A Female Stone Manufacturer and her Derbyshire Connection

In the Georgian period, women could be business owners, but usually if they were widows who had inherited their husband’s business, or in stereotypical female environments. Yet, there are some examples of women pushing the boundaries that were expected of them. One of these women was Eleanor Coade, who owned an artificial stone factory in Lambeth, London. Prior to buying the stone business from a Daniel Pidcot, she had originally been a linen draper. In 1766, this textile business was clearly a success as the insurance premium for it was raised from £200 (around £17,500 in today’s money), to £750 (around £65,500 in today’s money) in just one year! With this success, it is uncertain what her reasons were for selling the linen business to go into the stone industry in 1769, but what is clear is that she certainly was a successful businesswoman in her own right.

The artificial stone she created was an amendment of an existing recipe designed to be a cheaper alternative to more expensive stone materials, which could be used for indoor or outdoor ornaments. It was this flexibility that made it popular for customers, who ranged from country house owners, churches, and municipal authorities. Eleanor’s company even had commissions from all over the world, including South Africa and Brazil. Another thing that made the stone popular was the influence from Ancient Greece and Rome that Eleanor used for her pieces. At the time she was creating them, there had been an increased interest in the Classical style. With the ease of use and the styles she produced, Eleanor certainly knew the markets she was aiming for. All of this meant that it became fashionable to commission pieces from Eleanor’s factory.

Photo of Kedleston Hall stairs with Coade stone Grecian urns at the top, courtesy of Rebecca Payne

Kedleston Hall was one of those places that used Coade stone for ornaments and statues in the gardens. Various ornaments were designed between 1760 and 1794. These include two statues, one of Aphrodite and the other of antelopes, and a couple of Grecian urns. The urns, known as the Burghese and Medici urns, are reproductions of ones that were made in Athens during the first century, both of which depict different scenes from Greek mythology. They are important in the story of Eleanor Coade as they date to the time when she was having problems with Daniel Pidcot, the original owner of the stone company, who she had kept on as a manager. He had created the copy of the Burghese vase and had showed it in 1771 at an exhibition for the Society of Artists and later the Royal Academy. In a letter a few months later, Pidcot wrote that he had created this work for Samuel Wyatt, who was the Clerk at Works under Robert Adam, the architect at Kedleston, and that the Medici urn would be in production soon.

It was clear that Pidcot was still acting as if he owned the company, rather than just being the manager, much to the annoyance of Eleanor. In fact, she published various newspaper announcements in September 1771 about who was the real owner of the company and to state that Pidcot had finally left her employment. Who knows what else had been doing in the name of the company that Eleanor was unhappy with. For this reason, the Burghese vase remained unsigned, whereas the Medici vase was clearly signed with ‘Coade, London’.

‘The Entrance to Coade and Sealy’s Gallery of Sculpture of Artificial Stone, Westminster Bridge.’ – ‘Published by J. Sewell Cornhill Feb. 1. 1802.’ – Drawn & Engraved by S. Rawle, D8760/F/LIB/9/5/2

Whilst the urns appear to have been bespoke pieces, the factory did also specialise in generic, ready to buy items, which could easily be replicated as they were made from reusable moulds. These items were cheaper than bespoke commissions and were popular with customers who wanted to look fashionable but didn’t have the money that those asking for bespoke pieces had. It was mainly these items, as well as top examples that the company had already made, that appeared in the collection on show in her gallery, which we would understand now as a business showroom. This gallery located near to Westminster Bridge in London. The gallery produced a booklet that took visitors on a guided tour through Coade designs and listed places where previous commissions were housed, ranging from country houses, to public places, even places abroad, such as Russia, South Africa and Brazil. 

By 1817, fashions had changed, and large commissions were no longer in fashion. The gallery was forced to close, but instead there was more concentration on better advertising and promotional campaigns. These advertising campaigns still helped to make the company a success, even after Eleanor’s death in 1821, until the firm closed in the 1840s. In total, it’s estimated that around 650 examples of Coade stone have survived, so it is nice to see that some of those examples are at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire. Perhaps the next time you visit, you’ll look on them with a renewed interest in the accomplishments that Eleanor Coade had to make so she could create these works of art.


English Heritage, ‘Eleanor Coade’, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/women-in-history/eleanor-coade/

Kelly, A., ‘Furnishings from the Coade Factory in Lambeth’, Furniture History, 10 (1974)

Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2017)

Major, J. and S. Murden, A Georgian Heroine: Eleanor Coadehttps://suewilkes.blogspot.com/2017/12/a-georgian-heroine-eleanor-coade.html

National Trust, ‘A Pair of Recumbunt Antelope’, https://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/109016

National Trust, ‘Aphrodite of Knidos’, https://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/109015

National Trust, ‘The Borghese and Medici Vases’, https://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/109017

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