The Jewellery Quarter is one of the most famous places in Birmingham and is well-known all over the country. Many people choose to have their jewellery made there rather than in any other place. Princess Diana’s wedding ring was even made there. The Jewellery Quarter did not just develop overnight however. It took many years to get the Jewellery Quarter to the place where it is now.
In the Jewellery Quarter, many items are produced, including chains, bracelets, lockets and rings made out of gold, silver or platinum. Jewellery was also repaired and valued there. (See source 2 – Adverts found in the Jewellery Quarter).
The Jewellery Quarter is situated in the area of Hockley in Birmingham, north-west of the city centre. Some of the streets in the Jewellery Quarter are Carver Street, Ludgate Hill, Charlotte Street, Caroline Street and George Street.
The land where the Jewellery Quarter is now situated was originally owned by the Colmore family who were from Tournai in France. The father was called William Colmore, and he worked as a cloth merchant, selling and buying cloth. The family, however, made most of their money through astute speculations in land over two centuries.
Anne Colmore, who was a member of the Colmore family, obtained a private Act of Parliament in 1746 which allowed her to carve up the land, separating plots in the entire Newhall estate, and grant building leases. After this, brass founders, buckle-makers, button manufacturers, gunsmiths, jewellers and many toy makers moved into the area.
According to Bradford’s map, 1750, the area of the Jewellery Quarter was very sparsely populated. The area was quite rural, with few roads and the land was divided into plots. This was nothing like the rest of Birmingham, which was densely populated and had many roads (See source 3, Bradford’s map, 1750). The plot sizes of the Newhall estate varied massively, and ranged from a few hundred yards to 3000 square yard and most of the houses were priced at well under ï¿½100.
By 1780, the Colmore estate presented a complex picture of mixed developments with wealthy manufacturers living with the mean hovels of unskilled labourers and towards the end of the 18th century, it was quite densely populates, with many buildings for living in as well as working in. There were also many roads, as the area was becoming more populated.
A toy today is something which is used for pleasure or for entertainment. Toys today are mainly associated with children and regarded as playthings, as it is mainly children who play with toys. Examples of toys are toy cars, games consoles, teddy bears etc.
In the 18th century, however, toys were very different. They were small trinkets such as snuff boxes, candlestick holders, snuffers, buckles, buttons, etc. They were all made from either brass or copper as these were cheap and easy to work with. With these ‘toys’, the ordinary people could imitate the luxuries of the aristocracy and the rich at very cheap prices.
The new fashion at this time was buckles, for clothing, or for shoes. Buckles, as well as buttons were exported all over the world to many parts of the British Empire, including America, New World (Australia) and Canada. Buttons were also in fashion at this time and could be made from many different materials including linen and cotton, but in the Jewellery Quarter, they were made from copper and brass.
Most toys (including buttons) were made from copper and brass because these metals are very cheap and easy to obtain. Also, they are metals that are soft and can be easily manipulated. This meant that it was easy to press basic shapes into them to create beautiful patterns.
It was very easy to set up in the toy trade because the smiths working in the Jewellery Quarter did not need to buy any new tools as the same tools used to make jewellery were also used to make toys. Also, the workers could set up workshops in their houses as they did not need much equipment, and so it was simply easier to work at home.
‘”Probably 9 out of 10 of the master jewellers,” Wright tells us, “were originally themselves workmen.”
All that is needed for a workman to start as a master is a peculiar shaped bench and a leather apron, one or two pounds worth of tools (including a blow-pipe), and for material, a few sovereigns, and some ounces of copper and zinc. His shop may be the top room of his house, or a small building over the wash-house, at a rent of 2 shillings or 2 shillings 6 pence per week, and the indispensable gas-jet, which the Gas Company will supply on credit. With these appliances and a skill hand, he may produce scarf-pins, studs, links, rings and lockets.’
This shows that it was very easy to set up as a master jeweller in the Jewellery Quarter. A workman needed only a peculiar shaped or rounded bench, a leather apron, one or two pounds worth of tools and materials to work with. A workman would probably have had many of these tools already, and so it would be very easy to set up as a master jeweller. Also, they could work from home, and if they chose not to, rent in other places was cheap. Also, the gas-jets were supplied on credit. This shows that it was easy to not only set up in the toy trade, but also as a master jeweller (See Source 5 – And 18th Century jeweller at his bench).
