Coadestone in Greenwich

I notice in today’s Mercury that a Coade Stone lion currently languishing in the TA centre in Blackheath, and getting very battered indeed by the weather, is going to be given a new indoor home in the Pepys Centre next month.

This interests me as one of the two things I’ve always read about Coade Stone is how resistant it is to the elements and particularly the horrors of London pollution. So it’s clearly not true – this poor old stone cat is looking extremely tatty. The other thing everyone ‘knows’ about this strange artificial stone is that the recipe was “secret” and no one ever found out the formula Eleanor Coade took to her grave (cue demonic chuckle…)

I’ve been meaning to do a post about places to find Coade Stone in Greenwich for some time, so I’ll deal with that sad-looking lion when it actually arrives in Greenwich and we can take a really good look at it, and turn instead to the stuff we already have.

Coade Stone is a strange sort of material. It was invented in the 18th Century at a time when fancy ornament was a big part of building design. It was pricey to get real stone carved, but artificial stone could be reconstituted out of rubble and cheap old tat and cast into prepared moulds. The Coade Stone recipe (which has never been a secret, by the way) ground up stone, flint, glass, pipe-clay and other stuff that had already been fired, and made it into a paste a bit like modelling clay.

It wasn’t the only artificial stone available, but it was the one that performed best for the cash, and money talks. Coade Stone became the market leader. Although at first it was a poor relation to actual stone, it was soon used for ornamentation high-up on swanky buildings where what things were made of didn’t show, and then acquired a glamour of its own. You can see it all over the country – probably without knowing what it is. The most famous example is the giant stone lion on the South bank of Westminster Bridge, which has a fascinating history – and a time capsule hidden inside its butt.

But there’s a load of stuff much more local – and once you start looking for it you realise it’s all over Greenwich…

Definitely the best bit of Coade Stone in Greenwich is the Nelson Pediment in the Old Royal Naval College. The material was at its zenith just after Nelson’s death – as was the man himself, ironically. The lion that’s coming to stay with us also commemorates 1805, the height of Nelson-mania. The pediment’s not hidden away, but few people actually see it as it’s tucked inside King William Court and you have to make the effort to go inside the courtyard and look back on yourself. I won’t go into detail now, but it’s well worth a look.

Next time you’re in the Chapel, too, check out the statues in the lobby – they’re Faith, Hope, Charity and Meekness – and made out of Coade stone. Meekness, by the way, had her name blotted out while the place was the Royal Naval College – they didn’t want to encourage that kind of thing in butch sailors. There are various other bits and bobs in there too. Cherubs, medallions – you know the sort of thing.

A couple of other places I’m not so sure about as it’s just supposition on my part and would welcome some confirmation on are the pediment at the Trafalgar Quarters in Park Row, and the roundels outside the Pepys Centre depicting famous sea captains of history. I understand that the ORNC did “Coade Stone tours” in 2006. I haven’t noticed any since but maybe they’ll do one when the lion arrives. I also vaguely remember reading that the fancy-work on The Paragon in Blackheath is also made from the stuff – but I might just be hallucinating now.

That’s enough Coade Stone – Ed.

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