Diamond Quarter Birmingham

The Diamond Quarter (or Jewellery Quarter as it is commonly known) is a 1.07 square-kilometre (0.386102159 square miles area of Birmingham, England, situated just south of the city’s Hockley area – see map here.

It has a population of over 3,000 and  is known for having Europe’s largest concentration of jewellery related businesses. The square mile accounts for approximately 40% of the UK’s jewellery output.

It is also home to the Birmingham Assay Office, the largest Assay Office in the world.

Photo 2008 The Birmingham Assay Office Built 1773 Newhall Street, Jewellery Quarter Birmingham
Photo 2008 The Birmingham Assay Office Built 1773 Newhall Street, Jewellery Quarter Birmingham

 

The area employed around 30,000 people in the 1900s, but fell into decline in the mid 20th century, as lack of demand and foreign competition hit the British jewellery industry hard.

It is now being redeveloped into an urban village and creative business hub, as part of Birmingham City Council’s plan to attract investment to the area. The area has a long association with the metalworking trade, with goldsmiths recorded as living in the area as early as 1553.

Industry grew steadily in the Diamond Quarter as Birmingham developed into an industrial centre, with twelve jewellery manufacturing companies employing around 400 people by the turn of the 19th century. The completion of the Birmingham Assay Office in 1773 accelerated this process, as did the opening of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.

Birmingham and Fazeley Canal Long Being Associated With Birmingham Jewellery Quarter
Birmingham and Fazeley Canal

 

The middle classes began to move out of the area, with factories and workshops taking their place. Both the quantity and quality of the Jewellery Quarter’s output improved, until by the mid-19th century it had surpassed the established jewellery industries of Edinburgh and Derby. By the 1890s even London’s middle classes were favouring Birmingham-produced jewellery over their own city’s products. However, the Great Depression saw vastly reduced demand, and the Jewellery Quarter slid into a decline that it would struggle to recover from.

Birmingham City High Street, looking towards the Bull Ring area after heavy bombing, on 10 April 1941
Birmingham City High Street, looking towards the Bull Ring area after heavy bombing, on 10 April 1941

The area was further hit by the Second World War, as Birmingham’s factories took heavy damage in the Birmingham Blitz

 

 

By 1953 some 23 acres of land in the Jewellery Quarter was deemed beyond repair, and numerous schemes in the 1960s, 70s and 80s failed to return industry to the area. The Jewellery Quarter Urban Village Framework Plan was adopted in 1998, with the intention of establishing a community and promoting regeneration in the area.

Several developments have been proposed, with the potential redevelopment of the A.E. Harris building one of the largest. This would involve replacing the existing A.E. Harris engineering sheds with residential units, retail facilities, an art gallery and a medical centre. St. Paul’s Square has also become a focus for redevelopment, with the £35 million St. Pauls Place and JQ One apartment complexes recently completed.

2008 looking up towards the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter 75-80 Vyse St, Birmingham B18 6HA, UK
2008 looking up towards the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter 75-80 Vyse St, Birmingham B18 6HA, UK

The area has become something of a tourist attraction in its own right. With many 19th century workshops retaining their original appearance, the Diamond Quarter has gained a reputation as a place of interest for history enthusiasts. The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter was opened as a result, and was voted third on a list of Europe’s best free attractions in a 2008 TripAdvisor poll. St. Paul’s Square also plays host to the largest commercial art gallery outside of London, St. Paul’s Gallery.

 

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