Master jewellers often recruited apprentices to work with them in the Jewellery Quarter. An 18th century master jeweller would recruit an apprentice by advertising in a local newspaper or journal. These adverts would receive replies, and the master jewellers would pick apprentices from there. An advertisement in Aris’ Birmingham Gazette, 22nd March 1756 states: “A person in Birmingham in a very clean trade in the Toy Trade, (so free from being laborious that a person of a weak constitution might work at it being chiefly sitting down) wants a young man under 20 years to engage in the following article for 4 or 5 years. This person will allow his master a reasonable consideration (fee) the master will engage to teach and instruct him in the best manner he possibly can. During the first year, the master will allow the apprentice 5 shillings a week, the second year , 6 shillings, the third, 7 shillings, the fourth, 8 shillings, and if agreeable, for the fifth year, half a guinea. The person must find himself (provide) bed and board. If he comes out of the country and has not been bred to trade, it will be the same so that he is sober and has a tolerable genius. Enquiries to Thomas Elliotts, the barber. The will answer all letters that are post paid.”
While all this was happening, the Jewellery Quarter was continuing to change. By 1840, the area of the Jewellery Quarter had changed dramatically. Looking at Bradford’s Map of Birmingham, 1750, we can see that the land was rural, consisting of mainly fields, and split into plots. If you look at Ackerman’s prospect, 1840, you can see that there are many roads including Frederick St, Warstone Lane and Vittoria St and there are many buildings that are densely packed together. You can also see that it is a residential area as there are many schools and chapels.
Vittoria St is the street in the Jewellery Quarter that represents the next stage of conversion. Vittoria St was named to commemorate a British victory in 1813 over Napoleon during the Spanish campaign.
According to Dix’s Directory, in 1858, in Vittoria St, there were 18 houses, 8 houses converted to workshops, 5 purpose built workshops, 1 factory and 1 building that was either a shop or another type of building. This indicates that the Jewellery Quarter was mainly residential, with 18 out of the 33 buildings being houses. There were 8 houses converted to workshops and only 5 purpose built workshops. There was also only 1 factory. According to Kelly’s Directory in 1918, however, the area had changed significantly. There were no longer as many houses, only 5. However, the number of purpose built workshops grew to 11. This shows that the area had changed from a mainly residential area to a mainly industrial area in only 60 years.
In the 1850s, the Jewellery Quarter was able to expand vastly due to the cheap gold flooding in from California and Australia. The ordinary, working class people wanted to enjoy the trinkets and luxuries that the previous generation of working class people could not afford. Due to this, there was a huge demand for these cheap goods, thus helping the Jewellery Quarter expand.
It was not only this, however, that helped the Jewellery Quarter to expand. According to source 7, the Wolverhampton canal and the Birmingham canal are near the Jewellery Quarter. These canals helped the Jewellery Quarter expand hugely. This was because the roads in and around the Jewellery Quarter had many potholes and were damaged to such an extent that it would cause goods to be damaged when transported along the roads. The canals provided a smooth surface, however and helped the goods to be exported quickly and safely, thus allowing the Jewellery Quarter to expand.
The railways also helped the Jewellery Quarter to expand. According to source 7, the railway that was near the Jewellery Quarter was Stour Valley Railway. The railway helped the Jewellery Quarter expand because it was a much faster method of travel, than any others that had been used before, and it meant that goods could be quickly transported to port cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and London which, in turn, meant that goods could be further exported internationally.
It was not only jewellery and toys that were made in the Jewellery Quarter. Many other things were also made, including pen nibs. At the peak of the pen trade, over 5000 people were employed in the Jewellery Quarter to make pen nibs. Birmingham is thought to have produced roughly 2/3 of the world’s steel nibs over 150 years. The Birmingham pen trade was known as a “wonder” industry because it grew out of almost nothing very quickly, producing the world’s largest pen trade.
Pen nibs were required by many people in the Victorian era. More people were learning to read and write, and industries and companies needed book keepers, accountants and clerks, all of which required the person working to be literate. Also, all documents were written by hand, as the typewriter had not yet been invented, and so pen pens were widely used, resulting therefore, in a high demand for pen nibs.
Pens were originally made out of goose feathers. However, only 12 quill nibs could be made from each feather and because of the high demand for these nibs, there were simply not enough feathers. Steel nibs began to replace the goose feather nibs, but there were problems with the earliest steel nibs. The early steel nibs were very stuff, and the ink would rust the metal. There were alternatives to the steel nibs, but these alternatives also had problems. Gold was expensive and wore down far too quickly and nibs with ruby tips lasted longer, but were too expensive, jut like the flexible, hand-made steel nibs.
