John Hardman and Company: Pugin’s glasspainters


The Magazine ANTIQUES | April 2009

A human dynamo who burned himself out at the age of forty, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin is generally acknowledged as the most influential architect, designer, and propagandist of the nineteenth-century Gothic revival in England.1 Less well known are the entrepreneurs and manufacturers without whom Pugin could not have translated his medieval dreams into reality, and who spread his principles of Gothic design across the world. Chief among those who produced items for the American ecclesiastical market was John Hardman Jr. (1811–1867), a member of a Birmingham metalworking family who, with Pugin’s enthusiastic support, established the Mediaeval Art Manufactory in 1838 to make a wide range of church metal-work exclusively to Pugin’s designs (see Fig. 7). Better known simply as John Hardman and Company, the firm began in 1845 to design and manufacture stained-glass windows, motivated once again by Pugin, who made detailed studies of medieval stained glass in England and Europe (see Fig. 8).2 A showroom designed by Pugin was established in Birmingham’s Great Charles Street to display the full range of Hardman’s products, and printed catalogues were also produced so that goods could be ordered by mail. Hardman and Pugin became close friends, with Hardman sharing in the triumphs and tragedies of the architect’s short but brilliant career. Within ten years of the formation of the company, Hardman’s undertook all of the metalwork and stained glass for that most iconic of Gothic revival buildings, the New Palace of Westminster (see Fig. 1). Pugin, who assisted the architect Charles Barry on the new buildings following the 1834 fire, naturally turned to Hardman to supply interior furnishings to his prolific designs. The Hardman archive contains many hundreds of drawings sent by Pugin to the Hardman workshops for stained glass and metalwork, which included jeweled ornaments for the royal throne and the two-ton brass gates at the entrance to the House of Lords.3 At the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, the Mediaeval Court created by Pugin and Hardman enthralled over six million visitors with its array of neo-medieval art (see Fig. 5).

In the later nineteenth century Pugin’s Gothic dream was firmly planted on American soil by British architects who immigrated to the United States, such as Patrick W. Ford (1848–1900), Patrick Charles Keely (1816–1896), and Frederick Clarke Withers, for whom Pugin’s sons Edward W. (1834–1875) and Peter Paul (1851–1904) designed furnishings. These include the magnificent altarpiece designed by Peter Paul in 1882 for Ford’s Sacred Heart Church in East Cambridge, Massachusetts (1873–1883), for which Hardman’s made the tabernacle.4

It was Hardman’s display at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 of a large window depicting Jesus in the house of Mary and Martha at Bethany (Fig. 6) that drew the firm’s glassmaking skills to the attention of American clergymen, church builders, and other patrons. The window was designed by Hardman’s nephew John Hardman Powell, who had married Pugin’s eldest daughter Anne in 1850 and became the firm’s chief designer, thus keeping the Pugin flame alive to the end of the century. After the exhibition the window was returned to England and installed in Saint Mary the Virgin, the parish church at Saint Neots, near Cambridge, but it had served its purpose.

From this time forward the number of windows executed by Hardman’s for American churches grew steadily. The greatest concentration of work was in the eastern states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, where Catholicism was strongest, although many Episcopal churches also ordered Hardman glass, including Saint Ignatius of Antioch Church in New York, which placed eight orders between 1900 and 1921, and the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York, which placed two orders in 1908 and 1909 (see Fig. 9). The latter, arguably one of the most prestigious churches in the United States, was then being remodeled by the leading American Gothic architect Ralph Adams Cram (1863–1942), who was an ardent admirer of Pugin.The commissioning of windows from Hardman’s was initiated directly by the client, who would submit the project’s requirements to the firm in England. Hardman’s would then provide a watercolor of the proposed window for approval. When the client was satisfied with the design, a full-size cartoon would be made, and the glass cut, painted, and assembled in panels ready for export to the United States, normally through the port of Liverpool. From 1904 to 1913, Hardman’s windows were usually imported through the Church Glass and Decorating Company of New York, but sometimes Hardman’s dealt directly with individual clients. The president of the Church Glass and Decorating Company, Caryl Coleman (c. 1846–1930), the younger brother of the American painter Charles Caryl Coleman (1840–1928), understood the appeal of English stained glass, although it is interesting to note that earlier in his career he had worked in the Ecclesiastical Department of the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company making opalescent glass, which is very different in character. In connection with a window for Saint Ignatius Church, Coleman wrote, “Both the rector and the architect [Charles Coolidge Haight (1841–1917)] are more or less affected with Anglo-mania, hence the window must be extremely English.”5 In June 1907 the Church Glass and Decorating Company ordered a sample panel for trade purposes. It depicted Christ the Healer standing under a Gothic canopy, and below it was inscribed:
Painted by John Hardman & Co of London and Birmingham for the Church Glass and Decorating Company of New York to illustrate their work which embodies the mediaeval principles of stained glass painting revived and taught by Augustus Welby Pugin and continued by them.
Thus were the memory and achievements of Pugin revered more than fifty years after his death in a country that he had never visited and for which he had designed not a single building.

