Nearly 30 members of Stone & District Probus Club went to Birmingham on June 14 to visit the Jewellery Museum, managed by Birmingham Museums Trust, followed by lunch in a local hostelry and then a tour of the now defunct Newman Brothers Coffin Works which is also a museum.
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. Everything was left as it was: tools on benches, overalls hanging on coat hooks, even cups of tea and jars of jam and Marmite.
Today the factory is a remarkable museum, which tells the story of the Jewellery Quarter and Birmingham’s renowned jewellery and metalworking heritage.
The museum conditions in days gone by would not be tolerated in today’s society, nor would they pass any health and safety inspection, but this is an important part of the rich heritage of this city.
Following a buffet lunch it was just a 50 metre walk to the tour of the coffin furniture factory. This time-capsule building and its contents, managed by the Birmingham Conservation Trust, tells the story of Newman Brothers, Birmingham’s last coffin furniture factory, who operated from their Fleet Street premises for more than 100 years until 1998 when workers laid down their equipment and walked out of the building for the very last time, leaving everything, including personal belongings, behind.
Within the same building is the Shroud Room, colloquially referred to as ‘Shrouds’. Newman Brothers’ trade catalogues list these funerary garments as robes. They were part of the coffin furniture product line on offer at the company and also included ‘frillings’, side sheets and pillows to dress the inside of coffins.
Stone & District Probus Club has a full programme of events and they always welcome new members who may wish to join them at these events and monthly meetings. Please contact the Secretary, Neil Hammersley, on 01782 373028 or email neil.hammersley@ btinternet.com for further information.