News Story

Birmingham is famous for metalworking, but did you know it was also an important centre for the production of stained glass?

We have just added images of hundreds of stained glass designs by John Hardman & Co. to our online images website for you to explore. Hardman was a Birmingham-based firm which began making stained glass in 1845. They were one of the country’s leading manufacturers of stained glass in the 19th and 20th centuries, creating windows for churches and houses all over the world.

There is a very large archive of documents and designs relating to Hardman, which is divided between the Library of Birmingham and Birmingham Museums Trust. The Library holds Hardman’s business records, whilst the Museum looks after thousands of designs related to the company. Between them, these sources provide an incredible record of the workings and output of this influential firm.

The stained glass designs we’ve made available online were made for clients so that they could see Hardman’s plans for their windows. They tell us a lot about the company’s working process. Many designs have notes on them suggesting changes, while others were rejected altogether. Some are very sketchy or are incomplete, but others are highly detailed. All are works of art in their own right.

Design on paper for a stained-glass window with two window panels. The left panel features St Michael, who is wearing armour and holding a sword. The right panel is incomplete and features St Hilda, who is wearing nun’s robes and holding a book and staff. There are annotations around the drawings.
Design for Stained Glass Window for All Saints Home, Capetown, 1901. By John Hardman & Co. (1970M238.4330).

One design for a window for Moseley Baptist Church depicts Christ in the Temple as a child. It is annotated: ‘the details of the temple will be taken from W. Holman Hunts picture of this subject’. This design dates from 1898, just a couple of years after William Holman Hunt’s painting ‘The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple’ was acquired by Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. This suggests that artists from Hardman visited the Museum and found inspiration in its collection.

Design on paper for a stained-glass window with two panels and a small trefoil above. The left panel shows Christ as a child he is teaching a group of people, with Mary and Joseph in the background. The right panel shows the adult Christ blessing a group of young children. There are angels at the top and bottom of each panel and in the trefoil.
Design for Stained Glass Window for Baptist Church Moseley, 1898. By John Hardman & Co. (1970M238.2504)
Oil painting of a Christ as a child with his parents on the right surrounded by rabbis who have been listening to him.
The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple by William Holman Hunt, 1854-55. (1896P80).

The designs also provide more information about the company’s clientele, especially as many of these windows no longer exist. Most Hardman windows were destined for buildings in Britain and Ireland, but many went overseas, including to the USA and to countries which were then part of the British Empire such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. Some places commissioned multiple windows from Hardman, others just a single one. Some windows went to churches in big cities but others went to tiny settlements. One design is for a little 19th-century mission church in the village of Moeraki in New Zealand. It features the Māori leader Matiaha Tiramōrehu, making this one of the earliest depictions of a Māori in stained glass.

Design for a stained glass window with three panels. The design is sketchy, uncoloured and incomplete. The central light depicts Christ teaching. The left-hand light depicts a woman and child, and the right hand light depicts a seated Maori man holding a staff.
Design for Stained Glass Window for Moeraki New Zealand, 1891. By John Hardman & Co. (1970M238.4247).

Most of Hardman’s clients were churches, but there are also some secular designs for individuals and businesses. One design from 1883 is for Marris and Norton, a furniture retailer on Corporation Street. It features scenes from Shakespeare’s play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

Design for a stained-glass window with three panels. The left hand panel depicts Puck presenting a flower to Titania. The central light depicts Titania with a donkey, and the third light depicts a wedding. Only the first light is coloured and the third is incomplete.
Design for Stained Glass Window for Marris and Norton Corporation Street Birmingham, 1883. By John Hardman & Co. (1970M238.2427).

Students from the MA in History of Art and Curating at the University of Birmingham assisted with cataloguing and photographing these designs, and we want to thank them for their fantastic work on this project. We are continuing to catalogue this sizable collection with their help and hope to add further images to the online image website in the future, making them more accessible for everyone.

By Rebecca Unsworth, Research Assistant (Decorative Art)