The Coffin Works: We visited the Jewellery Quarter museum - and were transported to Victorian Birmingham

I was tasked with finding one fiinding one of the most fascinating museums in Birmingham for my latest assignment for BirminghamWorld.

It didn’t take me long to choose where to head! I’d heard about The Coffin Works in the Jewellery Quarter many a-time and it sounded like it would fit the bill perfectly.

It’s a unique time capsule in the heart of the JQ (just outside the city centre). And it offers visitors an unparalleled glimpse into the city’s rich industrial past.

The museum preserves the contents of the former Newman Brothers coffin fittings, which is the last purpose-built Victorian coffin furniture manufactory in the country. Everything inside has been perfectly preserved, including the machinery, products, and business archive.

I met museum manager Sarah Hayes who helpfully explained the captivating significance of this historical site.

Sarah told me: “This location gave them (the Newman Brothers) access to everything they needed. They needed the sand in the casting manufacturing process, and that is what helped them produce the very fine expensive brass furniture, everything from handles breastplates to backplate. Birmingham was the centre of the coffin furniture trade in the whole of the country.”

The Coffin Works has received numerous accolades, owing to its historical significance and commitment to providing a truly immersive experience for visitors.

I was keen to discover more. So Sarah explained how the museum prides itself in welcoming guests and transporting them to Victorian Birmingham.

She told me: “We put the visitor first. It’s like stepping back in time here. It’s a time capsule, because when you first walk into this room, for instance, it looks like it did in the Victorian period, because it hasn’t changed.”

The museum aims to make the experience as sensory as possible, allowing visitors to smell the history and make personal connections with the past. And I can confirm that this is exactly what happens. But, although this is a place where death is a key factor, there’s no need to worry about it being a negative experience - it’s all about the Brummies of the time and paying tribute to their hard work and skills.

Photograph at the Coffin Works MuseumPhotograph at the Coffin Works Museum
Photograph at the Coffin Works Museum

Sarah sums it up wonderfully saying: “Don’t be put off by the name. It’s almost incidental that they made coffin fittings. This is a gritty, working-class manufactory operated - no doubt - by the ancestors of my ancestors and the people reading this and watching the video.

“So if you want to see how a typical Birmingham manufactory once operated and how it made its money, and in some cases - in most cases - how it looked after its workers - but not always - come and pay us a visit.”

Visitors can also speak with the museum’s volunteers who will share the history of Newman Brothers and its links to the city of Birmingham. If you want to find out more - or book a visit - just click here: Coffin Works.

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