Restoration of a rare Coalbrookdale Bench

Winter 2018

About 18 months ago, we were approached by a local Gloucestershire resident who asked if we could take a look at their old bench to see if it could be restored as they thought it was quite rare. This is just the type of restoration job we love. But, little did we know what journey we would end up taking! When we first visited the client and started looking at the bench - or the remains of the bench we were a little taken aback as they really were in a pretty bad state. We had the bench cast frames and a couple of the timber slats but straight away we noticed that one of the cast feet was broken off and missing. Despite searching the garage where the bench was - the foot was not to be found.

The frames and timber were taken back to the Severn Seating workshop where the castings were sandblasted back to bare cast. This revealed the Kite Mark and pattern number (17597). From the Kite Mark information we were able to determine that the the bench was probably made on April 6th 1844. All three cast frames carried the same Kite Mark and and pattern number info - which was good news in terms of establishing that we had a fully original bench and not something that had been assembled for spares in some previous restoration. The cast frames design, called “Serpent and Grapes”, where manufactured by the Coalbrookdale foundry. There were three timber slats for the back and the 5 that make up the seat - all 8 have a challenging curve!

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In October 2017, Severn Seating visited Coalbrookdale Foundry to try and gain more information on this particular bench. We were introduced to a gentleman who, now retired, had worked at the foundry for over forty years. he had seen this cast design before but had not seen a bench with curved timber slats and thought it quite rare.

We also met the Foundry Manager, who said that he could cast a new foot if we could carve the shape with details in hardwood. We subsequently produced the carved version of the missing foot which was sawn in half and the casting produced. The replica foot was then welded onto the cast and, with a little finishing, now looks virtually identical to the other feet.

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The next bridge to cross was “Who bends the timber?” We found a small business - called Roundhouse Yurts at the foot of the Black Mountains that manufactures Yurts - which have curved timber frames. The owner, Jeremy, said he would source the oak for us as he did not want any knots. The timber slats were put into a long, timber steam box for about 30 minutes at 100 degrees celsius. Once they had softened in the steamer, the timbers were put into a purpose-deigned jig to create the curves. The timbers were left in the jig for 7 days to cool and dry out.

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Once we had the timber slats back it was a case of assembly and painting. The client wanted the bench to be restored to its original state which was with the cast pieces and the wooden slats all painted white. We used Hammerite White for the castings and an oil-based weathershield white for the wood. To finish off, we installed support bars underneath the seat timbers.

All in all, a fascinating journey working with historic and contemporary craftspeople to restore a rare Coalbrookdale bench to its former glory for a very satisfied client.

Learn more about Design Registration Marks Prefixes from 1884