Jewel of the Jewellery Quarter

Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Vyse Street, Hockley, Birmingham

Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Vyse Street, Hockley, Birmingham

Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter is where you can still see and feel the buzz of small metalworking trades making money.  It’s the most complete remaining sector of the multitude of tiny multi-occupant workshops that once produced the bulk of Birmingham’s prosperity.

Historically, the district is Hockley.  The Jewellery Quarter name is a form of tourist branding that goes with brown signs and drawing in visitors.  Unlike other industrial cities that celebrate their industrial history as heritage when actually the trade is dead, Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter still makes and sells quality jewellery.

It survived because the nature of its trades is such that they would not survive transplanting:  only a quarter of the businesses in the Quarter employ more than twenty-five people.

Some clearance took place in the sixties, and the eight-storey Hockley Centre (Peter Hing & Jones 1970-1), now largely occupied by service-enterprises rather than craftsmen, stands as a monument to the period.

In streets such as Vittoria Street, Hylton Street and Frederick Street, the houses, converted in the nineteenth century by adding “shopping” blocks stretching away to the rear, are interspersed with more architecturally ambitious purpose-built workshops and showrooms.

The jewel of the Jewellery Quarter is the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter [], which opened in March 1992 on the premises of the jewellery-manufacturers, Smith & Pepper, whose works, barely altered since the First World War, had been left virtually intact after final closure in 1980.

The place still feels very much as if the owners had locked the door and left it, though in fact it is meticulously conserved, and inevitable modifications have been made for visitor access.

The greatest attraction of all is to watch a live jewellery-manufacturing demonstration, showing that the old skills still survive and bring the place to life.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s Birmingham’s Heritage lecture, please click here.

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