Sunday, 24 June 2012

NORTH ARDEN LOCAL HISTORY SOCIETY - June 2012 Meeting


REGENERATION OF BIRMINGHAM’S JEWELLERY QUARTER

Mr Andy Munro, who works for a newly established Development Trust for Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter was the guest speaker at the October meeting of the North Arden Local History Society.  Prior to his present work Andy was Operations Director for the Quarters Regeneration Partnership:  the subject of his highly detailed and informative talk was about what has been established and achieved since the Millennium.

The Jewellery Quarter can be said to begin in St Pauls Square – that last remaining unspoilt Georgian Square in Birmingham and is defined as the area north of here to Icknield Street and between Great Hampton Street and Sand Pits (roughly).  Historically this was all land owned by the Colmore family and several streets are named after members of this family.  There is a lot of information on the official web site (www.jewelleryquarter.net) of interest and any readers thinking of visiting the Quarter for Christmas or Birthday bargains would do well to visit the ‘Quarter’.  The Quarter covers 107 acres, contains 200 listed buildings, 2 Cemeteries – (Key Hill and Warstone Lane) and is home to 6 Museums as well several bars and restaurants.

Precious Metals have been worked in Birmingham since the 14th Century but the trade really picked up after 1660 (when Charles II returned from exile) to provide the ‘bling’ that was demanded by the Aristocracy – jewelled buckles for shoes, decorative buttons, broaches and necklaces.  It was during the 18th Century that the Quarter many of us think of and recognise became established.  In the early 1900’s 30,000 people were employed in these streets many working as individuals in adapted terrace houses that were the family home as well as work shops and retail outlets.  For the present Andy told us we have to thank Birmingham’s Inner Ring Road that was established in the 1960’s:  it effectively cut off the area from the developers.  The uniqueness of the survival and tradition of the area was recognised and moves made to protect its historic setting and environment from future destruction and redevelopment.  To do this it was decided to create an ‘Urban Village’ in which all the residents would have a say in the administration of their community with only strictly controlled influence from the City Council and other outside bodies – a scheme that has shown undoubted success over recent years.

It is one mile from the new Bull Ring Centre to the Chamberlain Clock at the Heart of the Jewellery Quarter but visitors should not forget that Birmingham’s own Assay Office in Newhall Street was established in 1773 with the aid of Matthew Boulton and is now hailed as the busiest in the world.  How Birmingham got it own Assay Mark of the Anchor (being land-locked) is another fascinating story.  On the International front our Jewellery Quarter is the home to Europe’s largest School of Jewellery with graduates establishing themselves as skilled master craftsperson’s in many major cities and countries:  40% of Britain’s Jewellery is made in Birmingham although we were told that the Middle and Far East tend have the monopoly in the 9ct Gold market because of their lower labour costs.  We tend to go for the top end requirements in 18 and 24ct Gold, (Platinum and Silver as well as precious stones also being used).

The cutlery for the First Class dining rooms on Cunard Liners is made in our Jewellery Quarter but being generous we do allow the German’s to provide that used in the Second Class salons!  [You may also be aware from TV programs that the helmets and breastplates worn by the Household Cavalry come from the Quarter as well as many badges and medals such as MBE’s, OBE’s CBE’s etc’].  Numerous Sporting Trophies and Medals also originate from Birmingham even the FA Cup that carries a London hall mark was actually manufactured here!

In all the Quarter provides a home (the self-contained Urban Village) for 5000 residents, 1600 businesses with 30 Restaurants and Bars as well as retail shops, 3 Tesco Supermarkets, a Police Station and Post Office but – unfortunately there are no Schools for the local children.  (Mr Munro explained that the lack of Schools is a common shortcoming throughout the City Centre and children have to travel to the suburbs to be educated).  Community involvement is the key to the success of the Urban Village concept and in addition to the Jewellery Quarter Association there is a highly active Residents Neighbourhood Forum as well as multi representational Marketing and Training forums with a Trading Alliance and Development Trust.  Of course the active support of the City Council is readily forthcoming and we were told how ‘they’ have assisted in providing commonised Street Furnishings (direction signs, lamp-posts, and signage etc).  Any plans submitted by developers that affect the area have to be presented and be approved by the various community committees before they can go to the Planning Authorities – in this way several historic buildings have been saved from demolition and thus helped to retain the unique character of the area.

To assist the City Council’s budget in the present financial climate the Quarter has a small levy on the rates which is retained in its own account; these funds are used solely for improvements in the Quarter and approval can only be given by the Jewellery Quarter Association.  This fund cannot be influenced by the Local Authority, the Public Sector or other Beaurocrats and it does not affect any other Birmingham Ratepayers.  Another fund raising method that has been of benefit is the use of ‘Section 106’ – Funds provided by Developers (under legislation) for “Environmental Improvements” again schemes that utilise this fund have to be determined by the community.  To date money from this source has gone towards the commonised and distinctive paintwork (Black and Gold) on the Street Furnishings and Signage and improved car parking. A recent scheme (for Section 106 funds) was the creation of an Albion Square at the junction of Albion Street and Carver Street this has been named Dayus Square because it was the location of the historic George & Dragon public house, which features prominently in the works of local author the late Kathleen Dayus.

One of the Quarters aspirations is the creation of an easier pedestrian access to the area from the City Centre/St Philips Churchyard (via Church Street and Ludgate Hill) but this would have entailed lowering the road level of Great Charles Street on the Inner Ring Road!  To do this would have required (5 or 6 years ago) £40 million of public (ratepayers) finance making this totally impracticable because of cost, road closures and diversions that would have been necessary.  Perhaps recent changes in the City Council (May Elections) may witness a fresh approach to this situation.

One of the main factors facing the Association is the ageing factor of many of the Quarter’s current workforce all in highly skilled occupations who do not have family following them into their professions as was a common factor many years ago.  This is in spite of the School of Jewellery and its worldwide recognition.  Consequently schemes are in existence that have selected, through aptitude tests many unemployed youngsters who have displayed an awareness and ability for the necessary skills and have been encouraged to undertake training to hopefully continue these skills into the future.  Schemes are also in place and openly used to encourage school leavers to take up Apprenticeships with several of the larger companies located in the Quarter.

If you want somewhere local to take your children during the upcoming long Summer Holidays consider the Jewellery Quarter.  The talk concluded with a resume of what the Museums have to offer and full details can be found on the Internet.  Of note is the ACME Whistle Factory – who still produce whistles for football referees but we understand you can purchase a life saving whistle from the actual tools used over 100 years ago for passengers on the Titanic!  You can see the factory that produced coffin furnishings and shrouds.  Visit an operational Jewellers Workshop in Warstone Lane – a preserved time capsule now the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter and also learn of the history of steel pen manufacture in Birmingham in the 19th Century (before Biro’s and Roller Balls) at the Pen Museum.

Attempts in 2008, with the support of both English Heritage and the City Council the Quarter were put forward for consideration as a World Heritage Site but Mr Munro explained that this ‘bid’ was unsuccessful.

It was a very educational and inspired talk and we say a big thank you to Andy Munro for coming along and giving us time.

Jerry Dutton
President

We are always pleased to welcome guests and visitors at our meetings, the next of which will be on 12th July when the topic will be ‘The Liberation of the Disabled in Birmingham’ presented by Pete Millington.  The following meeting will be on 13th September on ‘Customs and Traditions of the Regiments’ by member, Nick Ward; the Society does not meet in August. Meetings are held in the Spencer Lounge Bar at Arden Hall, Water Orton Road at 7.45pm.

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