A true nineteenth century heroine was one whose ambitions and goals surpassed their times and sometimes their own abilities! Such was the life of Eleanor Coade.
Eleanor began life in the eighteenth century in Lyme Regis. When her father George died, her mother (also named Eleanor) and her moved from Dorset to London and purchased a small manufacturing firm that made artificial stone. Many other scientists at the time were struggling to come up with a durable form of artificial stone to be used as building decorations, grave stones, and statues. They wanted something as beautiful and durable as natural stone, but much less costly. They could succeed for small things, but when it came to massive monuments, their artificial stone tended to shrink in the elements and crumble apart, sometimes within a few months! As you can imagine, a duke who paid a pretty penny to decorate Aunt Ermintrude’s final resting place didn’t want to find it crumbled to dust faster than her corpse!
But Eleanor Coade came up with a better way. Some credit Eleanor the younger, others her mother. It may be because single ladies who excelled in business were often given the title “Mrs.” Either way, the remarkable woman envisioned a way to take broken fragments of previously fired ceramic, mix it with other materials, and fire it again into an almost indestructible material. Eleanor called it Lithodipyra Terra Cotta. The Greek word she made up; at its base it means stone twice fire.
From the 1770s through the 1830s, her stone was used by the best architects and builders of the day, including Robert Adam, Sir John Soane, Sir William Chambers, and John Nash, for buildings, statues, and funerary decorations. It was used to build the United States Bank in Boston and to redecorate Empress Catherine’s great Pushkin palace in St. Petersburg. While it looks like stone, it actually outlasts natural stone, remaining sharp and true years longer. Statues made from the material are still vibrant over 200 years later!
Eleanor Coade never married. She died a wealthy woman and left bequests to distance relatives and churches in Lyme Regis and London. The firm kept operating until 1949, but no one else was able to duplicate the formula for what would come to be called Coade Stone. Only recently has technology progressed to the point where it can be identified.
Here’s to a heroine who can stand the test of time, solid as stone!