A breakthrough was made in the 1820s when Sheffield steelmakers produced a flexible and non corrodable steel: stainless steel. New inks were also made which were less corrosive and new machinery to press out nibs meant that the nibs could be mass-produced. Mass production meant that nibs were cheaper, which mean that ordinary people could buy them. This consequently meant that it was no longer just the wealthy that learned to read and write.
In the 1823 trade directory, there was only one pen maker listed. However, in 1829, there were 9, and by 1835, there were 13 makers. Joseph Gillott’s works produced over 30 million nibs in 1837.
There were many stages involved in producing pen nibs. First, sheets of cast Sheffield steel were cut into strips, heated and then rolled to the right thickness. Nib blanks were then cut from the strips using a hand operated press, with the hole and slit being cut in afterwards. The nibs were then reheated and the maker’s name and the nib number were pressed on using a foot operated press. The nibs were ‘tempered’ after that to give them the correct springiness. Next, the nibs were tumbled in a barrel of ‘grits’ to remove any rough edges and the nib point was ground to help the flow of ink. The nibs were treated with chemicals to give them a coloured finish and to make them rust resistant. The finished nibs were finally boxed up and labelled.
The Jewellery Quarter was a suitable area to make these nibs, because there were many workshops suitable for nib production, and there were many workers with skills developed in the toy trade. There were also suitable tools used by workers in the toy trade, which could also be used in the pen trade, such as presses, punches and dies. Because of this, Joseph Gillot set up his factory at 76 Graham Street, on the corner of Vittoria Street.
Working conditions in the Jewellery Quarter was also an issue and was often investigated. The information I have about the working conditions of children came from the second report of Commissioners on the labour of women and children in factories (Parliamentary papers, Volumes XIII, XIV and XV).
According to this source, parents acquired the extra money to pay bills by borrowing money off their employers and the employers of their children. The adults repayed this money from their children wages, with the employer docking wages according to how much money parents had borrowed.
In Phipson’s Pin Manufactory, the workshops, apart from those in which children worked, were well-lighted and well ventilated. There were two workshops for ‘headers’, who were children who made the pinheads. One of these workshops where 43 children worked was 24″9′ by 20″0′ and 9″1′ high and was lighted by two opposite rows of windows. The room was too small and low for the number of workers in there, and was too dark at night, especially in winter, when lights are required. The second workshop contained 49 machines and was 41 feet by 12 feet. There was only one row of windows and it was far too crowded and dark, particularly at night.
The commissioners found the privies (toilets) in terrible conditions. There were two toilets for the work people, not including the headers, which were kept locked. For the 90 to 100 headers, boys and girls, there was only one toilet, which, when the commissioners visited, had excrement all over the floor and was completely unfit for the use of humans. On the commissioners’ last visit, the place had been emptied, and the floor washed, but it was still in a filthy state.
Workplaces had a ‘strapper’, whose role was to keep watch over the children, and make sure that they did not slack while working. If the children ‘relaxed’, even slightly, she would cane them. As soon as she turned up in the workplace, the children would immediately increase their work activity, for fear of being struck. Most of the children working in Phipson’s Pin Manufactory were very young. The examples given in the source were Joseph Harwood, 7; John Bridgwater 7; John Feny, 7; Edward Burnett, 9; H. Bearman, 7; Elizabeth Cannon, 10 and Jane Cannon, younger.
This shows that all the children were quite young, being under the age of ten years.
The source I have used, the second report of the Commissioners on the labour of women and children in the factories. (Parliamentary Papers, Volumes XIII, XIV and XV) can be seen as either reliable or unreliable with regards to working conditions in the Jewellery Quarter.
This is only one source, and it has no other sources to cross reference to, or to support what it says, which doesn’t make it very reliable. Also, Phipson’s Pin Manufactory is in Broad Street, which is not in the Jewellery Quarter. As we are looking at working conditions in the Jewellery Quarter, this makes this source less reliable. Phipson’s Pen Manufactory is a factory and not a workshop, and in the Jewellery Quarter, the majority of workers worked in workshops. The source is only valid for one day and one time, so we cannot assume that the working conditions were exactly the same in the rest of the Jewellery Quarter. For all we know, it could have been better or worse on different days. Also, this was only one place, and does not apply to anywhere else in the Jewellery Quarter. Though this is a government source, we cannot assume that it will be completely reliable for that reason. The commissioners may not have been honest, and could have made up the terrible working conditions. They may have been susceptible to bribes and they could have gone in with a particular mindset and written something false. We simply do not know.
