A Coade Stone Discovery
The Product of a Remarkable Female Entrepreneur’s Georgian Business
Recently Weston Park’s Head Gardener, Martin Gee, and his team made a remarkable discovery. Whilst sorting out an area used for their equipment, amongst the detritus of old urns and shoulder high nettles, they found this sundial base. It is no ordinary plinth, though, being a rare Coade stone piece which was last seen at Weston in the early twentieth century when it appeared in a photograph of Margaret Countess of Bradford and her children. In those days it was on the top terrace of the south front, presiding over the gardens that Edward Kemp had designed for the 3rd Earl of Bradford. A yet-earlier image that we have of Weston Park shows it at the centre of a turning circle pre-1855 in front of the main door into the House when that was located on the south front. It is, in all senses, an amazing survival and we are keen to see it restored both as an important piece of Coade stone and as an intrinsic part of the garden history of Weston Park.
What is Coade stone? Where was it made? And how was it used?
Coade stone is not a real stone but effectively an eighteenth century brand name. Weston Park has another example of this curious Georgian material in the form of the sundial in Capability Brown’s Temple Wood, located on the path that leads from the stables up to the Temple of Diana. It is effectively a ceramic substance which was perfected by a female-entrepreneur, Mrs Eleanor Coade, in the 1770s and was notable for being twice fired. This process was, in ancient Greek, known as ‘Lithodipyra’ – literally ‘stone fired twice’ - and that same name was sometimes given to Coadestone.
Eleanor Coade had taken over a business that had previously belonged to Daniel Pincot in 1769. It was based at King’s Arms Stairs on the south bank of the Thames in London, at a site that is today occupied by the Royal Festival Hall and she ran it until her death in 1821, after which the production continued until 1833 under her business partner William Croggon.
Mrs Coade was evidently a remarkable woman of her time and she made a great success of the business. Not only did Coade supply country houses like Weston with garden ornaments such as this sundial, but the company also supplied architects and builders with materials for their works in towns and cities. This made repeated decorative detailing cheaper and easier to obtain than it might have been had it been of carved stone. We know that James Paine, the architect who worked extensively for Weston Park’s eighteenth century owners Sir Henry & Lady Bridgeman was aware of the material. Paine’s presentation drawing for the Temple of Diana, which hangs behind the volunteers’ desk in the Gallery, shows urns, decorative panels and figures which were known Coade models. Sadly these don’t survive at the Temple – if, indeed, they were ever actually commissioned.
The crowning pinnacle of success for Eleanor Coade’s business came with its supply of Coade products to George III and to George IV and some of these items can still be seen on Buckingham Palace and at Windsor Castle.
Locally to Weston Park, one of the largest sculptural uses ever undertaken in Coade stone can be seen in Shrewsbury with the giant statue of Lord Hill which stands aloft his Column at the head of Abbey Foregate and which was sculpted by Joseph Panzetta.
Restoring and conserving this important part of our heritage
The sundial base that we have discovered is currently in poor condition but it is extremely important for its rarity and for the sophistication of the neo-classical design. In the 1780s, when first made and acquired by the Bridgeman family for Weston, it would have been at the very forefront of fashion, recalling the classical Roman designs that architects like Robert Adam had recorded and which were inspiring contemporary design. The actual design of this piece appears in one of Mrs Coade’s archives and has been reproduced in the magnum opus on Coade that was published by the historian Alison Kelly. This particular plinth is hugely important to Weston Park since it was supplied specifically for the property. The family’s agent John Heaton’s accounts – now in Staffordshire Archives – record payments to Coade in the 1770s including, specifically:
1779 Jan 1 - paid Mrs Coade for a Pedestal for a sundial for Weston £28.
Restoring and conserving the sundial plinth will be a complexed process that will be entrusted to a specialist based in Wiltshire. A number of detached details would be re-adhered as a part of the process and missing details will be restored so that the original design of the piece can be read. The Weston Park Foundation wants to ensure the long term conservation of the plinth and so its future wellbeing, especially in being returned to the gardens, where it will be exposed to the elements, is at all time being considered. The intention is that the restoration will also include a new sundial gnomon, to replace that which is sadly missing, so that the piece can once again fulfil its original intended function when it returns to the South Terraces in the Gardens.
The Weston Park Foundation (charity 518325) which owns, conserves and uses Weston Park as an educational resource is an independent charity accountable to central government. It receives no external funding for the work that it undertakes, instead generating this from activities at the property and from generous public donations. We are hoping to raise the full £20,000 cost of the restoration of the sundial plinth from donations and would be enormously grateful for any support that you might be able to offer.