While Eleanor Coade’s factory was the dominant player in the artificial stone market in the late 18th and early 19thc there were others. A few using their own magic mixtures and from the 1820s onwards others began using the new invention of Portland cement. So when William Croggan went bust in 1833 there were several other entrepreneurs ready and able to move in and pick up the pieces.
This post is about two of them – Mark Blanchard and John Marriott Blashfield whose careers ran in parallel through the mid-late 19thc. Their architectural and decorative faux stone and terracotta work can be found all over the country in buildings like the V&A, as well as structures like Chelsea Bridge, and their garden statuary, urns and other ornaments are in many historic gardens and are now very collectable.
Read on to find out why….
Lets start with what happened to Coade’s factory and equipment. After the final collapse in 1843 when the business was in the hands of Routledge and Greenwood they were put up for sale. Some of working moulds were bought by Mark Blanchard who had gone to work at the Lambeth factory in the very last days of its existence. He was still only 23 when he set up on his own account as a manufacturer of terracotta architectural ornaments and sculpture in Blackfriars Road, south London. Unsurprisingly much of his earlier work is remarkably similar in both material and design to Coade’s pieces. Blanchard also made scagliola [artificial marble made largely from plaster] at a different site. His short involvement with Coade was clearly a selling point because even as late as 1869, when Coade’s factory had been out of production for about 30 years, he was still advertising using the Coade image of the defeat of Time and claiming he was their successor.
Although his adverts always refer to his products as “terra cotta” it was actually stoneware: a vitrified ceramic material, like Coadestone, which was fired at very high temperatures for a very long time. Like Coadestone it was noted that “examples…had stood very well for years”. His earlier items have a buff colour similar to Coadestone but he presumably also experimented with the formula a little, as in later years he also manufactured pieces with much stronger colours, although he still referred to them as terracotta. This was, of course in line with fashion. He won the prize medal at the Great Exhibition for his “materials and workmanship in terracotta”. His prizewinning work attracted the admiration of a rival terracotta maker John Marriott Blashfield. [The spelling of terracotta varies – sometimes one word , sometimes two words and sometimes just to be confusing it’s hyphenated]
Blanchard was, however, only one amongst many heirs to Eleanor Coade. By 1851 there were enough other manufacturers in Britain to merit a separate class at the Crystal Palace for terracotta/artificial stone exhibits. Not all were direct successors to Mrs Coade, since even when she was at the height of her success, other manufacturers were experimenting with different kinds of cement. Amongst them was a vicar, Rev. James Parker. He patented a new kind of cement in 1796 that was used for stucco work. By the 1840s it was being manufactured by Wyatt, Parker & Company, in Poplar, who had also invented a slow-setting cement or ‘tarras’ for stuccoing, and casting.
In 1845 John Marriott Blashfield bought a share in Wyatt Parker and took over its factory. It’s often thought that Blashfield had also obtained moulds from the defunct Coade works, but the timings seem wrong, and instead, it seems that “with the kind liberality of some of his earliest patrons” he collected “some hundreds of casts” of both classical and contemporary work. He also chose the “best sculptors” and soon had the largest “gallery of specimens” seen since the dispersal of Coade’s collection. [Interview with Blashford in the Stamford Mercury, 18th Feb 1859]
Blashfield had previously been connected with the Minton pottery in Stoke, and had manufactured tiles, published designs for mosaic flooring and made scagliola. He was already at the upper-end of the business because amongst his clients were Thomas Hope at Deepdene and Sir Charles Barry.
Once in charge at Wyatt Parker, Blashfield began manufacturing plaster of Paris and a range of other specialist cements on a massive scale. These were used in many significant buildings including the Houses of Parliament, London Docks, the British Museum and even exported to help build the Winter Palace at St Petersburg.
Unfortunately Blashfield also decided to try and capitalize on his success and diversify into property development on a scale to match. He leased over half the building plots for Kensington Palace Gardens – now one of London’s swankiest addresses – but he overstretched himself, couldn’t sell the houses he had built and went bankrupt with debts of £40,000. To recover he sold his mosaic business to Minton and probably a large slice of his Wyatt Parker business too. But somehow he managed to recover sufficient money to be able to re-start work making scagliola.
In 1848 Blashfield added two kinds of terracotta to his range of products. One was light in colour, made from Devon and Dorset clay, and used for statuary and architectural ornaments, while the other was a much harder, red terracotta, made from marble from near Bolton. The factory made a wide range of ornamental and architectural pieces for building and gardens from both kinds and these were sold from a showroom he opened in Paddington. By 1853 this was said to be “the most extensive in England” [Dublin Art Industry exhibition catalogue 1853].
Both men continued to innovate, taking out several patents for technical “improvements in the Manufacture of China, Pottery, Bricks| and other articles, made for the most part from clay” or ” burning pottery and china ware.” They always claimed to be making terracotta and pottery rather than artificial stone. However in his An account of the history and manufacture of ancient and modern terra cotta, first published in 1855, Blashfield refers to Coade stone as being terracotta as well: “the first great advance made in Terra-cotta was by Coade and Sealey of Lambeth, who began about the the end of the last century, to make statues, bassi relievi, capitals, coats of arms and a great variety of architectural work for large houses in London and elsewhere.” To him and probably to Blanchard too the terms were interchangeable.
