The Coade Stone image collection

In 2018, the Library received, as a bequest, the research and teaching slides of Alison Kelly, an expert on the work of Eleanor Coade. These slides complement another of our collections, London Architecture Online.

Eleanor Coade was a brilliant businesswoman who, in the late eighteenth century, developed a formula for the manufacture of artificial stone. She wasn’t the first to try this, but her product was superior to anything that had been made before. It is stronger than natural stone and stands up better to the elements. In her book, Mrs Coade’s Stone, Kelly suggests that this might be the reason the product isn’t better known: people simply don’t realise that it’s not stone. Coade called her product Lithodipyra, but it is more commonly known as Coade Stone.

Eleanor Coade insisted on high standards of production and employed renowned sculptors to make the originals for her moulds. Very quickly, her pieces started being used by the most important architects of the time. This means that you can see Coade Stone on many prominent buildings: Buckingham Palace (John Nash), The Bank of England (Sir John Soane), Kenwood House (Robert Adam) and the Radcliffe Observatory (James Wyatt). Closer to home, it was also used in this Bedford Square doorway.

Since the pieces were made in moulds, they could be reproduced quickly and more cheaply than was possible using natural stone. Coade exploited this and marketed her work to the increasingly prosperous middle classes. The same mould could be used and adapted very easily to produce different pieces. A classical statue of a Vestal could be transformed into Faith simply by adding a chalice, or into Flora with a sheath of flowers. The collection includes many examples of the use of Coade Stone.

A good place to start an appreciation of the work of Eleanor Coade is with the Westminster Bridge lion, made in 1937. This thirteen-tonne sculpture is on the eastern bank of the Thames at the end of Westminster Bridge. Originally, it stood high on the parapet of the Lion Brewery which was demolished to make way for the Royal Festival Hall in 1949.

If you pass the lion, take a moment to look at how pristine it is, despite decades in the elements, and at the quality of the workmanship. The sculptor was William Frederick Woodington, curator of the Royal Academy’s School of Sculpture.

You can view the Coade Stone collection here.

There is more about the lion here.

Bibliography

Kelly, A. (1990) Mrs Coade’s Stone, Upton-upon-Severn: The Self Publishing Association Ltd.

Birkbeck’s image collections

Birkbeck Library has a number of image collections available for research use.

Birkbeck History is full of images of notable people and events in the college’s past.

Birkbeck was the only central London university to stay open during the Blitz. Even after the library was bombed, teaching and study carried on.

The college was one of the first to allow women to study.

The Album of Mrs Birkbeck is made up of poems, prose and images collected by Anna Birkbeck, George Birkbeck’s wife.

There are contributions from well-known society figures over a period of about 20 years from 1825. Entries from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Robert Owen show that George and Anna Birkbeck were mixing with important people in the fields of the arts and social reform. Compiling these albums was a popular activity at the time, but it is rare that one survives intact and with well documented provenance.

There are two collections, Garden History Online and London Architecture Online that are made up of digitised slides from what was the university’s slide library. The slide library is now closed. These collections are extensive and varied. They contain beautiful, historical photographs, paintings, maps, plans and architectural drawings.

The collections grow and develop all the time. We are currently working on a new one that compliments London Architecture Online. It contains images of architectural, monumental, sculptural and ornamental uses of Coade Stone in the UK, bequeathed to Birkbeck College by Averill Alison Kelly.

Coade Stone is an artificial stone (in reality it is a ceramic material) developed by businesswoman, Eleanor Coade in the late 1700s. Coade worked with skilled craftsmen and artists and marketed her product to highly regarded architects of her day. It can be found across the UK and internationally. In London, noted examples can be seen at Buckingham Palace, Sir John Soane’s Museum (Lincoln’s Inn Fields), Old Royal Naval Palace (Greenwich) and Schomberg House (Pall Mall)

You can explore all our collections and find images, by subject, from other collections worldwide here.