The Jewellery Quarter is found in Birmingham, England, settled within the south of the Hockley area of the city centre which holds a population of around 3,000 people.

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

The Jewellery Quarter is Europe’s largest concentration of businesses involved in the jewellery trade. They produce up to 40% of all jewellery made in the UK. Additionally, it is also home to the world’s largest Assay Office, which certifies 12 million items a year.

Historically, the Jewellery Quarter is home to many breakthroughs in industrial technology. At its peak in the early 18th century the Jewellery Quarter employed over 30,000 people.

Historic Old Building Jewellery Quarter Birmingham 2013
Historic Old Building Jewellery Quarter Birmingham 2013

However, due to competition abroad and fall in demand, the industry declined throughout the 20th century.

The area is now being remodelled into an urban village and hub for artistic businesses, whilst still maintaining its communal architecture. Its historical importance has led to various contemporary schemes as well as being an Anchor Point of the European Route of Industrial Heritage.

From its very origins, the jewellery Quarter has thrived, prospering greatly from the Industrial Revolution and developing into a large industrial town with a vast range of exports. Many large foundries and glassworks attracted workers from all areas of Britain.

Throughout the late 1500’s and into the early 1600’s as Newhall was purchased by William Colmore and also added to the Quarter.

Colmore Row Map In 1731
Colmore Row Map In 1731

The Jewellery Quarter expanded in 1746, when the Colmore family released land to help satisfy the demands of a growing population. As the population continued to grow into the 1760’s construction of houses continued up into the area now known as the Jewellery Quarter and became a wealthy residential area consisting of upmarket Georgian houses.

According to the Birmingham Directory of 1780, there were 26 jewellers during that time, it is estimated that by the start of the 19th century, there were approximately 12 jewellery producing corporations, employing around 400 workers.

Despite the residential structure of the area, manufacturing businesses were also established. The increase of  industry into this area was helped by the creation of the Birmingham Assay Office in 1773.

Birmingham and Fazeley Canal
Birmingham and Fazeley Canal

The construction of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal was completed in 1789 and provided a better form of transportation of goods throughout the south.

Upon the completion of the canal, Newhall Street was expanded towards it.

Newhall was extended towards the canal after its completion. As the middle classes moved out the area, large factories and small workshops were set up in their place for the goldsmiths, silversmiths and jewellers. The Colmore family soon realised the potential of the canals and in 1809, Caroline Colmore had a canal arm built from the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal to a basin near George Street which brought further industry to the area. This was named Miss Colmore’s Canal, although later renamed Whitmore’s Arm.

As industry continued to grow the Jewellery Quarter’s output surpassed that of nearby Derby as the products also improved in quality. The jewellery trade in Edinburgh declined by the end of the 19th century, and soon the middle classes in London depended more on the jewellery supply from Birmingham than from their own city.

The fact that many jewellers lived alongside their workshops led to many public facilities, such as The Birmingham and Staffordshire Gas Light Company which lit Great Hampton Street. In 1832, the company started offering piped gas and, by 1840, all jewellers had a substantial supply.

On 28 May 1845, a party of representatives were sent to Buckingham Palace in an attempt to persuade Queen Victoria to wear British made jewellery for promotion. All products gifted to the Royal couple were manufactured by Thomas Aston of Regent’s Place and Mr Baleny of St Paul’s Square and valued at over 400 guineas. By the 1900s, the jewellery trade was considered the most profitable in the city. There were also more people employed in the trade than any other in Birmingham.

Moving into the 20th century, the Jewellery Quarter benefited from many enterprises and the industry reached a peak in 1914 with over 20,000 people being employed in this line of work. The Jewellery Quarter continued to thrive through World War I as demand for military buttons, badges and medals increased. However, at the end of the war, the demand fell and a steady decline began. The Quarter was also hit by the Great Depression and struggled to recover. Some companies constructed large factories as they tried to diversify their businesses, but to no avail. By World War II, business turned again to munitions and led to the Jewellery Quarter becoming a target of bombing raids by the Luftwaffe in the Birmingham Blitz.

