Where the Street's have no Gold!

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Europe » United Kingdom » England » West Midlands » Birmingham
August 25th 2018
Published: August 25th 2018
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Woolly says – It’s always good to find somewhere you haven’t been even though you’ve lived in an area for many years, I’d been doing my research and as long as I could keep the women out of the shops I’d found a good place of interest. Having told Jo to take us to the nearest train station I kept the rest of my cards close to my tusks, the tricky part came at the ticket office where I tried to ask for the tickets without being overheard, the man behind the glass merely shook his head. I asked for our destination again and again he shook his head, I raised my voice and tried a third attempt to be met with the same response, I kicked his Perspex window and waited for Jo to intercede, finally the tickets were forthcoming and having left my suggestion of railway staff needing to learn mammoth I trotted towards the platform.

His grumpy face starred up at me and to brighten his mood I handed over a snack and considered the idea of telling him that I had been there, quite a few times as a child with my Dad and once with a friend whose business was based there, keeping quiet seemed the best policy at that point.

Woolly says – The short train ride gave me just enough time to provide the girls with some background information. The Jewellery Quarter is an area situated in the north western area of the Birmingham City Centre and has Europe's largest concentration of businesses involved in the jewellery trade, producing 40%!o(MISSING)f all the jewellery made in the UK. It is also home to the world's largest Assay Office, which hallmarks around 12 million items a year, the anchor stamp that has been used since 1773 to stamp all precious metals was won by the tossing of a coin. Manufacturers form Sheffield and Birmingham had met in the ‘Crown and Anchor’ tavern while petitioning for their assay’s, and merely flipped a coin to decide which city would have the crown and which the anchor. At its peak in the early 1900s the Jewellery Quarter employed over 30,000 people with the industry declining throughout the 20th century, the cities council has started a regeneration project to turn the area into an urban village. As we stepped away form the station I was slightly disappointed to find that the streets weren’t paved with gold nor the buildings with gems although the shop displays had enough bling to satisfy anyone. My eyes watered at the prices and I considered that idea that they must be using kyat which came in thousand notes instead of sterling.

I couldn’t imagine paying out some of the sums involved and having entered a few of the show rooms to find that people a plenty were in fact handing over the huge amounts we decided that we might be better placed in the museum.

Woolly says - The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter is built around a perfectly preserved jewellery workshop which had been run by the manufacturing firm Smith and Pepper for eighty years before they ceased trading and locked their doors in 1981 creating a time capsule for generations to follow. As we stood waiting to pay my ears pricked up as the customers in front of us were informed that the guided tour started at 12.15, I glanced towards Jo whose eyes had narrowed and then to Zoe who was blinking rapidly. We tried our best to get out of the tour but as it would mean not seeing the Victorian workshops it appeared we were condemned, I tried to put a bright smile on the situation by suggesting we have a look round the galleries first. Starting at the second floor we found ourselves in a room that gave lots of information on where jewellery came from including shells, wood, coral and feathers as well as the expected precious and not so precious metals all featured in the displays. There were some beauties and as I considered the cases holding the exhibits to see if there might be any chance of ‘borrowing’ a few pieces my attention was taken by a large display of Vesta cases. Each one was completely unique as they had been in a great variety of forms and shapes from the 1830’s onwards. Vesta cases were small portable boxes each with snap shut cover to contain vestas (short matches) and retain the matches’ quality to a maximum. So called, after the name of one of the early makers which was taken from the goddess Vesta, the Roman deity of fire and the hearth.

The first floor provided us with lots of facts about the development of the Jewellery quarter and the styles and types of uses that the gold and silver had been made into.

Woolly says – A smiley lady appeared in front of us and started the tour. There are times when I’m very glad I can wander between people’s feet without being noticed and this was one of them, as Jo found herself wedged into a corner staring at someone’s back I nudged my way through the crowd and into the next room. The original offices of Smith and Pepper were amazing with pens left where they had last been placed, it seemed as though the workers had merely popped out for lunch rather than leaving everything over 30 years ago for good. A long bench ran along one side of the room with old fashioned typewriters waiting for fingers to thump on their keys, a small dumb waiter stood waiting and ready to transfer bills and goods downstairs to the workshop below us, as the tour started entering the space I bounced my way down the stairs and into the workshop. One wall held hundreds of stamps which had once been used to emboss the gold they had used, before it was passed further into the area where the jeweller would then fashion it into brackets, necklaces and other works of art. There working area was organised with leather clothes under their work stations ready to catch any of the precious dust.

The lady had told us that when Birmingham council had first cleaned and swept the place they had collected £700 (GBP) worth of gold in dust from the floors alone!

Woolly says – I spent a while rolling round on the floor in the hope that I might pick up any traces of wealth still lying around. As gold coins were being passed around I wondered how many I could fit under my hat before Jo glared at me and shook her head and handed the coins back to the guide, just think how many pistachio’s that might have bought me! I peered into the tea making area just as the smiley lady told us how the strychnine which was used for working on the metal was kept next to the sugar, even I knew that could be dangerous, did they have no health and safety in those times! As the tour ended, I bowed to the nice women and led the way outside, it hadn’t been the worst but I still hated the inability to go at my own speed in a museum. We headed towards the clock that was erected in 1903 to mark Joseph Chamberlain's tour of South Africa between 26th December 1902 and 25th February 1903 and which now forms a small island for the traffic. Having gazed in some more of the windows admiring the sparkles of each shop we arrivied at a cemetery, I checked my notes to find a complete lack of information, Jo however was a dark horse and was quick to fill me in.

Warstone Lane Cemetery dates from 1847 and was strangely a place my Dad had taken me to a few times in the days when he had a fascination for black and white photography (although colour was rarely used then he liked working with the lights and shadows) and used to mount exhibitions including pictures of gravestones and rubbish bins…..nope no idea why. Happily, I still have some of these pictures, he took a good photo did my Dad. It’s best known for its two tiers of catacombs, which had provided safety during the second world war for local residents and business’s.

Woolly says – Any hole in the ground is always good with me! As we wandered amongst the memorial stones and statues it seemed that great pride was being taken in preserving and protecting them, stones dating back to the 1700’s were easy to read and only a few looked broken and unkept. The catacombs came as a surprise and one we couldn’t enter, instead of being underground the ground they actually formed a hill that we had to walk down, with quite a few of the graves on top of them I wondered how big each one was inside and how people had felt huddled inside them as bombs rained down on the city and dead bodies surrounded them! As we wandered back towards the railway station I felt that the day had been a success and that maybe a letter to the cities council suggesting gold roads and bejewelled buildings to bring further appeal to the area would be an excellent idea in the future development.

Additional photos below
Photos: 38, Displayed: 28


27th August 2018

Jewels in Englad
That really is pretty.
4th September 2018

It's even better in real life
Photo's don't do it justice, the intricate design was incredible

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