For Ada Lovelace Day: Eleanor Coade, technology entrepreneur of the 18th Century

It’s Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. In previous years I’ve written about Elizabeth Montagu, Lizzie Le Prince and Laura Willson.

This time I want to highlight the unique achievements of Eleanor Coade, creator and entrepreneur behind one of the most durable and effective building materials of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the eponymous Coade Stone.

This remarkable survivor by London’s Westminster Bridge is a fine example of Mrs Coade’s artificial stone, the ingredients of which are simple but the production process apparently fraught with complexity. Others at the time tried to make the material, but Coade’s London factory was the only one to produce it successfully at scale.

Examples can still be seen outside the John Soane Museum, Somerset House, Castle Howard and elsewhere.

Eleanor Coade was born in Exeter in 1733, and moved to London around 1760. She was unmarried, the title Mrs being accorded to her as a businesswoman rather than as a wife.

In late 1769 she bought a struggling artificial stone business sited on the South Bank where the Royal Festival Hall now stands. Her Wikipedia entry notes:

Coade’s success as a business woman was very rare in the Georgian era. She was a hard-working individual who concentrated on methodical procedures to produce consistently high quality products. She was the first and only person to succeed in the artificial stone business thanks to a combination of managerial skills, entrepreneurial flare and a talent for marketing and public relations.

She closely supervised both the preparation of clay mixtures and the firing process for all her products. Having bought Daniel Pincot’s struggling business within two years she took the decision to sack him for disciplinary reasons, and confirmed her decision on September 11 and 14 by adverts in The Daily AdvertiserGazetteer and The New Daily Advertiser.

She cultivated strong business relationships with respected architects and designers, including Robert Adam, James Wyatt, Humphry Repton, John Nash and Sir John Soane, because she could produce multiple copies of their designs. Her success may be gauged by Josiah Wedgwood’s complaint that he ‘could not get architects to endorse his new chimneypiece plaques’

And those are the reasons why Elanor Coade stands out to me – the combined qualities of attention to detail and to the bigger picture make her a true Georgian technology entrepreneur.

Read more about Ada Lovelace Day at findingada.com.

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