Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter still Evolving

The Jewellery quarter started to be established with new houses in 1746 when the Colmore family released land (north of the current city centre) to help satisfy the demands of an increasing population.

As the area grew middle classes moved out of the area to Handsworth, and large factories and workshops were constructed in their place for the goldsmiths and silversmiths. The main gold products being produced at the time were keys, seals and watch chains whilst silversmiths manufactured buckles and comb ornaments using imitation stones. Jewellery was produced mainly in small workshops, contrasting with the large factories and mills that were constructed in England at the time.

The growth of industry into this area was aided by the establishment of the Birmingham Assay Office in 1773, which was petitioned for by Matthew Boulton and other industrialists. The Birmingham and Fazeley Canal was constructed through the south of the area and was completed in 1789, providing a better form of transportation for goods manufactured in the area and the delivery of materials to the area.

By the end of the 19th century, the middle classes in London depended more on the supply of jewellery from Birmingham than from their own city. It is believed that by 1850, half of the gold and silverware products on sale in London jewellery shops had been produced in Birmingham. The Quarter made a large proportion of the British Empire's fine jewellery. Most jewellers still worked in small workshops that would employ between five to fifty people. Nine out of ten master jewellers were originally workmen.

To support the Jewellery business further in 1890 a School of Jewellery and Silversmithing was created to properly train the apprentices and is still in operation, but now part of Birmingham City University

To keep a historical record of the importance of The Jewellery Quarter, The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter was set up by Birmingham City Council, which bought the former premises of the Smith & Pepper jewellery company, which opened in 1990.

When the proprietors of the Smith & Pepper jewellery manufacturing firm retired in 1981 they simply ceased trading and locked the door, unaware they would be leaving a time capsule for future generations. So there is now a perfectly preserved jewellery workshop offering a unique glimpse of working life in Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter.

Another major trade in the Jewellery Quarter and the surrounding area was the pen trade. The Quarter was home to the world's first mass producer of pen nibs which made pens more affordable by reducing the cost by 99.9%. At the industry's peak in the area, 5,000 workers produced 1,500 million pen nibs per year.

Many sporting awards have been produced in the area and still are today. The trophy awarded to the winners of the Wimbledon Ladies Singles tournament was produced in the area. Thomas Fattorini Ltd. is also based in the area and has designed and made the original FA Cup trophy, and still makes the Lonsdale and Commonwealth belts for boxing.

Whistles were pioneered in the Jewellery Quarter, especially by Joseph Hudson who produced the first football referee whistle in 1878 and invented the police whistle in 1883. Hudson whistles are still used by the Metropolitan Police today. Hudson also manufactured whistles for the RMS Titanic, some of which were recovered from the wreck.

The Jewellery Quarter still makes around 40% of all jewellery bought in the UK (from UK sources) and the area has expanded its trades to include design and architecture companies as well as IT start-ups.

Source of key dates info - Wikipedia

Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter still Evolving
WiderView Visual Media, Chris Roberts 28 February 2015
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