Reproduction Vintage & Victorian Garden Furniture

old iron

Our Heritage

We concentrate on the reproduction of Victorian garden & estate furniture originally fabricated with iron in the 19th century.

Our aluminium heritage range includes examples designed by Christopher Dresser & made by the famous Coalbrookdale cast iron foundry. This foundry is regarded as the Rolls Royce of British iron casting; for example, it supplied parts for the SS Great Britain, the railings & gates at Kensington Gardens & Hyde Park, the main stand at the Great Exhibition 1851 and numerous iron castings in parks and stately homes across the UK and beyond.

The Coalbrookdale Foundry – The Darby Dynasty

This world renowned iron foundry is famous for casting innovative products utilising coke in the smelting process, which drastically reduced production costs and improved iron quality. Expensive charcoal was no longer essential in the iron making process and this was a major catalyst that kick-started the industrial revolution. The Darbys and their staff were extraordinary manufacturing and design disruptors!

Abraham Darby was born in Dudley (W. Midlands) on the 14th April 1678 into a Quaker family and was to become an English ironmaster who perfected the use of coke to extract iron from the ore.

Darby’s initial smelting experience was with copper ore in Bristol. Darby had learnt to use coke to smelt copper and he wondered whether this could be applied to iron production? He had the vision to purchase land in Coalbrookdale in Shropshire. His foundry was near the river Severn for water power and transport. There were coal deposits in the vicinity with low sulphur which was perfect for producing coke. In 1709, the Coalbrookdale Company rebuilt a previously ruined furnace and finally perfected the production of iron utilising locally made coke.

Iron Smelting – Coke v Charcoal

The groundbreaking iron extraction process that was perfected at Coalbrookdale, allowed the Darbys to demonstrate the advantages of coke in reducing final iron prices and by increasing efficiency. Larger furnaces were built which could handle heavier charges of iron and even greater economies of scale were achieved.

The high quality of the resulting iron made the production of delicate products possible. Iron could now be used to make hollowware and pots, but much more cheaply than brass.

In 1712, Thomas Newcomen invented the first commercially viable steam engine which created a substantial new market for the iron smelting industry. Coolbrookdale was a major maker of iron cylinders and by 1758 the foundry had made over 100 steam engines designed by Newcomen.

The 3rd generation Darbys erected the famous Ironbridge in 1779. This bridge which spans the river Severn was made possible by the new coke smelting process, as charcoal produced iron would have been prohibitively expensive.

A Cornish inventor and engineer, Richard Trevithick, perfected a boiler with high pressure that led to his railway locomotive in 1802. And of course, it was born at the Coalbrookdale works!

Iron pot and bridge

Garden Products

“…cleverley designed seats ornamented with natural foliage, olive, fern, passion flower…” J.B. Waring (celebrated Victorian architect) 1862

The 1830s witnessed a problem of a growing urban population living in cramped dirty spaces. The answer came in the form of public parks, which offered some relief from overcrowding and provided a space for fresh air and healthy exercise.

Public parks were carefully designed. Trees were planted alongside winding paths, and cast iron benches were placed in picturesque areas. Cast iron garden furniture was needed for these new parks, and iron founders benefitted as a result. One of the first public parks, Derby Arboretum, which opened in 1840, contained an impressive 350 garden seats.

Garden furniture was intended to be both beautiful and useful. Designs for the furniture drew heavily on nature and gothic or medieval patterns. Garden seating in particular featured plant motifs such as ferns, nasturtiums, oak and ivy. The highlight of the park or estate garden was often an impressive and highly decorated fountain.

Cast iron furniture also found its way to the gardens of the rich and then filtered down to the gardens of the emerging middle class. The Coalbrooke Company engaged industrial designers and mass-produced garden seats, garden buildings, fountains, gates, railings, lawn rollers, plant stands and urns, which enabled the everyday Victorian to design their own garden landscape.

coalbrookdale medieval bench

Dr Christopher Dresser – Design Pioneer (1834 – 1904)

Born in Glasgow in 1834, Dresser enrolled into the London School Of Design in 1847. At the tender age of 13, he was to witness a revolution in commercial design at the school. The secretary, Henry Cole, steered the curriculum towards the needs of the nation’s manufacturers. Contacts were made with these companies and they were encouraged to sponsor awards and commission designs.

Dresser appears to have formed many contacts within industry as his pottery and silk designs won several school prizes. Rubbing shoulders with leading manufacturers at a commercially focused design school, primed Dresser for a stellar career in industrial design.

