Designer / Maker
Designed by A.W.N. Pugin (1812-52)
Convent of Our Lady of Mercy, Handsworth, Birmingham
English private collection
John Hardman (1812-67) who paid for the building and furnishing of the content in Hunter’s Road, Handsworth, was one of Pugin’s most trusted collaborators. As ‘Mediaeval Metalworkers’ and stained glass manufacturers in Birmingham, Hardman’s executed many of Pugin’s designs. The convent, where Hardman’s daughter Mary was a nun, survives and is a testament to the relationship between Pugin and Hardman, who gate £5535 towards the building costs. Another of Pugin’s patrons, the Earl of Shrewsbury, contributed £2000.
It seems likely that this table was at the convent by 1841 when, according to a letter written by Catherine Elizabeth McAuley, ‘The Convent is beautiful and fully furnished . . . We have rush chairs and oak tables . . .’ (quoted in Michael Trappes-Lomax, Pugin: a mediaeval Victorian, London, 1932, p.342).
The design of this refectory table seems accurately to reflect Pugin’s contemporary proclamation: ‘The two great rules for design are these: 1st, that there should be no features about a building [and this applies equally to furniture] which are not necessary for convenience, construction, or ‘propriety’; 2nd, that all ornaments should consist of enrichment of the essential construction . . .’ (True Principals of Pointed or Christian Architecture, London, 1841, p. 1 ).
What Clive Wainwright described as ‘the startling clarity and simplicity’ of the tables designed by Pugin and made by Thomas Morley in around 1838 for St Mary’s College, Oscott, seems equally applicable to the Handsworth table. The lack of ornament on the present table epitomises Pugin’s mature style (see, for example,Paul Atterbury and Clive Wainwright (eds.), Pugin: a Gothic Passion, London and New Haven, 1994, figs.241-44). The same publication shows, in situ, long tables in the refectory at the Convent of Our Lady of Mercy (fig.151).