Eleanor Coade was born in Exeter in 1733, the daughter of a wool merchant. By the 1760s she was living in London, selling linen.
In 1769 Coade went into partnership with Daniel Pincot, who had a business making artificial stone in south London. The pair soon fell out, and in 1771 Coade sacked Pincot, replacing him with the sculptor John Bacon, whose brilliant designs and workmanship helped establish the Coade Artificial Stone Company as the leading firm in the field.
Although unmarried, Eleanor was always called Mrs Coade. A talented artist in her own right, she was a still more impressive businesswoman, dominating her company until her death in 1821.
Mrs Coade’s secret
This was not the first attempt to make a new building material. Architects had been searching for a usable, malleable but tough substitute for stone since the seventeenth century, and from the 1670s onwards, various different attempts were made to produce one.
Nor was the material that Mrs Coade made actually stone. It was ceramic – a mix of clay, terracotta, silicates, and glass – which was fired for four days at a time in incredibly hot kilns.
The recipe and the production process were both closely-guarded secrets, something which only added to the appeal of her product. Coade’s commitment to employing high-skilled craftsmen and artists likewise guaranteed consistent quality.
Coade stone and classical architecture
The success of Coade stone was also aided by changing architectural taste.
By the 1760s, architects like Robert Adam were looking for a way of applying ever-more delicate ornament to their buildings. Coade offered the most reliable way of achieving this and her stone was soon used by the leading architects of the day, including Adam, Sir William Chambers, Sir John Nash, Sir John Soane, and James Wyatt.
It proved suitable for all sorts of architectural details, but also for monuments, sculptures, ornaments and garden furniture.
The legacy of Coade stone
Mrs Coade’s death in 1821 left the firm without its energetic, entrepreneurial leader. Changing tastes also meant that artificial stone fell out of fashion. The company was wound up by 1840 and the secret of Coade stone was lost.
It was not until the end of the twentieth century that the real composition of the material was rediscovered and successfully reproduced. The strength and durability of Coade stone, however, meant that many of the objects produced in the eighteenth century still survive, as precise and strong as when they were first made.
Mrs Coade’s stone
Eleanor Coade was a pioneer: a pioneering businesswoman who sold a pioneering artificial stone to the front-rank architects of her day. Examples of this work can be found all across England – from the Georgian terraces of London to the great country houses of the late-eighteenth century, from Buckingham Palace to Brighton Pavilion.
In the last decade, the rediscovery of the recipe has meant that new Coade stone objects have begun to be produced again, allowing us to replace sculptures like the Gothic Cross at Stowe which once seemed lost for good.
Our places with Coade stone features: