A beautiful 4.5km (3 mile) circular walk around the historic Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham, parts of which date back 250 years. This is a designated conservation area, and has over 500 jewellery businesses operating here today, producing an estimated 40% of all jewellery made in the UK.
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We will start this walk at St Philip’s Cathedral on Colmore Row.
Head along Colmore Row in a Westerly direction towards the Council House and Town Hall. Before you get to those places, turn right at the traffic lights into Newhall Street (map point 1).
Walk down Newhall Street and cross over the main road ahead, Great Charles Street, at the traffic lights. Carry on over these lights and take the next left into Lionel Street. Walk along to the end and follow round to the right, past the Shakespeare Pub, along Summer Row (map point 2), and right again into Fleet Street (map point 3).
Here you will find the Coffin Works Newman Brothers Museum. Newman Brothers at The Coffin Works is a heritage attraction located on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham. This grade II* listed factory and its contents tells the story of Newman Brothers, Birmingham’s last coffin-furniture factory who operated from their Fleet Street premises for over 100 years until 1998 when workers laid down their equipment, and walked out of the building for the very last time, leaving everything, including personal belongings behind. Explore this unique piece of history on one of the guided tours and step back in time to experience this important piece of Birmingham’s industrial legacy.
Continue along Fleet Street to the end and turn left onto Newhall Street. Follow this up and round to the left as it bends and changes into Graham Street (map point 4). Continue along Graham Street, crossing over Vittoria Street on the right. You will reach the crossroads of Graham Street, Newhall Hill, Legge Lane and Frederick Street.
At this crossroads, at the end of Graham Street, you will find the Victoria Works, a Grade II listed building built in 1839 for Joseph Gillott, manufacturer of pen nibs. It was one of the first purpose-built factories in the Jewellery Quarter, situated opposite the Argent Centre, another building constructed around the same time. The factory was one of the largest of its kind, with nearly 600 workers and steam engines poweringthe mass production of the nibs.
Newhall Hill, down to your left, was the site of a number of huge rallies organised by the Birmingham Political Union to demand parliamentary reform in the 1820s and 30s. One of the leaders of the Political Union was Thomas Attwood, who along with Joseph Schofield became Birmingham’s first members of Parliament in 1832. Nearby in a house on Legge Lane the American author Washington Irving is said to have written his children’s story Rip Van Winkle whilst staying with his sister and her family in 1818.
At the crossroads you will be carrying straight on into Legge Lane, but before you do that, just on the right in Frederick Street is the Pen Museum. Originally known as the Albert Works, this spectacular Renaissance-revival building was constructed in 1863 as the pen factory of WE Wiley. When first built the factory boasted a Turkish bath which reused the steam from the production line! Today the Argent Centre is home to the Pen Museum, which tells the story of the Birmingham pen trade.
Walk up Legge Lane and at the end turn right to head into Dayus Square (map point 5), then right again into Albion Street, where you will find the JW Evans silver plate works. Established in 1881, J. W. Evans is one of the most complete surviving historic factories in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. To walk into the factory today is to enter a lost industrial world. Behind the frontage of four terraced houses, the workshops retain their original drop stamps and fly presses. They are packed with thousands of dies for the manufacture of silverware, as well as the whole of the working equipment, stock and records of the business. English Heritage stepped in to rescue J. W. Evans Silver Factory in 2008. With the completion of the repairs programme, the site opened to the public in summer 2011 with tours available on a set number of days. The size of the property means these are limited to 10 people per tour, and must be booked in advance.
At the end of Albion Street turn left onto Frederick Street, and a little further along, turn right into Regent Street (map point 6). On the corner of Frederick Street and just before Regent Street is one of the oldest factories in the Quarter, Thomas Fattorini. They have been designing and manufacturing medals, badges, trophies and other regalia since 1827. Mr. Greg Fattorini is the present Managing Director of the company, being the 6th generation of the Fattorini family to manage the business.
Nearby Toye, Kenning & Spencer on Warstone Lane date back even further. Also manufacturers of medals, badges and military regalia, Toye’s were founded by a Huguenot immigrant family in 1685 and are considered to be the oldest company in Birmingham!
Walk a short distance along Regent Street and turn left at the end into Vittoria Street and you will pass the School of Jewellery. Founded in 1890, this is the foremost institution for teaching metalwork in the world.