Blashfield was no shrinking violet when promoting his own work. He was clearly proud to remind his readers that “the poverty of design and bad workmanship shown by most of the terra-cottas exhibited in 1851, induced JM Blashfield to enlarge his operations in modelling work for Architectural and Sylvan decoration in Terra-cotta and to erect at Mill Wall a manufactory for the purpose of producing large and grand pieces of this class.”
Amongst his great projects was “Australia” one of a set of gigantic statues for the terrace outside Crystal Palace when it reopened in 1853 Nearly 3 metres tall it was said to be “probably the largest piece of pottery ever fired in an entire piece” and took 3 weeks to fire. It was destroyed when the palace burned down in 1936. However there is one surviving piece from this period – the huge Triton fountain at Oxford’s Radcliffe Infirmary.
The big boost for terracotta manufacturers such as Blanchard and Blashfield came with the rapid development of what was nicknamed Albertopolis in the years immediately after the Great Exhibition. South Kensington became home to The Natural History Museum, Albert Hall & the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Horticultural Society and proved the opportunity to show that terracotta was not only ornamental but functional as well.
It was used lavishly in all the decorative schemes there, including the Royal Horticultural Society’s new garden. Blanchard also supplied the bulk of the terracotta used on the Victoria and Albert Museum – and next time you go to the cafe look out for his makers mark at the base of the door frame.
Blashfield too was commissioned to make ornamental terracotta for the V&A whilst more of his work, largely in the classical tradition, began to appear in numerous country house gardens and on several other major buildings in London including Hampton Court, Marlborough House, Chelsea Bridge, and even Woolwich barracks.
In 1857 Blashfield published A catalogue of five hundred articles, made of patent Terra cotta, and as well as an illustrated booklet A Selection of Vases, Statues, Busts, & c. from Terra-Cottas. By 1860 his catalogue ran to 700 items “made in patent terra cotta, and red and cane-coloured pottery.”
Many of these were copies of classical pieces with others illustrating a wide range of garden ornaments (urns, pedestals, figures and fountains) as well as architectural fittings. His pieces are generally stamped with a makers mark – some in the form of his signature – but, according to Jardinique, the dealer in garden antiques, they can also be recognised by their quality, crispness of detail and yellowish hue.
By 1859 Blashfield had decided to move out of London. The Millwall factory was sold and with it much of the stock in hand. The sale “was attended by many gentry and nobility including the Marquis of Lansdowne, whose taste for the fine arts is well known. Much anxiety was evinced to purchase and prices were realised for numerous specimens greatly in advance of those previously charged.”
Blanchard too held sales of stock in trade in both 1860 and 1861. Amongst items sold were pieces designed for Eleanor Coade by John Bacon in the previous century, as well as classical-themed but contemporary statues.
The move and the sales may have been part of efforts to raise capital and cut costs, because of the increasing competition from pieces made from much cheaper Portland cement. The other way to survive and even grow was to diversify further. Here Blanchard took the lead and his factory began making more utilitarian items such as tiles, roofing and bricks.
Meanwhile Blashfield re-established himself in much larger premises at Stamford in Lincolnshire near the source of his clay, and where he employed 46 men and 13 boys at much cheaper rates than in London. Shortly after the Stamford factory was opened he gave an interview and tour to the local paper, which is far too long to include here in full but it includes a list of his more illustrious clients. You can find the complete article at:
One client not mentioned in the list was the Marquis of Exeter at Burghley just outside Stamford. who was Blashfield’s landlord for the factory. He also commissioned Blashfield to build a boathouse and to supply four large urns for the South Garden. These have been used as the centerpieces of fountains since the 1960s and have recently been beautifully restored. There is a short article about them at:
Another major commission came from the Marquis of Northampton at Castle Ashby in the mid 1860s. This included the 1.5 m high balustrading and lavish ornamentation of a massive new terrace linking 4 gardens. To find out more about the rest of the lettering and Blashfield’s other work here see:
Mark Blanchard does not seem to have published a catalogue until as late as 1869 but when he did it was well illustrated and contained a mini-history of terracotta production
Blanchard eventually followed Blashfield’s example and during the 1870s began moving his business out of London to Bishops Waltham in Hampshire. There he concentrated almost entirely on the newer more utilitarian lines, such as tiles and bricks which he showcased at his own house, Claylands. The London factory had closed by 1880 but by then the Bishops Waltham factory had become one of the most important brickworks in the world. Specialist bricks were exported to Europe and the USA and even to Egypt. Blanchard himself died in 1892 and afterwards the company’s fortunes waxed and waned before it finally closed its doors in 1956.
Meanwhile Blashfield ran into major financial difficulties, although this time not of his own making. An American architect had been impressed with his work and commissioned Blashfield to make the terracotta ornament and decorative panels for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Unfortunately the logistics of shipping such large and fragile consignments had not been properly thought through. He couldn’t pay and Blashfield’s business couldn’t afford to stand the financial loss of such a large contract. The result was a disaster. The Stamford works, and all his models, moulds and machinery, were put up for sale, and the firm wound up. Blashfield went bankrupt again in 1878 and died in 1882.
Both Blanchard and Blashfield were clearly in the Coade mould. Successful, enterprising and creative, and capable of seeing where the market – and usually the profits – lay. It worked for a long time. But then as in the last days of the Coade enterprise something went wrong and their businesses folded or diversified out of artificial stone. Luckily their legacy lives on in major buildings and gardens all over the country.