Around 1720 Richard Holt of Lambeth was granted a patent for an artificial stone. In 1769, after the patent expired, a Mr Coade set up a factory in north Lambeth, close to the one belonging to Holt. After his death his wife Eleanor Coade carried on the business till her death in 1821. The family business was carried by her relatives, Sealy and W. Croggan, till 1840 when the company ceased to trade.
Mrs Coade managed to get many well known sculptors to use her material including Flaxman (Tragedy and Comedy on the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Mineroa on the east façade of the National Gallery), William Croggan and John Bacon. Many other examples of Coade stone still exists such as the Lion on the south bank of Westminster Bridge, the statues outside the John Soane Museum, smaller pieces can be seen at the Museum of Garden History.
Coade Stone varies from the Holt's recipe by the addition of amongst other things finely ground quartz or glass to form an easily moulded acid and frost resistant, hardwearing, weatherproof products. The Coade family came to London from Lyme Regis in the 1760s and it seems likely that one of the ingredients of their 'secret formula' was the white china clay which had been discovered in Cornwall a few years previously. The use of a large proportion of 'Grog' (finely-ground pre-fired clay) in the mix, which would reduce shrinkage during firing by more than half is another probable factor in the process which enabled the Coade factory to produce, in one piece, stoneware figures up to nine feet in length.
The grindstone used in preparing the clay and numerous moulds used in preparing stock figures were uncovered during excavation for the foundations of the Royal Festival Hall. Many of the figures were cast from models sculpted by John Bacon and a great variety of allegorical and mythological figures were made by modifying stock figures. The Coade products also included a range of memorial tablets as well as friezes, keystones, and other architectural details. Some early examples are marked with the trade-name ' Lithodipyra ' literally 'twice-burnt stone'.
Coade stone products were widely used by eminent architects for the greater part of a century, but financial difficulties eventually brought about the close of the business and the formula for the stone was lost, apparently forever. It was widely rumoured that the lion topping the nearby Goding's Lion Brewery building contained the formula for Coade Stone, but in 1951 the building was demolished but no formula was found!