The glass daybooks in the Hardman archive record the details of each of the windows made for more than 130 American churches between 1882 and 1935. In many cases the watercolors, cartoons, and photographic records of completed windows are also preserved in the archive. Some architects and clergy progressively filled the windows of their churches with Hardman glass. An example is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, New York, for which Withers began to commission windows in 1891. By 1902 the cathedral had a set of forty-seven Hardman windows.

Even more spectacular was the Hardman contribution to Corpus Christi Church in Baltimore, for which a patron, Michael Jenkins (1842–1917), commissioned a total of sixty windows between 1889 and 1911 (see Fig. 3). Hardman’s was also called upon to supply a set of decorative panels depicting the stations of the cross in opus sectile (a type of mosaic work in which the component pieces are cut in shapes to fit the design) and traditional mosaic, panels for the apse in opus sectile, and metalwork items including engraved brass memorials to members of the Jenkins family (see Figs. 8, 10).

Among the secular commissions the firm undertook during this period, one of the most interesting is the Cornaro Window installed in 1906 in the Thompson Memorial Library at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York (see Fig. 4). Consisting of five lights (or sections of glass) with tracery, the window was designed by A. W. N. Pugin’s grandson, Dunstan Powell, and depicts the conferring of the first doctorate in philosophy upon a woman, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia (1646–1684), by the University of Padua in 1678. The choice of subject reflects the mission of the college, founded in 1861 by Matthew Vassar (1792–1868) to promote higher education for women. Both the window’s donor, Mary Clark Thompson, and Coleman of the Church Glass and Decorating Company emphasized the secular nature of the window and urged Powell to avoid the use of ecclesiastical imagery. Nevertheless, the central figure of Lady Cornaro standing in front of a Gothic throne, surrounded by adoring figures, bears an uncanny resemblance—albeit a secularized one—to the Coronation of the Virgin. The composition of the scene and the brilliant colors of the glass elevate and glorify the event depicted.6A paddle wheeler may seem an unlikely location for a stained-glass window, but in 1912 the Detroit and Cleveland Navigation Company built the City of Detroit III, a large side-wheeled steamboat for cruising on the Great Lakes that included a lounge known as the Gothic Room furnished with medieval style columns and traceried arches. A prominent feature of the room was a large five-light window commissioned from Hardman’s depicting the French explorer Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle (1643–1687) landing at the site of the present-day city of Detroit (Fig. 11). When the boat was scrapped in 1956, the entire Gothic Room, including the Hardman window, was salvaged and is preserved in the Dossin Great Lakes Museum in Detroit.

Orders for Hardman glass slackened during World War I, a notable exception being a large commission for the Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. A set of twenty-two clerestory windows was shipped out in July 1918 at a cost of $13,346, Hardman’s largest single commission for an American church. The subject matter of these windows embraced the complete panorama of the Christian faith, from the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her Coronation, with most of the significant events in the Life of Christ depicted in between. By this time the Church Glass and Decorating Company had gone into liquidation (in 1913), and Montague Castle-London Company of New York were Hardman’s American importers. Montague Castle (1867–1939) was the president of the company, F. M. London the secretary, and Coleman was the director. Set out in ornamented Gothic letters, the new firm’s letterhead announced that it dealt in “English stained glass from the Studios of John Hardman & Co., Birmingham.”

In the 1930s the number of American stained-glass window commissions from Hardman’s declined rapidly, and in 1935 they ceased altogether. The United States now had competent stained-glass designers and manufacturers of its own, notably the Boston studio of Charles J. Connick (1875–1945), much favored by Ralph Adams Cram. The Great Depression and the onset of World War II also took their toll. In the postwar Catholic Church, the liturgical revolution fueled by the Second Vatican Council accorded ill with the medieval aesthetic of Pugin and Hardman. The last of the Hardmans to be directly involved with the company, the founder’s grandson John Tarleton Hardman, died in 1959, by which time the metalwork production that had provided the firm’s initial impetus had already ceased.

