Friday, December 4, 2009

Nineteenth Century Heroines: Solid As Stone

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!

15 comments:

Amy DeTrempe said...

Very interesting. I love learning odd tidbits like this.

QNPoohBear said...

That's amazing! I've never heard of her. Thanks for sharing Eleanor's story.

Gillian Layne said...

Thank you so much for sharing! I've never heard of her either, but it's a wonderful story. It's also great confirmation for the fact that women have always had and used their brains, even though it was obviously much harder to do so back then.

Regina Scott said...

You're welcome! I was actually a little disappointed when I finished my research. See, I'd been told that the secret of Eleanor's stone had defied science. That was far more romantic to me! However, some bright chaps in England recently managed to analyze the formula, and now they know how she did it.

It doesn't detract from the fact that she was one smart cookie!

ChaChaneen said...

Wow, she was ahead of her time wasn't she! Lurve this post! Hope your having a great weekend, stay cozy.

Bryan said...

What an excellent recall of history. I enjoyed reading your post.

Meg said...

I'm loving this series so much!

prashant said...

I've never heard of her. Thanks for sharing Eleanor's story.

Work from home India

prashant said...

I've never heard of her. Thanks for sharing Eleanor's story.

Work from home India

David Brogan said...

Eleanor Coade was born in Exeter in 1833. In 1784, at the age of 51, she inherited Belmont House in Lymm Regis from an uncle. Her mother, also Eleanor, didn't play any significant part in the setting up -and running of the Coade Stone Manufactory, Narrow Wall Lambeth

David Brogan said...

Sorry. Eleanor Coade was born in 1733. I made a typo in the original post.

Regina Scott said...

David,

Thanks for commenting! I must admit that researching Eleanor's story led to more confusion than anything else. Several sources cited the mother as key; others the daughter. The Survey of London, which I highly respect, indicated that she was at least involved in the marketing of the stone and seems to credit her with much more. I'd love to see another source to confirm this.

David Brogan said...

Here is an extract from the book generally considered to be the most authoritative on the subject.
"Mrs Coade's Stone - Alison Kelly MA.

"Since mother and daughter had the same name, confusion has reigned over the contribution of each of them to the manufactory. The widow Coade was of course Mrs, and it has been assumed that any mention of Mrs Coade must refer to her. Rupert Gunnis, for instance, believed that the widow ran the factory until her death, in her late eighties, in 1796. What is not generally realised is that women in business, in Georgian times, had the courtesy title of Mrs, So Mrs in the Coade records, normally refers to Miss Coade. Bills were usually headed Eleanor Coade, but two, as early as 1771, for Hatfield Priory, Essex, and 1773, for work at Burton on Trent Town Hall, were made out to Miss Coade, showing that from the early days she was in charge. The only references which specifically concern the mother are the first two entries for the factory in the Lambeth Poor Rate books, when the rate was paid by Widow Coade. p.23.

David Brogan said...

If you are interested in where the Coade Stone Manufactory was sited in Lambeth; be prepared for much more confusion.

Regina Scott said...

Excellent, David! Thank you! I wasn't able to get a copy of that book before writing my post. Thanks for mentioning it so folks know where to learn more.

Blessings!