The use of furniture in garden design is in the antique sense quite a modern concept and even gardening as a leisure interest was pretty much unheard of until around the end of the 19th and into the early 20th centuries, not until the end of the first world war did the English middle class even consider tending their own grounds and this was only due to the lack of gardeners..
Until the 18th century the only seating used would have been stone or marble or possibly a wooden bench that had been brought outside from the house. There are still a few examples of 16th & 17th century examples of stone and marble seating around today and occasionally they come onto the open market but command reasonably high prices.
The first wrought iron garden seats started to appear in the 18th century and at that stage were one off pieces made by local blacksmiths. These benches had a simple reeded strapwork design and curved pad feet to stop them sinking into soft ground.
|A Rare 19th Century Georgian Strapwork Bench, Offered By; www.uniquities.ca|
This process continued until the mid 1800's when the large ironwork foundries realised there was money to be made and began to mass produce cast iron garden furniture. This proved an instant success with the middle classes as the cost was far less than the local blacksmith and far more decorative.
|An English "Fern Pattern" Cast Iron Bench by Coalbrookdale, Offered by; www.firesideantiques.com|
One of the major producers of this furniture was The Coalbrookdale Company who developed a wide range of good quality cast iron garden furniture. There is still a reasonable amount of Coalbrookdale furniture around due to its production continuing up until 1929, and obviously also due to its hard wearing nature. Although like all antique garden furniture it generally makes quite high prices at sales, however compared to the price and quality of modern garden furniture it will work out as a good long term investment, its been around 100 plus years so you already know its going to stand the test of time.
|The Coalbrookdale Factory|
|A Victorian Coalbrookdale "Nasturtium" Garden Bench, Picture courtesy of, http://www.ukarchitecturalantiques.com|
Similar to the British the French during the mid 18oo's also produced wrought iron garden furniture but the aesthetics of it was in my opinion ageless and simple. The style of metal outdoor furniture used today in France has not really changed a great deal from the original designs of the 19th century. The round iron framework of rusted painted tables & chairs enjoyed on patios and in gardens today almost cry out “Bonjour” they're so recognisably French..
|Pair of late 19th century French wrought iron garden chairs, Offered by; www.antiquario.1stdibs.com|
|An Ornate French Iron Garden Table circa 1870, Offered By; http://blisshomeanddesign.com|
Across Europe styles similar in wrought iron were produced with the Italians leading the field in decorating their ornate ironwork with colourful mosaic and upholstered cushions.
|One of a Pair late 19th century Italian forged iron benches, Offered by Holmes-Samsel Antiques|
Worldwide during the 19th and early 2oth centuries iron furniture became increasingly popular with the the middle classes and although the styles were predominately modelled on the European designs some good examples were produced. I have added pictures of a couple that caught my eye..
|A 19th Century Cast Iron Garden Set by Peter Timmes' Son Company, Brooklyn NY. Offered by; http://www.blithewoldhome.com|
|An Argentinian 19th century Iron Garden Table &Chairs set. Offered by www.leestanton.com|