Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Jewellery Quarter

Amanda Lewis, blog follower and prospective liveaboard boater, suggested that we should have a look at the Jewellery Museum while we were moored in Birmingham and so taking her advice, we wandered off in search of the Jewellery Quarter and the museum yesterday afternoon.  
The Jewellery Quarter has grown up in a particular location in Birmingham over the last two hundred and fifty years. Once an industry scattered about the City, the freeing up land from the development of the Colmore family estate at Newhall allowed the development of both industry and housing. At one time there were in excess of 70,000 people working in jewellery manufacturing and associated trades.  This is still an area that is dedicated to the jewellery trade and is a thriving community and, apparently, unique in the world.

 The entrance to the Jewellery Museum in Vyse Street - from it's web site.

Birmingham City Council have produced a leaflet and a tourist trail through the Jewellery Quarter, preserving and celebrating the history of the area. The Jewellery Museum is the, well, the Jewel in the Crown I suppose.  The Museum was once two adjacent Victorian houses, that  were bought by Messrs Pepper and Smith and a workshop was built in one of the gardens where they set up their business of manufacturing gold jewellery.  Years passed, Mr Pepper retired and Mr Smith persuaded two of his sons and a daughter to take over the running of the business.  This they did until 1981 by which time they were in their late seventies, early eighties. Unable to sell the business as a going concern and deciding that is was time for them to retire they simply closed up shop and walked away leaving everything in situ.  It was in this that Birmingham City Council inherited and in 1990 when they finally got round to looking at the premises they found a treasure trove, a time capsule in fact. Everything was photographed and inventoried and put back in place.

 The front office, domain of Miss Olive Smith.  Although the Smith's walked away in the early 1980's, the place probably hadn't changed since the early 1920's.
One corner of the front office is set up as the post-room.  Strips of registered numbers, recorded delivery slips and post scales - poignant for Joe and myself as we remember working on Post Office counters and using all that kit.

 The umbrellas and string bags are still hanging by the side of the desk
 The safe that contained the work boxes of each of the goldsmiths.  These were dished out at the start of each working day having had the contents (gold) weighed and agreed with the worker.  The process was repeated in reverse every evening ensuring the security of the precious metal.
 The 'management stairs' leading from Miss Olive's office on the first floor to Mr Tom's office below.  ONLY management could use these!
 Working at a Jewellers peg bench
Archimedes drill being demonstrated
 The leather 'skirt' that collected the detritus (gold again though) from the goldsmith as he worked. This was swept up each day and placed back in the 'workbox' for weighing.
 A fly press - used by women in the workshop. apparently many a finger tip was lost to these things.
 Stamps, hundreds and hundreds of them, used to mass produce pieces of jewellery.
 Polishers, run by belts and a powerful electric motor that replaced a steam driven beastie..
All the goldsmiths worked in groups around these circular or semi-circular benches.

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