Eleanor Coade: A Little Remembered Georgian Businesswoman

Eleanor Coade was a very unusual woman for the Georgian times, but one I must admit I admire after recently coming across her story. She was a businesswoman in her own right, despite never being married. The business she owned wasn’t traditionally feminine either. She actually owned an artificial stone factory in Lambeth, London, which bore her name. Architecture was an incredibly male dominated industry, although it was common for upper class women to have a say in the decoration of the house they lived in, Eleanor is definitely one of the first I’ve come across who had a practical role. Her business was highly successful and as English Heritage describes the stone her factory produced was “one of the most widely used materials of the 18th century”.[1]

Eleanor was born on the 3rd of June 1733 in Exeter, Devon, to George Coade, a wealthy merchant, and his wife Eleanor. However, the wool trade George largely dealt in was soon in decline and in 1759, the family were forced to relocate to London because of bankruptcy, including s second one in 1769.[2] Perhaps this was what spurred Eleanor to set up her own business, hoping to help the family fortunes. It was certainly a family trait as her grandmother and uncle all ran successful businesses, something which her father had not quite inherited.

An allegory of agriculture: Ceres reclining amidst a collection of farm implements, she holds a sheaf of wheat and a scythe. Engraving by W. Bromley, 1789, after a sculptural panel by Mrs E. Coade. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

By 1766, Eleanor was listed as a linen draper who dealt in linen-based textiles. That business was definitely a success as the insurance for it raised from £200 (around £17,500 in today’s money), to £750 (around £65,500 in today’s money) in just one year![3] Sadly we don’t know her reasons for deciding to give up this business and buy up the failing artificial stone manufactory set up by Daniel Pidcot just 3 years later. Perhaps it was just boredom or a sense of adventure, or maybe she just found it more interesting. Whatever may be the case, it became obvious that she had a flare for running a business and knew what clients wanted. Eleanor alone wouldn’t have been able to afford the purchase, so she must have had help from someone. There are two options for that, her grandmother, Sarah Enchmarch, and uncle, Samuel Coade, as previously mentioned. Eleanor certainly did receive £500 from her grandmother’s will, for she had been a successful textile businesswoman for 25 years herself, following the death of her husband.[4] Eleanor also had close ties with her uncle, Samuel Coade. He had already bailed out his brother, Eleanor’s father, and in his own will, he specifically removed any of Eleanor’s outstanding debts she owed him, alongside providing a house for her in Lyme Regis, Dorset.[5]

With the purchase of the business, it was renamed Coade, and all of the bills were transferred into her name. However, as she was often called Mrs Coade, this has since created some confusion as to whether it was this Eleanor, or her mother that owned the business.[6] At that time, any woman who may have owned a business was customarily called Mrs, whether they were married or not. Despite no longer being the owner, Daniel Pidcot was kept on as a manager, probably to ease transition and to teach Eleanor about the artificial stone trade. This decision, whilst well meant, did come back to bite. In 1770, Daniel published an essay on artificial stone, and claimed that he had recently opened the manufactory, rather than in 1767, and with no mention of Eleanor being the real owner.[7] There was also more problems ahead behind the scenes, as Eleanor publicly retaliated. In September 1771 she published 2 notices about Daniel Pidcot in the newspapers. The first one placed in the Public Advertiser showed who the real owner was:

Whereas Mr Daniel Pidcot has represented himself as a partner in the manufactory conducted by him, ELEANOR COADE, the real proprietor, finds it needful to inform the public that the said Mr Pidcot is no other than a servant to her and that no contracts, or agreements, discharges or receipts will be allowed by her, unless signed by herself.[8]

The other notice publicised that Daniel Pidcot has left her employment and wouldn’t be returning.

Peter Mazell, The Font in Debden Church, Essex (c. 1786), British Library

It seems like the business had a bumpy start, but the success it would later see was all down to Eleanor and her business choices. Whilst the formula used for the artificial stone wasn’t invented by her, as it was based on much older ones, but she certainly altered it. The formula (although the exact one was a secret) roughly consisted of clay, flint, fine sand, glass and grog, clay that had already been fired and then ground into a powder. The particular type of clay used was purposefully sourced from Devon and Dorset, where Eleanor’s family came from, meaning this was probably the part she altered.[9] The added glass gave the stone it’s weatherproof quality, and it was this that made Coade stone so popular, especially for outdoor decoration.

The designs created at the manufactory were mainly bespoke, although there were some pieces that could be replicated due to the use of moulds. Most of these designs were crated by the sculptor and chief designer, John Bacon, but Eleanor did do her own designs, as some were exhibited at the Society of Artists.[10] A lot of these were mainly interior decorations, as she was interested in interior, as well as exterior design. The generic designs including things such as statues, plaques and even chimneypieces to name a few.[11] Whether an indoor or an outdoor piece, they were always stamped with COADE to make sure no one ever forgot who made them.[12]

Keith Evans, Britannia Monument at Great Yarmouth, Wikimedia Commons

The popularity of her pieces began to increase, and Eleanor made a smart move by opening a showroom in 1798. This was located in a popular area near to Westminster Bridge, which was closer to her upper-class clients. The showroom showcased some of the company’s best pieces, as well as generic items to give clients an idea of what was on offer. The showroom also produced a booklet that took them on a guided tour through Coade designs and listed places where previous commissions were, ranging from country houses, to public places, even places abroad, such as Russia, South Africa and Brazil.[13] Sadly by 1817, fashions had changed and large commissions were no longer in fashion and the showroom was forced to close, but instead it was replaced with better advertising.[14]

Despite changing fashions, nothing could detract from the amazing commissions the company had already fulfilled. These included the Britannia sculpture for the Nelson Column in Great Yarmouth, the gate piers of Strawberry Hill, a candelabra for the Prince of Wales (future George IV) at Carlton House, and a gothic font and screen at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle to name a few.[15] This is not an exhausted list as the commissions were many. With the amount of time that has passed, we cannot name how many, but English Heritage has claimed that there are over 650 surviving Coade stone examples around the world.[16] Including a few tombs, most notably William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, who was buried in the same churchyard as her 20 year business partner and distant cousin, John Seely.[17]

Linwood, J., Tomb of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, St Mary’s Churchyard, Lambeth, Wikimedia Commons

In a world where women were not necessarily the first choice of business owner, Eleanor did remarkably well. I think it’s a shame that her name is not well known, despite the obvious success she enjoyed in her lifetime, despite being in a male dominated working environment. I hope this post has done a little to change that. Eleanor herself must have realised her own influence somewhat as following her death aged 88 on 16 November 1821, her will gave much of her estate away to charitable causes. Most of the beneficiaries of her will were single women. 3 married women were mentioned, but the will stipulated that the money given to them was not to be taken by their husbands.[18] Perhaps that is Eleanor’s great legacy, that she was, and hopefully still is, a great example to women about what they can achieve if only they put their minds to it.


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

[2] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2017), p. 16.

[3] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 16.

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

[5] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 17.

[6] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 17.

[7] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 18.

[8] Cited in Major, J. and S. Murden, A Georgian Heroine: Eleanor Coade, https://suewilkes.blogspot.com/2017/12/a-georgian-heroine-eleanor-coade.html

[9] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 18.

[10] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, pp. 19-20.

[11] Kelly, A., ‘Furnishings from the Coade Factory in Lambeth’, Furniture History, 10 (1974), p. 68.

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

[13] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 22; English Heritage, ‘Eleanor Coade’, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/women-in-history/eleanor-coade/

[14] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 23.

[15] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 20 and 24.

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

[17] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 23 and 27.

[18] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 20 and 25.

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