In 1943, the Birmingham Jewellers’ and Silversmiths’ Association created a committee to discuss the regeneration of the industry in the Quarter. A decade later, a City Council survey concluded that 23 acres of land were beyond repair. The council then put its own redevelopment scheme into place. The proposals included a flatted factory, workshops with car parking above them as well as a new Assay Office, School of Jewellery, exhibition hall, restaurant, and office block. The flatted factory, known as the Hockley Centre was completed in 1971, with the workshops following a few years later. Despite this accomplishment, the scheme was unsuccessful and carried complaints over higher rent prices with many firms moving elsewhere in the Quarter.

On 5 November 1998, the Jewellery Quarter Urban Village Framework Plan was adopted to use mixed-use development to promote regeneration in the area and establish a community. The aim was to transform the area into a hub for creative businesses as well as facilitating the local people. However, residents and employees in the Quarter have criticised the council’s lack of progress and published an announcement in 2008 named “Time To Polish The Gem” in an attempt to draw attention to this issue.

The historical importance of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter was recognised by Birmingham City Council and English Heritage in the 1900s as a result of English Heritage conducting a survey of the Jewellery Quarter. This resulting survey authenticated its international significance of this historical gem and as a result, three conservation areas were merged to form the new Jewellery Quarter Conservation Area in September 2000. Eight years later, another council report proposed for the Jewellery Quarter to receive World Heritage Site status.

Numerous proposals have since been proposed and approved for many schemes in the area. Much of these involved the renovation of old buildings as well as new-build projects. The current scheme involves the detainment of many listed buildings as well as two other buildings which are momentous to the local history and townscape.

Another major proposal for the area is Newhall Square, which consists of apartments, retail units, offices and a Travelodge hotel. The development is estimated to cost £63 million and will centre around a piazza. St Paul’s Square is also gaining interest in development schemes, with plans centring around apartments, studios, penthouses, and offices. At the heart of the scheme is a communal courtyard, designed by award-winning architect Alan Gardner.

On the edge of the Jewellery Quarter is the St George’s expansion which included apartments, work spaces, offices, bars and restaurants, a car park, and two hotels. Covering an area of almost 7acres, it is the largest scheme within the Quarter.

As well as being a business area, the Jewellery Quarter is also a well known tourist attraction as many of the buildings still showcase their 19th century architecture.

Birmingham City Council first recognised the importance of tourism in raising the profile of the Jewellery Quarter in the 1980s. Tourism was first brought to the area in the 1980s when the City council devised a strategy which included improved views in the area and the establishment of a museum and exchange centre to rival Germany and Italy. There are also a variety of art galleries in the Quarter, such as the gallery in St. Paul’s which was home to The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, a  historic society of artists who moved to the area in 2000.

Jewellery manufacturers continue work in the area today with almost 700 jewellery-related businesses in the area, which is said to hold the highest concentration of dedicated jewellers in all of Europe. As result of renovation, many PR firms, software companies and developers have also set up in the area. It also hosts half of the city’s architectural professions.

Many sporting awards are also commissioned in the Quarter, including trophy for the Wimbledon Ladies Singles tournament and the original FA Cup trophy.

Whistles also began in the Jewellery Quarter, particularly by Joseph Hudson who made the first football referee whistle in 1878 and invented the police whistle in 1883. Hudson also created whistles for the RMS Titanic, a few of which were found in the wreckage.

The Jewellery Quarter is also the place of many local landmarks. St Paul’s Square is the only Georgian square still standing in Birmingham, which has now undergone a refurbishment and remains one of the only open spaces in the area. The famous Chamberlain Clock in Vyse and Frederick Street were built in 1903 as homage to Joseph Chamberlain and now stands as a landmark and symbol of the Quarter.

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