There I am, seated comfortably in cast iron furniture. As classic as they come, decorated with fern fronds and all. How appropriate they can be found in a palm house dating back to 1878. Which would pretty much have been the very peak of popularity of this type of garden furniture. The ‘iron age” of cast iron furniture lasted roughly between 1850 and 1890. It all started with the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in 1851 at Crystal Palace in London.
Cast iron chairs with fern frond motif in the Palm House, Trädgårdsföreningen, Gothenburg, Sweden.
An extraordinary six million people visited this exhibition during the duration of just over five and a half months. When there they were exposed to everything the cast iron industry had to offer. That would have included garden furniture. The difference between wrought iron and cast iron is in the making. Wrought iron designs have to be heated and and worked with tools. An expensive process. Cast Iron is iron that has been melted, poured into a mold, and allowed to solidify. This is cheap. Comparatively speaking.
The Victorians, with the suburban middle-class growing by the day, loved their gardens. Decorating them with fancy new plants originating in faraway colonial lands. Obviously seating, tables etc were required to sit back, relax and take in all the beauty. Mass-production put this within reach.
What flourished in the gardens, flourished in the design. Fern fronds, lilies of the valley and morning glories were cast in lifelike detail as the backs, sides, and legs of furniture. The seats were often made of wood for comfort reasons. As with many other fads, cast iron eventually fell out of favour. To rise again about a hundred years later.