Hardman’s nevertheless held to their traditions and methods of making and restoring stained glass, determined not to allow these skills to disappear and hoping for an eventual revival. That revival is now well under way, due in no small measure to the exhibitions Pugin: A Gothic Passion at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1994 and A. W. N. Pugin: Master of Gothic Revival at the Bard Graduate Center in New York in 1995. These exhibitions and the publications that accompanied them renewed interest in the creation and preservation of Gothic art and architecture on both sides of the Atlantic (see Fig. 2).7 Having survived the lean years of the 1970s and 1980s, Hardman’s highly skilled workforce was well positioned to meet growing demands for figure-painted windows using hand-blown glass. Now based on Frederick Street in the heart of Birmingham’s jewelry quarter, the company operates under the name of Pugin, Hardman and Powell, thus perpetuating the three names most closely linked to the formation and development of the Mediaeval Art Manufactory in the 1830s. Among the firm’s recent projects are collaborations with the foremost American practitioners of the Gothic revival, such as the architect Ethan Anthony of HDB/Cram and Ferguson of Boston.8 In 2000 he began his design for Syon Abbey in Copper Hill, Virginia, a Benedictine monastery built wholly in the medieval style and adorned with new Hardman glass. The large new Saint Peter Chanel Catholic Church in Roswell, Georgia, near Atlanta, is also being progressively filled with Hardman windows painted in traditional style.

Built firmly upon the standards of design and manufacture established in the 1830s, Pugin, Hardman and Powell is the only one of the firms associated with Pugin to have continued in business to the present day. Along with their valuable archive, they also have a collection of architectural antiques and metalwork dating back to the 1830s. The collection is constantly being enlarged through the purchase of items that appear from time to time in the salerooms. In 2006 the singer Cher sold the contents of her Malibu, California, mansion, including Gothic revival items such as Hardman brass chandeliers of about 1840 that had formerly been in the Bishop’s house in Birmingham (demolished in the 1960s).9 These, together with a pair of tall candlesticks that she had converted into electric lamps, were bought by Hardman’s to add to the collection, which is used for the instruction of artists and craftsmen in the principles of Gothic design. Though the chandeliers and candlesticks were made of polished brass and, in the case of the candlesticks, set with brilliant crystals, Cher had overpainted them in matte black, in accordance with the late twentieth-century misconception that Gothic is somehow dark, sinister, and nightmarish. The subsequent removal of the paint in the Hardman workshop demonstrates that the opposite is true and that Gothic, whether of the Middle Ages or of the nineteenth century, has always been about beauty and truth, light and color, brilliance and sparkle, and the uplifting of the human spirit.

1 One of Pugin’s most spectacular achievements, Saint Giles’ Roman Catholic Church in Cheadle, England, was featured in Geoffrey Beard, “Pugin’s ‘perfect’ church: Saint Giles’ in Cheadle,” The Magazine Antiques, vol. 173, no. 6 (June 2008), pp. 56–63. The most recent biography of Pugin is Rosemary Hill, God’s Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain (Allen Lane, London, 2007).  2 The first full history of John Hardman and Company is Michael Fisher, Hardman of Birmingham: Goldsmith and Glasspainter (Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, England, 2008). It contains a sizable section on the firm’s work in the United States, and an appendix of most of their American commissions.  3 Much of the information in this article is drawn from the Hardman archive, which consists of business records, letters, drawings, and cartoons for stained-glass windows, covering the entire period of the firm’s history. Although some records were destroyed in a fire that badly damaged the firm’s premises in 1970, most of them survived. Today the business records are housed in the Birmingham City Archives at the Birmingham Central Library, and the drawings are in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. A quantity of drawings is also kept at the firm’s premises in Birmingham.  4 Margaret Henderson Floyd, “A. W. N. Pugin and the Gothic Movement in North America,” in A. W. N. Pugin: Master of Gothic Revival, ed. Paul Atterbury,(Bard Graduate Center, New York, and Yale University Press, New Haven, 1995) pp. 200–201. The tabernacle is illustrated on p. 200.  5 Letter to John Hardman and Company, May 20, 1904, Hardman archive, Birmingham.  6 I am grateful to Lucy Cohen of Vassar College for providing me with a copy of her 2006 student paper that discusses the Cornaro Window.  7 These publications included Pugin: A Gothic Passion, ed. Paul Atterbury and Clive Wainwright (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and Yale University Press, New Haven, 1994); and A. W. N. Pugin: Master of Gothic Revival8 Ethan Anthony, The Architecture of Ralph Adams Cram and His Office (W. W. Norton, New York, 2007).  9 Property from the Collection of Cher, Sotheby’s with Julien’s Auctions, Los Angeles, October 3–4, 2006, Lot 215. 

MICHAEL FISHER is consultant historian and archivist for Pugin, Hardman and Powell and the author of several books on Pugin and the Gothic revival, including Hardman of Birmingham: Goldsmith and Glasspainter (Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, England, 2008).