Metal garden furniture has been used in the English garden since the industrial revolution in the 18th century. As production of iron increased, further applications for its use were needed. Outdoor furniture was initially made in wrought iron but as sand casting became more widespread and expert, cast iron took over. Liquid iron is poured into moulds, allowed to solidify, then attached to other castings to create the final object. By using this method outdoor furniture became opulent in the 19th century. The Victorians loved their gardens, and they adorned these spaces with urns, statues, gazebos – and, of course, chairs, benches, settees, and tables.
One of the leading purveyors of outdoor furniture at the time was the Coalbrookdale Company of Shropshire, England. Founded in 1709, the family-owned company was famed for its cast iron works. Using improved methods, they first made sand-cast iron pots, and also produced parts for steam engines. In the 1840s, the company began developing lines of decorative furniture. Given its strength and resistance to rust, cast iron was ideal for pieces intended for outdoor use. If cared for properly, cast iron could last forever. And since it could be mass-manufactured, it was more economical than wrought iron. Coalbrookdale’s cast iron furniture is viewed as some of the finest and most intricate ever made.
Designed in a variety of styles, including Gothic Revival, Renaissance Revival, and Rococo styles. Ornate and often lavishly detailed – fruit and floral motifs were especially popular – pieces were usually painted a bright colour or white. The artful openwork gave them a light air, for all their opulence and the weight of their material.
By 1929, the Coalbrookdale Company had merged with several others, ceasing its independent existence as a family owned business. Even so, designs with Coalbrookdale roots dating back more a century are still being produced today.
Oxley’s designs mostly draw inspiration from these traditional styles rather than the prevalent current fashion for minimalist outdoor furniture.