Take the next left into Warstone Lane and walk along to the roundabout with the large clock in the centre (map point 7). This is the Chamberlain Clock, a famous Jewellery Quarter landmark which was erected in 1903 to commemorate Joseph Chamberlain’s visit to South Africa as Colonial Secretary. Chamberlain was Mayor of Birmingham between 1873 and 1876 and Member of Parliament from 1876 to his death in 1914.
Also on this roundabout is the Rose Villa Tavern. The Grade II listed pub was designed by local architects Wood & Kendrick and built between 1919-1920 for Mitchells & Butler brewery, who still have their headquarters in Birmingham today. The modern building behind the Rose Villa Tavern is the Big Peg. Originally called the Hockley Centre, this large “flatted factory” was completed in 1971 and is today a hotbed of entrepreneurial talent in Birmingham. In front of the Big Peg, and to the side of the Rose Villa Tavern is Golden Square, a public space accessible to all residents and visitors to the Jewellery Quarter, 24 hours a day. The Square is a combination of three spaces, drawing on the heritage and craft associations of the Quarter – the Orchard, the Promenade and the Plaza.
At the Chamberlain Clock tower roundabout, turn right along Vyse Street, where you will find many jewellery shops. Further along, on your left hand side, you will see Warstone Lane Cemetery (map point 8). This Church of England cemetery was opened in 1848 and in the middle of the graveyards are the catacombs, one of whose residents is John Baskerville, creator of the Baskerville typeface in 1757. Major Hary Gem, the inventor of Lawn Tennis, is also buried in the cemetery.
After the Jewellery Quarter train station, turn left into Hylton Street and walk along and around the corner (map point 9) until you see a small alleyway on your left hand side which leads into Key Hill Cemetery (worth a detour if you like old cemeteries, otherwise carry on with the rest of the walk!) This was the first public cemetery in Birmingham and dates from 1836. It was open to all, including non-conformists who were not permitted to be buried in Church of England graveyards. Famous residents include Joseph Chamberlain and Alfred Bird, the manufacturer of Bird’s custard.
Back on Hylton Street and continue along until it comes out on Vyse Street again. Turn right into Vyse Street and on the left side of the road is the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter (map point 10). Located in the original factory of jewellery manufacturers Smith & Pepper, the museum tells the story of jewellery and metalworking in Birmingham. Most of the techniques and processes demonstrated on the fascinating factory tour are exactly the same as were used in the 18th century when the Quarter first developed.
Further along Vyse Street past the Museum, turn left into Spencer Street. On your left you will see the beautiful metal gates of the Jewellery Business Centre (map point 11), designed by metal craftsman Michael Johnson, for the conversion of these former workshops in 1991, by the Duchy of Cornwall.
Continue along here to the roundabout, and take the third exit off the roundabout onto Augusta Street (map point 12). At the end turn left onto Warstone Lane, and then first right to continue your walk along Caroline Street (map point 13) towards St Paul’s Square (map point 14).
Caroline Street was one of the earliest parts of the Quarter to be developed in the 1780s. A number of fine houses survive which were later converted to workshops, including nos 65 and 42. On Regent Place, just off Caroline Street, a blue plaque marks the site of the house in which James Watt lived between 1777 and 1790. Watt was Matthew Boulton’s business partner and was instrumental in the development of the steam engine. You will pass some nice little cafes and delis along here!
Caroline Street finishes at St Paul’s Square (map point 14). This was first developed in the 1770s and 1780s and is now the only surviving Georgian square in Birmingham. St Paul’s Church was consecrated in 1779, with the spire being added in 1823. It is known as the “Jewellers Church” and Matthew Boulton and James Watt are known to have worshipped at this Church.
To the right, along Brook Street, you will find the home and gallery of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA). Here you can visit three floors of exhibitions, displaying original and affordable contemporary art and craft.
Cross over St Paul’s Square to head down Ludgate Hill (map point 15). At the end you will find a bridge over the main dual carriageway Great Charles Street Queensway – cross over this bridge, turning right and right again after you come down the other side to head up Church Street (map point 16). Walk all the way up here to bring you back to the start of this walk at the Cathedral.
If you prefer a step free way back to the start, then instead of taking the bridge over Great Charles Street Queensway, turn right along the road before the bridge, Lionel Street, and head along here to the next road and turn left into Newhall Street. Cross over the main Great Charles Street Queensway at the traffic lights, carry straight on and take the first left into Cornwall Street. Walk along here to Church Street, turn right and carry on up Church Street back to the Cathedral.
Overview of Walk:
Map details © OpenStreetMap contributors