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Sunday, 19 May 2013

Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter- the last remaining industrial quarter in Birmingham, with 200 protected buildings that survived wartime bombs

This area lies about a mile outside Birmingham city centre, in an area called Hockley. The city has always had a bit of a reputation for being a grim, industrial centre and it has to be said that Hockley isn't renowned for it's beauty, even in Birmingham.

Wandering around the Jewellery Quarter yesterday though, I remembered how beautiful some of the  architecture that can be found in Britain's industrial cities is. I've always had a particular soft spot for Victorian Gothic: it's spires and turrets, carvings and decorative ceramics. They give little touches of beauty and extravagance in some of Britain's most run-down urban areas.


In it's heyday, Birmingham had 'quarters', areas where particular trades would congregate and customers would travel to them knowing that a good choice was available in a small area. Some other examples were the saddlery quarter and the gun makers quarter. Only one of these old quarters is left now: the jewellery quarter.

It has been a centre for jewellery making for over 250 years. The Birmingham Assay Office opened there in 1773, one of four in Britain (the others being London, Edinburgh and Sheffield). An assay office is where precious metals are tested for purity and then hallmarked to show their legitimacy - Birmingham's hallmark stamp is an anchor:

Image from:http://www.edinburghsilver.co/blog/the-sterling-standard/

In 1890, the school of jewellery making opened in the quarter. It is still there and still a centre of training in the craft:



Pretty much every building within the roughly square mile of the quarter seems associated with the trade in some way; workshops, retailers, tool sellers, traders in precious metals and stones, medallion and medal casters. Sometimes one walks past a window in a small street and gets a glimpse back in time, into a tiny workshop with a jeweller using the same tools and techniques as when the quarter began.

The area also escaped the worst of the damage caused by the Blitz bombs during the Second World War. Birmingham, as an industrial centre, was badly hit generally but there are still over 200 listed, protected buildings in the Jewellery Quarter that survived. I took some photos of things noticed whilst walking around and thought it would be nice to share them with you here:









This public toilet, 'The Temple of Relief', is situated next to the train station in the quarter.



The Jewellery Quarter has it's own website, which you can find by following this link:

You can find out more about the Birmingham Assay Office and hallmarks here:
http://www.theassayoffice.co.uk/index.html

2 comments:

  1. Good to see that others appreciate the old Jewellery Quarter! All my family used to work there (Great Hampton Street) so my oldest memories are of the tall red-brick Victorian buildings and the jewellers working in their stalls in the workshops, with all the smells that entailed. It's a shame that the developers from the 1970s didn't share that appreciation. Some of the architecture is breath-taking, but is simply overlooked today in favour of the modern 'marvels'. Okay the central exhibition central, covered in hubcaps, is eye-catching, but up close it's nothing; go and see the church in its shadow and it's full of detail (Burne Jones' stained glass window and fantastic pomegranite door hinges). I took my children there last year to see their 'roots' and wish I'd taken more photos! So, I was glad to see yours... I love that 'Temple of Relief'!

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  2. I suppose Birmingham has always seemed to those who don't know it to be a dreary industrial landscape but you're right, it has some real architectural gems that the bombers missed.
    As you say, St Martins church in the centre is beautiful, especially now that the stonework has been cleaned up. I also love the Art college building (which my father attended in the 1950s). The Victorian industrialists may have blackened the stonework on St Martins, but their taste in neo Gothic spires and turrets, ornamental brickwork and 'Arts and Crafts Movement' inspired decoration on the buildings can certainly make some modern architecture look a bit drab in comparison.
    I'm glad to hear you liked the post and must remember my camera again next time I visit Brum! Thanks for getting in touch, Alistair

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