Thursday, September 20, 2012
I was admiring a neoclassical shop front near Bath's Pulteney Bridge when my eye was caught by the royal arms above the shop window. The shop has been a chemist's since 1828, but the arms are those of Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, who visited Bath in 1817, the year before she died. So they must refer to royal patronage of some earlier business based here or hereabouts. The highly complex heraldry combines the arms of the British royal family with those of her father, who was Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The amount of detail on these three-dimensional arms is staggering – all those harps, bulls' heads, fleurs de lys and so on in low relief, and the extraordinary garland of flowers around the central panel. The lion and unicorn are real characters, the former astonished, long-maned and well fanged, the latter realistically equine.
Beneath the lion, the inscription, "COADE LONDON" tell us that this coat of arms is made in Coade Stone, an artificial, stone-like ceramic material produced at Coade's Artificial Stone Manufactory in Lambeth, London. This business, founded by Eleanor Coade (always known as Mrs Coade, although she was unmarried) in around 1770. Mrs Coade developed the material, which she called Lithodipyra (from the Greek for "stone fired twice"), a ceramic composition in which flint, quartz, grog (a mix of silica, alumina, and other elements), and crushed glass were mixed with the clay. It was generally found to be hard and weather-resistant, and was easy to mould into complex shapes. These qualities made Coade stone popular for statuary and architectural ornaments between 1770 and the 1830s. Just the material, in other words, for moulding harps, lions, and tiny flowers.