Dresser then studied botany at what became Imperial College, London. In the mid-Victorian era, botany was considered an essential part of the study of ornamentation. He taught botany at his London School and became an authority on botany applied to art manufacturing. Dresser published celebrated botany design books and was appointed a fellow of the Edinburgh Botanical and the Linnean Societies.

By 1860, Dresser became more involved in product design and received several commissions from British manufacturers for products to be premiered at the London International Exhibition 1862.

Christopher Dresser and his designs
heritage designs by christopher dressers

Celebrated in the UK and the US, Dresser’s publications were bestsellers in the industrial design genre: Modern Ornamentation (1886); Studies In Design (1876); Principles Of Decorative Design (1873); The Art Of Decorative Design (1862). Dresser’s books gave advice and direction for the amateur, designer and student on subjects such as interior decoration, theory of colour and principles of ornamentation.

Dresser published his seminal work Japan: It’s Architecture, Art And Art Manufacturers (1882) and along with artists such as Rossetti and Burne-Jones, makers like William Morris and architects like Godwin, he is regarded as one of the founders of the  Aesthetic and Design Reform Movements.

During his career, Dresser designed for an impressive list of manufacturers of indoor and outdoor furniture, textiles, glass, carpets, linoleum, ceramics, tiles, wallpaper and metal products. The client list included the Coalbrookdale Iron Company, Chubb & Co., Libertys, Elkington & Co., Wedgewood, James Dixon, Aspinall & Co., James Cooper, Ault Faience, Minton, Old Hall Porcelain, Linthorpe Pottery, John Crossley & Sons, William Booty, Loveridge & Co., Thomas Knight and many more. This illustrates why Dr Christopher Dresser is regarded as the first true freelance industrial designer.

The Waterplant Cast Iron Bench & Chair

On 18/2/1867, at the public records office, the Coalbrookdale Iron Company registered this Christopher Dresser Waterplant design and the patent number granted was 206162.

The Coalbrookdale product catalogue of 1875 features the Waterplant bench on page 251. Dresser offered his own designs at the Universal Exhibition 1867, which included the ‘Water Plant cast iron garden seat’. The bench and chair were also exhibited in Paris 1878, London in 1871 and in Vienna in 1873.

The design was very unusual at the time, when most Victorian designs were a cacophony of ornamentation, Dresser rebelled and utilised the waterplant form to convey a simplicity of outline.

The range included various benches of different lengths and a chair. It was possible to order the seat and back in oak slats or the back in a cast waterplant design with cast iron or wooden slats.

Our accurate and high-quality reproduction is cast in recycled aluminium. We manufacture the bench in lengths of 6ft, 5ft or 4ft and we also reproduce the Waterplant chair. The benches and chair have cross members and the end bolts are made of solid brass, just like the original. To eliminate any maintenance, the slats on our reproductions are made of solid cast aluminium.

waterpant cast iron original bench and old drawing
cast iron benches

Coalbrookdale Garden Benches – The Medieval 

The Medieval bench and chair by Christopher Dresser was registered by the Coalbrookdale Company on 22nd April 1870 and was granted a public records office registration number of 240809. The influence of 12th and 13th century manuscripts can be clearly seen in Dresser’s design (original examples of this design are on show at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Coalbrookdale Museum Of Iron in Ironbridge, Shropshire).

Dresser, the celebrated Victorian designer and author, preached the idea that even mass-produced products should receive good and innovative design. Between 1867 and the 1880s, the Coalbrookdale Foundry in Shropshire commissioned Dr Dresser to create distinctive garden furniture, indoor furniture, hall and stick stands.

The Medieval design included benches of different lengths and a single chair. The seat and back could be ordered with oak slats or the back could be cast with cast iron or wood slats.

Our accurate and high-quality reproductions are cast in recycled aluminium. We produce the Medieval bench in lengths of 6ft, 5ft or 4ft and we also make the single chair. The benches and chair have cross members and the end bolts are made of solid brass, just like the original. To eliminate any maintenance, the slats on our reproductions are made of solid cast aluminium.

Christopher Dresser Table

This Coalbrookdale occasional or bistro table was designed by Dresser circa 1870. The tripartite bird feet base leads to a central rope column with swan supports. The 60cm diameter round top contains a Star of David design intertwined with geometric shapes and a beaded edge.

The original was made with cast iron but we now use solid cast aluminium to eliminate any maintenance. The legs for our version of this table are accurate. Please note that this Dresser table is often reproduced with the correct top but with the wrong legs. This is because many foundries just use the legs from their standard aluminium dining tables.

Christopher Dresser Table