The History of the Firm
The family firm of John Hardman & Co. had its heyday in the Victorian period, largely through its collaboration with the architect A. W. N. Pugin. The Hardmans were a staunchly Catholic family from Lancashire. They moved to the Birmingham area, with its large and supportive Catholic community, in the earlier part of the eighteenth century. There John Hardman senior (1767-1844) entered the trade of button- and medal-making, and established himself as a pillar of society. A prominent benefactor, he was a moving force in the project to replace the old and inadequate St Chad's chapel with a new church — the future St Chad's Roman Catholic Cathedral.
The Hardmans and Pugin
Once Pugin became involved with the West Midlands' Catholics himself, he was bound to come into contact with the Hardmans. He first met John Hardman junior (1811-1867) in 1837 at Oscott College, the Roman Catholic public school and seminary, when he was both teaching there and starting to refurnish the chapel. It could have been no later than the end of May in that year, because in June he was writing to the young man from his first home, St Marie's Grange, with his early ideas for St Chad's (see Pugin 78-79, especially Margaret Belcher's first note on the letter). The two were just of an age, shared the same religious views and enthusiasm for the medieval spirit and its expression, and quickly became close friends (Meara 27). Soon Pugin was passing his friend designs for metalwork. Even before the project at St Chad's was under way, Hardman & Co. was advertising "Ecclesiastical ornaments, designed from Ancient Authorities and Examples, by A W Pugin Architect" under John Hardman junior's name (qtd. in Hill 208).
John Hardman & Co., Ecclesiastical Fittings and Ornaments
John Hardman senior died in 1844, and was laid to rest in the Hardman Chantry at St Chad's. By then the younger Hardman had already become head of the firm. The collaboration with Pugin continued and flourished, to their mutual advantage. Under the impetus of the stream of designs pouring in from the architect's hand, the Birmingham firm was now diversifying, branching out into stone- and wood-carving, leather-making, even textiles, all showing the influence of Pugin's insistence on reviving the traditions and forms of medieval craftsmanship. Thanks to the architect's own far-flung enterprises and inspiration, the firm's Gothic Revival artefacts, recalling the medieval past in every detail despite being made in a factory workshop, began to find their way into religious establishments all over the country and even beyond it. At the end of 1844, the collaboration was further strengthened when Hardman junior sent his teenage nephew John Hardman Powell (1827-1895) to train with and assist Pugin, now living at The Grange in Ramsgate — probably with a view to helping with the additional work to be done for the interior of the House of Lords (see Shepherd 65). Soon afterwards, with business booming, the firm opened a new factory in Birmingham's Great Charles Street
Stained Glass Manufacture
Within months Pugin had persuaded Hardman to enter a new, challenging area: stained glass production. As part of a rather complicated operation, Powell and Pugin's eldest son Edward (1834-1875) were trained to draw the cartoons in Ramsgate, and these were sent off to the Birmingham workshop. As time went on, other assistants were drafted in, usually from Birmingham, and the dedicated Cartoon Room at Ramsgate, shown alongside, became a hive of activity. The challenge was not simply to manage all the work that was now going back and forth, and then out to churches and other buildings all over the country. Stained glass windows, as against painted ones, required skills that had been lost over the years, both in the glass-making process itself, and in the combination of colours. Mistakes were made even by Hardman's (see Cheshire 42).
It took time for Hardman's to build up a wider reputation in this line. But it did. The first window was completed in November 1845 (Hill 344)); after 1846 Pugin only designed his glass for Hardman (Cheshire 44); and by the late 1840s, Hardman was having to tell would-be clients that he would only work to Pugin's designs (see Shepherd 91-92). The firm was well on the way to becoming "one of the most successful studios in the country" (Cheshire 42).
The collaboration between the Pugins and Hardmans continued to be a fruitful one, growing closer still in 1850, when young Powell married Pugin's eldest daughter Anne (1832-1897), and the two families became relatives by marriage.
The Great Exhibition
By now, the Pugin-Hardman enterprise was producing some of its finest work, such objects, for example, as the Reliquary Cross for Erdington Abbey, Birmingham, of about 1848 (see Atterbury 294). At the beginning of 1851, Pugin and Hardman began selecting specimens of their output for the Great Exhibition at London's Crystal Palace. Pugin was already stretched to the limit with his commitments at the House of Commons, and there was no time to make everything for his Medieval Court from scratch. Some of the pieces were chosen from those already in progress, while many were simply borrowed back from their new owners (see Hill 454). Lord Shrewsbury, worried about the safety of his precious works, nevertheless acceded to Pugin's requests, and the huge 42-light brass and crystal chandelier from his dining room at Alton Towers was one of the grandest exhibits. Pugin was particularly keen to promote the Gothic Revival style for domestic as well as ecclesiastical purposes.
The Later Period
The Hardman firm continued to be influenced by Pugin, and to propagate his influence, long after his death in 1852. Powell was now Hardman's chief designer and artistic director, having taken the stained glass team, including Edward Pugin, to Birmingham with him in mid-1852 (see Shepherd 184). Inevitably, there were changes. Powell himself, for example, gradually evolved a more flowing style for the stained glass windows: Stanley Shepherd talks of his "elongation of forms" (188). There were organisational changes, too. In 1883, the stained glass and metalwork units of the firm split off from each other, with Hardman, Powell & Co. specialising in metalwork, and John Hardman & Co. focusing on the stained glass. Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham could now refer to the Hardman family's "world-known name" (316). Powell remained the principal designer of John Hardman & Co. until his death in 1895, by which point the head of the firm was John Hardman junior's son, John Bernard Hardman (1843-1903). For three generations, then, the collaboration that began towards the end of the 1830s was "an essential ingredient of their successful domination of church architecture and decoration" (O'Donnell 15).
Although their reputation faded as the Gothic Revival segued into the Arts and Crafts movement, and John Ruskin's influence into William Morris's, the firm remained in the family until the 1930s, and its main workshop, then on Newhall Hill, continued in use until a devastating fire in 1970. The name lived on even into the twenty-first century, with stained glass production continuing until a few years ago. — Jacqueline Banerjee.
Cheshire, Jim. Stained Glass and the Victorian Gothic Revival. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004. Print.
Hill, Rosemary. God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2008. Print. [Review]
Meara, David. Victorian Memorial Brasses. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983. Print.
O'Donnell, Roderick. The Pugins and The Catholic Midlands. Leominster: Gracewing, 2002. Print.
Pugin, A. W. N. The Collected Letters of A. W. N. Pugin. Vol. I, 1830-1842. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.
Shepheard, Mathé. The Stained Glass of John Hardman and Company under the Leadership of John Hardman Powell 1867-1895, Vol. 1. Based on a thesis presented at Birmingham City University in 2007. Web. 5 February 2013.
Shepherd, Stanley A. The Stained Glass of A. W. N. Pugin. Reading: Spire Books, 2009. Print.
Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham: A History and Guide, compiled by Thomas Harman. Birmingham: Cornish Brothers, 1885. Internet Archive. Web. 5 February 2013.
Last modified 21 March 2017