Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham
Built around the preserved workshops and offices of the family-run jewellery firm of Smith and Pepper, the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter offers an insight into Birmingham’s historic jewellery trade. When the factory closed in 1981 its entire contents were left exactly as they had been on the last day of production - right down to the workers' final mugs of tea. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour around the perfectly preserved 'time capsule' factory which includes demonstrations of jewellery making techniques.
Tuesday to Saturday: 10:30 am to 4:00 pm
Children (Under 16): Free
The organised tour is a must. It lasts for an hour. When you enter the shop section ask staff to allocate you to an organised tour. At busy periods you may have to go away and come back later so you would be advised to head here first and get booked onto a tour at whatever time suits you best. You can always ring the museum beforehand to see what they advise.
History of the Museum
The museum is centred around the old Smith & Pepper jewellery factory. This was founded in the 1890s by Charles Smith and his uncle Edward Pepper. Their mark S&P was registered with the Assay Office in 1899. They manufactured brooches, bangles, lockets etc for the wholesale trade. If you have an old Bamboo bangle it may have come from Smith & Pepper so check the marks.....
Eventually running of the business passed to 3 of Smith's 9 children, Eric, Olive and Tom, who ran the company until the 1980s. At this time being aged in their 70s and 80s they wanted to retire but none of the 3 had any children and due to a recession they found it impossible to sell the business.
So one day in 1981 all the managers and workers downed tools and closed up shop for one last time. The factory was "discovered" 10 years later exactly as it had been left a decade before, just as though all the workers would walk back in at any moment and so Birmingham City Council decided to preserve it exactly as it was and turn it into a museum.
What I found fascinating was that the factory looked exactly as it would've done at the turn of the century. There was no modernisation at all and it really is like stepping back in time. The whole time the factory was in production nothing really changed - manufacturing processes never changed, I don't even think the decor changed.
Check website or phone for opening hours/days as it changes slightly throughout the year. Appears to be closed most Mondays.
Well worth a visit.
This bit from the Pen Museum website:
"Birmingham was the centre of the world pen trade for more than a century, employing thousands of people, and pioneering craftsmanship, manufacturing processes and employment opportunities for women. The availability of cheap pens enabled the development of education and literacy throughout the world."
This museum has only been fully open since 2002. It was really interesting and even though I have lived in Birmingham since I was a teenager I knew nothing of the history of the trade. Ask the museum staff to talk you through the displays, they were all very friendly on our visit (I believe they are all volunteers who are interested in the trade so make use of their knowkledge). Ask to see both rooms as it isn't obvious that the second room is even there and that is where most of the exhibits are.
There are displays of writing equipment made in Birmingham the history of the pen companies. You learn about the manufacturing process and the staff let us have a go at operating the hand presses and making a pen nib for ourselves. You are also encouraged to ahve a go at writing with reed pens, quills, steel pens & typewriters.