In 1708 Abraham Darby took over a blast furnace in Coalbrookdale and established perhaps the most famous of names associated with cast iron, the “wonder material” of the 19th Century, namely the Coalbrookdale foundry. The company was responsible for producing the ironwork that made the famous iron bridge across the river Severn in 1779, the first of its type in the world and which has subsequently been designated a UNESCO world heritage site.
In the Mid 19th Century the company decided to add decorative castings to their range of products and the new seats, urns, fountains and ornamental gates won great praise as well as several medals at the Great Exhibiton of 1851. The company employed leading designers of the day such as John Bell and Christopher Dresser. The largely naturalistic seats for which the firms name became synonymous were so popular that production lasted into the 20th Century and even today the designs seem as fresh as when first produced.
The design was registered and patented by Coalbrookdale at The Public Record Office on 29th May 1873, and is listed as number 57 in their 1875 Castings Catalogue, Section III, page 261. Due to the omplexity of the casting very few of these seats were ever produced as compared to the more common fern and blackberry pattern seats.
The Victorians had a great passion for ferns and this passion was expressed, among other ways, through the production of a wide range of 'ferny' decorative objects made in pottery, glass, metals, textiles, wood, printed paper, stone and other materials.
Although the main period of popularity of ferns as a decorative motif extended from the 1850s until the 1890s, the interest in ferns had really begun in the late 1830s when the British countryside attracted increasing numbers of amateur and professional botanists (male and female).
By 1855, Charles Kingsley had recognised the prevalent passion for ferns as a phenomenon and in the course of encouraging the study of natural history in his book 'Glaucus', coined the term 'Pteridomania', meaning 'Fern Madness' or 'Fern Craze'.