Exploring Birmingham’s heritage in the Jewellery Quarter
I’m sure many people will have been to the Jewellery Quarter either to buy jewellery or to visit the bars and restaurants. This area of Birmingham has a rich history, which dates back more than 250 years.
Famous for its jewellery factories, it was at the centre of manufacturing for many years. Even today there are still over 500 jewellery businesses and one of largest jewellery schools in Europe.
I remember buying my 21st birthday presents here. I visited with my parents and felt overwhelmed by the choice. Now, as I wonder around today amongst the 200 listed buildings there are over 30 restaurants, bars and cafes. All of which give the Jewellery Quarter a fantastic urban village feel.
English Heritage describes it as ‘a unique historic environment’ – a national treasure. I couldn’t agree more. Having spent a few hours walking the Heritage Trail I really could see why people fall for this part of Birmingham. Not only have you got fabulous buildings, but you are a short walk from Birmingham city centre and St Pauls Square.
Picking up a leaflet on the Heritage Trail it reminded me of the Freedom Trail in Boston. It’s a great way to get a feel of the area and to immerse yourself in history. I started at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter which I found immensely interesting. This was the site of the Smith and Pepper jewellery factory and everything is as it was when the factory closed in 1981. The family who owned it couldn’t sell it as it needed modernising, the last time being 1914, so they just closed up and walked away. The tour guide gave a really good account of how life would have been for those working in the factory. I’d definitely recommend a visit.
I headed back towards the centre of the Jewellery Quarter, passing the Warstone Lane Cemetery where John Baskerville, creator of the Baskerville typeface is buried, along with Major Harry Gem, the inventor of lawn tennis.
In the centre, of the Jewellery Quarter, stands the famous landmark, the Chamberlain clock. It was erected in 1903 to commemorate Joseph Chamberlain’s visit to South Africa as Colonial Secretary. Joseph Chamberlain was Major of Birmingham between 1873 and 1876 and Member of Parliament from 1876 to his death in 1914.
Next to this is the Rose Villa Tavern, a Grade II listed building, built in 1919-20 and designed by local architects Wood & Kendrick.
To get my next fix of history I headed down Fredrick Street towards the Pen Museum. As a bit of a stationery buff I have a thing for pens. It is at this point I realised just how near to Birmingham City Centre the Jewellery Quarter is. I could easily see the new Library of Birmingham.
The Pen Museum was a fascinating story of how far pen manufacturing has come. I’m one of those people who like using a fountain pen as much as a good quality biro.
Through my travels I saw some of the historic buildings including JW Evans and Thomas Fattorini, which is one of the oldest companies in the Jewellery Quarter.
In my few hours in the Jewellery Quarter I only covered half of the Heritage Trail, so I’m looking forward to making a return visit to finish it. I’ve learnt a lot about Birmingham’s jewellery trade and it’s great to see that this is still very much part of the City.
Before I left I had time for a coffee and muffin at one of my favourite coffee shops, Urban Coffee.
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