The walk at


Explore the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter



From the crossroads walk up Legge Lane (opposite Graham Street). Where the road bends to the right, note George W Hughes' pen factory (1). A couple of hundred yards further on, stop where the road takes a sharp right-hand turn (2), (3), (4), (5).

A. The Argent Centre

A1. The former pen works of George W Hughes

B. The former Gwenda Works

B1. The former St Paul's National School

C. Alabaster & Wilson


(1) George W Hughes' pen factory

Nos 3-5 Legge Lane (A1) is the former pen factory of George W Hughes. In brick and terracotta with some nice detailing above the doorways, for example, it was designed by Essex, Nicol & Goodman, who were leading designers in terracotta. The factory was erected in 1893 when George Hughes moved from St Paul's Square. The building is listed, Grade II.

 (2) The Gwenda Works

Now, what have we here (B)? It's hardly Georgian, it most definitely isn't Italianate, so it must be our third style, Arts & Crafts. That in turn suggests it must be fairly late, as indeed it is.  This is the Gwenda Works, originally the Union Works, built in 1913 for Sir Henry Manton, who was a silversmith and manufacturer of cut glass. Designed by Sir William Doubleday, it carries  Art Nouveau detailing on the entrance section, which is clad in a type of tiling known as faience, after Faenza in Italy where such tiles originated. The Gwenda Works is also listed, Grade II.

In the 1930s the Union Works was taken over by the Gwenda Company, who were toymakers. They were best known for their enamelled powder compacts, which were known as Gwenda Flaps, but they also made other toys such as catís bells. The Gwenda company closed in the 1960s when powdering one's nose went out of fashion. 

(3) St Paul's National School

The semi-derelict building in the corner by the Gwenda Works (B1) is the former St Paul's National School. Built in the mid-nineteenth century to provide low-cost schooling according to Anglican principles, the school's single classroom accommodated 250 children who were taught by a single teacher  using the so-called 'monitorial system' (see right-hand column). If you look through the window you can see the schoolroom's high ceiling beyond the partition which forms a kind of rudimentary entrance hall.

(4) Alabaster & Wilson

The family-owned and run jewellery works of Alabaster & Wilson (C) is still in the hands of the founding Alabaster family. The two storey section dates from 1891, the three storey extension having been added in 1899. In general terms this would be considered a very modest factory, but in Jewellery Quarter terms it's fairly substantial. 

(5) Legge Lane

The street is called after the splendidly named Mr Heneage Legge, son of the Earl of Dartmouth, who lived in a large house about where Alabaster & Wilson's is now. Mr Legge would have enjoyed a superb view from his front room windows, because the land drops away behind the Gwenda Works and you can see quite a long way. The winding lane follows the line of Mr Legge's curving drive.





The walk

More about ...

Sources of information

Get in touch



Because, in the earlier part of the nineteenth century, many parents didn't send their children to school because they couldn't afford the fees, cheaper methods of teaching were introduced. 

The monitorial system, devised by Joseph Lancaster, employed  one classroom and one teacher for up to 400 pupils. The teacher was assisted by selected older children, who acted as monitors. Such schools were often called 'Lancastrian Schools'.

So-called 'National Schools' worked on exactly the same principle, but were run by the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church, ie they were C of E schools, whereas many of the other Lancastrian schools were non-denominational.

© 2001, 2002, 2006 Bob Miles