Many of the large carvings and statues you see around London, particularly of the Georgian era, are not actually carvings but pottery. Produced by a once secret process called Coade Stone, it has weathered exceptionally well. The most famous example, and one of the largest, is the White Lion on the South Bank of Westminster Bridge. You will also see it in the Chinese figures above the Twinings shop in the Strand and on the front of St Paul’s, as well as throughout the former Royal Naval College at Greenwich.
Mrs Eleanor Coade must have been a remarkable woman for her times, running a pottery factory for about 25 years after her husband, George, died in 1769, the year it opened. She herself died at the age of 89 but her daughter – also named Eleanor – had taken over by 1800. Although unmarried, the young Eleanor used the courtesy title ‘Mrs’ to promote ‘Coade’s Lithodipyra Terra-Cotta or Artificial Stone Manufactory’, taking orders from as far afield as Rio de Janeiro and the Hermitage in St Petersburg. She passed the factory on to a cousin, John Sealy, but the family secret seems to have died out with him.
In St Mary’s church, Lambeth, you can find the Sealy Family Tomb. Made in 1808 by Sealy and Coade, this fine example of Coade stone has withstood weathering in a way that other memorials nearby have sadly not.
Coade stone was analysed some years ago but I’ll not spoil Mrs Coade’s secret here – you can find the results online with some simple searching. Even with the secret revealed, though, we can still admire the skills that went into making these wonderful castings – not to mention the original models for the moulds.
Read more about her and her pottery here: