Lifting the lid on the Coffin Works
We had arrived at Fleet Street on the borders of the Jewellery Quarter for a tour around the city’s newest historical attraction the Newman Brothers' Coffin Works.
The place was dead (come on), so we knocked the door... ever so slowly, it opened SCREEEEEEE – actually the previous sentence is complete fabrication - the door was well oiled and we were warmly greeted by three friendly faces, including one which belonged to our tour guide for the morning - David.
Let’s get one thing out the way, this place is not spooky, in fact the tour is not ominous in anyway (granted I wouldn’t spend the night there alone but you can say that for most old buildings). If you have an interest in the occult/ graves and the like I recommend you go and hang with the local Goths in Pigeon Park. The tour has been specifically designed in a good-natured manner and even though it’s called the Coffin Works the Newman Brothers didn’t make the actual coffins but the coffin furniture – that’s the brass handles, plaques, crucifixes etc. - their wares have adorned the coffins of such notaries as Joseph Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother no less!
We began the tour by clocking in, and at 10.54 we were a bit late for our shift; nice little interactive touches such as these would become evident throughout our time here.
Our knowledgeable guide, the aforementioned David, was kitted out in traditional garb and was full of facts - his banter was bright and breezy. He would take us around four rooms which have been restored to the glory days of the firm which in this case was the 1960’s. The works opened in 1894 and finally closed their doors in 1999, its beginnings; heyday and demise all become apparent throughout.
One of the most interesting aspects for me was David’s accounts of the former employees - these human interest stories were fascinating – Perhaps the most remarkable of these was how the company secretary Joyce ended up being the eventual owner of the company; Joyce was also instrumental in preserving the building and transforming it into the attraction it is today.
There are many stories to be told and David informed us that each guide had unique tales to tell about the place so if you returned you would be presented with new information. The Coffin Works also run a special tour for children which I suspect is light on death and if you would rather discover the charms of the building for yourself self-guided visits are also available where you can use a Digital Guidebook to find your way around, these include films, interviews and quizzes.
Birmingham Conservation Trust have spend over £2 million on this project and you can see where. The sights, smells (like my old school pottery room) and sounds (they have installed effects which play throughout) are extremely atmospheric and evocative (I imagine) of the period.
The tour ends in the Shroud room and we were shown two which were in AVFC and BCFC colours. I'm guessing each team's supporters would like to see the other in these!
One recommendation - the start of the tour is situated in a courtyard and in these winter climes is a little chilly - I was frozen stiff (ha ha ha hu hurrrrrr... ahem) and next time will visit in more than just a jumper.
One of my colleagues Stephanie was offered and kept a ‘RIP’ coffin adornment that David had made during the tour- on the way back to the office our conversation was primarily about how great the tour was, but also about which of our adversaries would be the lucky recipient of aforementioned item.
The Coffin Works includes a shop, a changing calendar of events and exhibitions and also facilities for hire and in my opinion makes for a lovely unique space to hold a meeting; especially if you are operating with skeleton staff! (don't worry I've finished now).
The Coffin Works is open at various times throughout the week – it’ll be easier if you take a look for yourself here
Admission is £5 for adults £3 for children with concessions and family tickets available.
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