Birmingham, with just over one million residents, is the second biggest city in the United Kingdom. As I have discovered, it is a city built on a number of important industries, some which are still significant today. After negotiating our way from the airport to our hostel we headed out for a walk around the Jewellery Quarter, named for one of those industries. There are many jewellery stores, some wholesale only, but mostly selling mainstream precious metal and sparkly stone jewellery in traditional settings and styles, not really my cup of tea.
We made it to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter just in time to join the final tour of the day. Well worth doing, a very entertaining story of the firm Smith and Pepper who operated on the site for 90 odd years until they closed in 1981. The place had been left just as it was until the museum set up and still looks as it did. Even in the 1980’s many of the techniques, processes and office procedures were much the same as they had been at the turn of the 20th century. Our guide, Rupert, told many stories about the individuals who worked there, as well as giving demonstrations of some of the tools and equipment. A really informative and enjoyable experience.
Friday morning was freezing, -3C! As Megan pointed out, only 46 degrees different to what it was in Castlemaine. Giselle had made plans to meet up with her scout friends she met at Roverway in The Netherlands, they went trampolining at a place in Bourneville (where Cadbury is located, the station is painted Cadbury purple!). I tried to find a walking tour or bus tour to do. I thought I was in luck with a hop-on hop-off type bus but even though its website said it was operating there was no sign of any busses at the stop and I was there 5 minutes before the scheduled time and waited at least 5 minutes after. A bit of googling indicated that perhaps it was closed for winter and wouldn't start again till May 19. I wandered off in the direction of the public library but found the museum first. The museum had a big section on Birmingham: its people, its history and I spent a bit of time there. It was really interesting and well-presented. Birmingham has quite the heritage in a few industries, not just jewellery. The ACME whistle company which invented the policeman’s whistle is from Birmingham; Avery scales; button making, using mother of pearl and metals; military uniforms; coffin furnishing; and steel nibs for pens (in the 19th century 75% of the world's handwriting was done with Birmingham produced pen nibs) amongst other things.
Next to the Library of Birmingham which is the largest public library in Europe and an impressive, modern building. Very busy, a combination of a state library and a public lending library. Lots of different spaces and many people utilising them. At the very top (9th floor) they have reconstructed the Shakespeare room from a previous library built in the 19th century. When that library was decommissioned the room was moved to what is now a university but it was locked up and rarely seen. When this new library was designed, incorporating the room was a priority. The Shakespeare collection is the largest of its type in the world and includes editions in more than 90 languages, scrapbooks, playbills, posters and much more. Quite a fascinating contrast moving from the modern space into the historic one. The view from the top was pretty good too although it was foggy or hazy, not sure what but not good visibility.
From there I headed back into the shopping district for lunch and browsed the shops for a while. Back to the hostel to wait for Giselle, I spent the time in the foyer lounge writing the previous blog post, our room has a big single-glazed window and is very cold until the heating comes on around 5.30pm, not like Germany!
This morning we decided to skip the lacklustre breakfast at the hostel and had a full English at a nearby cafe. All good except the sausages, way to pink and porky for my liking.
We still had half an hour or so before our planned visit to the Coffin Works Museum so we went for a wander and found a section of canal with multiple locks to walk along. The canals are very narrow and it must have been slow-going getting through so many locks. We found out later that there are 13 locks in close proximity there.
The tour of the museum was interesting although we had to leave about 10 minutes before the end to have time to collect our bags and get to the station for our train to London. Newman Brothers didn’t manufacture coffins as such, rather, they made all the metal fittings and plates, as well as the robes the dead were dressed in to be buried. Interesting to see that many of the machines were identical to those we saw at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. Like that business, this one had also been left just as it was when it closed in 1999. It has been operating as a museum for five years.
We are now heading to London by train, I'm rather excited about our accommodation on the 23rd floor of the Strata building. Watch this space!
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I'm off on an adventure to Europe, on my own for 12 days and the remaining 3 weeks with my 17 year old daughter. This is where I'm going to share my adventures.
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