At first glance decorative ironwork might not seem to have much to do with gardens. But as this catalogue dated 1862 from the General Iron Foundry Company (located in Thames Street, London) shows, as well as its many uses in architecture of this period, cast iron was also a popular material for outdoor seating. This company offers six garden bench designs, together with tables and chairs.
Trade catalogues like these show the enormous range of cast and wrought iron items that were available in the mid nineteenth century. Over 300 pages of precise and beautiful plates show everything from ovens and sanitary ware to railings, gates, gutters, fireplaces and balcony balusters. We are reminded what an important feature decorative cast iron was in architecture of this time, in both interior and exterior design.
The first bench design from the General Iron Foundry Company looks broadly similar to some of the famous benches produced by the Coalbrookdale Company, which typically have ornate cast iron sides and backs, using stylised leaves and flowers, and wooden slat seats.
Benches three, five and six (and one of the chairs) are in rustic style, where the iron is fashioned to look like rough pieces of wood artfully placed together to form simple furniture. Design five is particularly charming, with its entwined oak boughs, foliage and acorns with the legs of the bench ‘tied’ together by means of entwined serpents. All the benches can be made to bespoke lengths, and can be painted or bronzed. The advantage of all these cast iron these garden seats is that they would be robust and hard-wearing, and could be left outside.
Although so much of Victorian London has disappeared, some of the decorative iron work from the period remains, and even if a mere fragment, is always an evocative reminder of the past. In restoring an outside space, details such as the style of railings and garden furniture can give a park or garden a particular atmosphere.
Below (after the garden seats) are some designs for railings, window guards and gratings, which can sometimes still be glimpsed in parts of London today.
(notice the apostrophe that has crept into the section showing hollow columns.)
Castings Ranges Stoves Pipes &c 1862 from Archive.org made available by the Sydney Living Museums / Historic Houses Trust of NSW
Jardinique Garden antiques – a mine of information about top makers of antique garden ornaments and furniture (on website)