseph,  active from c.1787-1830. Exhibited at Royal Academy from 1789-1810. Worked for Mrs Coade over 26 years. ”

Four of his works are listed, including a Figure of Nelson, Neptune and Britannia etc. at the Royal Hospital, Greenwich and Lord Hill, Shrewsbury.

Sometimes he is described as Designer and sometimes (as in the case of Lord Hill’s statue) as Modeller.

The cost of Panzetta’s work at Greenwich, which included many figures, was £2,584. His work, with others, at Buckingham Palace, which again involved many figures, cost £1,386.

The fact that his statue of Lord Hill is listed at £315, indicates that for a single figure this was a significant sum for a very large free-standing sculpture.

Shropshire has something unusual – let’s be aware and make the most of it!