On the other hand, however, this source is useful as it provides an insight into children’s working conditions in Birmingham. As Broad Street is in Birmingham and is very near to the Jewellery Quarter, it is highly likely that the conditions were the same in the Jewellery Quarter as they were in Broad Street. Also, the source is a government document, so it is more reliable than if it had come from a different group.
I also have another source with which to look at working conditions in the Jewellery Quarter, which is ‘Evidence collected by Mr J.E. White upon the Metal Manufacture of the Birmingham District – 1862’.
The first individual concerned in this source was Frederick Parkes who was 15 years of age. As part of his job, he fetched the pickle (sulphuric acid), put it into a barrel with sand to clean the metal and then took the metal out. He also did other odd jobs when he was needed, but spent most of his time doing his main job, going up to the yard to eat. As he was working with sulphuric acid, which was very corrosive, Frederick Parkes faced many dangers. His clothes got eaten away by the acid, and he often burnt his hands from working with the acid for too long. He could read, but he could not write.
The second individual concerned was Charles Hammond who was 12 years old. He worked in the mill, taking the metal out from the rollers. The proper hours were from 7am to 7.30 pm, but the children often had to work overtime until 9 or 10 o’clock. More often than not, it was 10 o’clock. Charles Hammond worked with hot metal, and also faced many dangers. He often burnt and cut his hands and fingers when the hot metal came out, especially if he was tired because of doing overtime. Sometimes, he would use ‘herbs’ which were most likely weeds to stop the metal burning his hands, but he still burnt his hands often. He could not read fluently, only knowing 2 or 3 letters.
The source I have used, ‘Evidence collected by Mr J.E White upon the Metal Manufacture of the Birmingham districts – 1862’ could be seen as either reliable or unreliable regarding working conditions in the Jewellery Quarter, depending on how you look at it.
This source is quite unreliable as it is only one source, and has nothing to cross reference to or to support it. It is also only valid for one day. This could have been either a bad day or a good day, and so we do not know whether the working conditions were better or worse on different days. Also, we can only deem this investigation valid for one place, and we cannot assume that all other workplaces will be the same. For all we know, they could be better or worse. Another thing is that this investigation is only about children, so we cannot tell from this what the working conditions were like for adults. Also, the information is not official, and so we cannot tell whether the person who collected this evidence is reliable or not. Mr John Mitchell’s Steel Pen Manufacturer, where the two individuals worked, is a factory and not a workshop. As most workers in the Jewellery Quarter worked in workshops, and not factories, this source cannot prove reliable in regards to working conditions in the Jewellery Quarter.
On the other hand, this source can be seen as quite reliable. It is regarding a factory in Newhall Street which is situated in the Jewellery Quarter. As the factory is in the Jewellery Quarter, we can assume that working conditions in the rest of the Jewellery Quarter will be similar. Also, there are two individuals in the source, which means that both individuals back each other up in saying that the working conditions were not that good.
Living conditions in the Jewellery Quarter was also an issue. The information I have about living conditions in the Jewellery Quarter comes from a report on the State of Public Health in the Borough of Birmingham by a committee of Physicians and Surgeons.
According to the source, the wealthy people lived in the surrounding country, comparatively few in the town. The ones who did live in the town lived in New Street, Newhall Street, St. Paul’s and St. Mary’s Squares, The Crescent, Paradise Street and the neighbourhood of St. Phillip’s Church.
The poorer people lived in the courts. These courts were mostly found in the older parts of the town, but in the newer parts of the town, a huge number of streets were made which were occupied by the lower class, poorer people. The courts, in which the poor people lived, were very narrow, extremely dirty, not very well ventilated and badly drained, but this was usually only the case for the old courts. The courts varied in the number of houses they contained, with the numbers ranging from four to twenty, and most of the houses were 3 stories high, and were back to back. There was a wash house, an ashpit and a toilet at the end of one side of the court, and it was quite common that there would be pigstys and heaps of manure found in the courts. The toilets which were provided for the poor people were kept in terrible condition and throughout the entire town people in the courts would empty the toilets and ashpits into the street, from where they were carted away the following day. Cholera was very common in these areas as it was spread through dirty water, and the poorer people did not have very good living conditions, and therefore, water was often contaminated and caused cholera.