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

Chalice

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

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.

Examples of Hardman & Co.'s Metalwork (to Pugin's designs)

Sources

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.

Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham: A History and Guide, compiled by Thomas Harman. Birmingham: Cornish Brothers, 1885. Internet Archive. Web. 5 February 2013.


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Last modified 28 May 2014