Brass of the month

January 2005: John Hardman, 1867, Handsworth, Birmingham

For the new year we have a new departure for the brass of the month feature - a Victorian revival brass, though sadly it is one that no longer survives. It was formerly in St. Mary's Convent, Handsworth, Birmingham.

The craft of memorial brass design and manufacture was revived during the nineteenth century largely through the efforts of the architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852). But the revival was only possible because in 1837 he met John Hardman who ran a button-making business in Birmingham and who shared Pugin's passion for everything medieval. Together they designed and made every conceivable item of church metal work, including memorial brasses. Hardman was also a staunch Roman Catholic and formed a choir at St. Chad's cathedral to sing Gregorian Chant. The splendid scroll above his head on the brass is a reference to this, with the words 'Domine, dilexi decorum Domus tuae et locum hatitationis gloriae tuae' (Psalm 26:8).

Hardman also founded the convent of the Sisters of Mercy at Handsworth, opposite the house where he lived. When he died in 1867, although buried in St. Chad's Cathedral Crypt, he was commemorated by this brass in St. Mary's Convent, which sadly was destroyed in war-time bombing.

 Fortunately a rubbing of the brass exists in the Hardman archive in Birmingham, and the Index of Memorial Brasses records details of the commission as follows:

Date    Name                   Place                        Description                    Stone                Size

1868   John Hardman      St. Mary's Convent    Kneeling figure and        Black marble    2ft 5ins by

                                       Handsworth,              inscription                                              1ft 6 ins


Hardman is shown kneeling wearing his cantor's cape, with a line of plainchant on the scroll above. There is a similar depiction of him in the bottom left-hand corner of the Immaculate Conception Window in St. Chad's Cathedral. He died aged 55, worn out by his prodigious efforts to effect the revival of the 'true Gothic religion' in England, along with A.W.N. Pugin.

If you want to know more about the Hardman family, the Archdiocese of Birmingham has produced a booklet written by Brian Doolan, 2004, 'The Pugins and the Hardmans'. For a detailed account of Pugin's revival of brasses, see 'AWN Pugin and the Revival of Memorial Brasses, Mansell 1991, by David Meara.       

Copyright: David Meara.        

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Page last updated 01 January 2005