International Women’s Day: Remembering Eleanor Coade
Tue 21 Jun 22
The newly restored and refurbished Nelson Room, adjacent to the Painted Hall, is due to reopen on 26th March. From that date the Old Royal Naval College will be adding special Nelson-themed guided tours of the site. These will feature in particular the King William Courtyard to view the Nelson Pediment. This magnificent piece of statuary depicts a mythological version of the death of Nelson. His body is lifted up to Britannia, the female personification of the United Kingdom, as the figures of Scotland, England and Ireland (all also female) look on and weep.
The history of the Old Royal Naval College site is inevitably male oriented; most of its former residents being ex or serving Royal Navy men. But as we mark International Women’s Day we can reflect on the notion that the British nation, in art at least, is often represented as being female.
In a – literally – more concrete vein, we can also celebrate the life and achievements of Eleanor Coade (1733 – 1821). Although not the only female business proprietor who had dealings with the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, Coade is the one who had the greatest impact. The glorious buildings that make up the site would be very much the poorer without her.
She became a partner in an ailing artificial stone factory in Lambeth in 1769 and within a couple of years the company was back on its feet with Eleanor Coade its sole proprietor. The “stone” was concocted from a mix of ground-up minerals and clay, the exact formula kept secret, and was then kiln-fired. It proved to be relatively quick and easy to work with and very durable. The properties of Coade Stone, as it came to be known, made it the ideal material to feed the huge demand for statuary and fancy stone work in stately homes and public buildings in the 18th and early 19th century.
Whilst beautiful examples of it being used for statues and decoration can also be seen in the Chapel, the choice of Coade Stone for the 1812 Nelson Pediment was the company’s greatest honour and arguably its finest achievement. Be sure to admire it on your next visit, either from the courtyard or from the window of the Nelson Room itself (from 26th March).