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11. ALBION ST & FREDERICK ST


Explore the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter

THE WALK

THE INFO

 Continue along Legge Lane, turning right at the end by the old Jewellery Quarter fire station into Albion Street (1). At the end of Albion Street (2), turn left into Frederick Street and walk a little way along (3). Then cross Frederick Street, turn right and walk to the corner of Regent Street.

A. Former houses in Albion Street now used mainly as jewellery workshops

B. Albion Street - houses used as workshops

C. Thomas Fattorini Ltd

D. The Greenberg house

E. The Variety Works

 

 (1) Houses in Albion Street 

Whilst Nos 54 - 57 on the right hand side of Albion Street have been amalgamated under the ownership of a single family firm, J W Evans & Sons Ltd, stampers, piercers and maker of silver plate and silverware, many of the others, which display several plates outside each door, are more typical of the Jewellery Quarter, where it is common for self-employed jewellers or small jewellery firms to rent just a room or two in a house which they will share with several other firms. It is often interesting to read these plates, which can give you an idea of the level of specialisation and the diversity of skills in the jewellery trade. Nos 54 - 61 Albion Street were built around 1840 and are listed, Grade II.  Nos 58 - 61, the red brick houses nearest the camera in A, are particularly interesting in that they were built as two pairs of 'three-quarter' houses. Behind each of the doorways was a passage, which gave access to doors on either side leading into the two houses, and also to the back yard, which would have contained the brewhouse, privy and ashpit. These houses, which would have had five or six rooms - one at the front and one at the back on each of the two lower floors and either one big room or two smaller ones on the top floor - were very superior to workers' houses in courts and would have been built for craftsmen or small masters. 

(2) Thomas Fattorini Ltd

Thomas Fattorini Ltd is another old family business that is still in the hands of the founding family. In the early nineteenth century Antonio Fattorini came over to England from Italy and, together with his sons, opened jeweller's shops in Bradford, Harrogate and Skipton (all in Yorkshire). The Skipton branch diversified into manufacturing and around the end of the First World War they moved their base to the Jewellery Quarter. The main business is the manufacture of badges and medals of all kinds, but they also make and repair ceremonial swords and maces. (Has this last business peaked now that Michael Heseltine is no longer in full swing, one wonders?). Fattorini's designed the original FA Cup and still make boxing's Lonsdale and Commonwealth Belts. The damage to the railings near the corner of Frederick and Regent Streets was caused by shrapnel during World War 2 and has been deliberately left unrepaired by the Fattorini family.

(3) In Frederick Street

The large white house (D), which has recently been beautifully renovated and is now an upmarket furniture shop, dates from around 1830. Quite early on, it was bought by William Elliott, of whom more in the next part of the walk. He seems to have rented it out for a number of years but later his son, also William Elliott, lived there. In about 1860 it was bought by a goldsmith by the name of Simeon Greenberg, who added shopping at the rear and probably inserted the Italianate windows on the ground floor, which do not align with the windows above. It is likely that, just as it is today, the ground floor was used as a showroom in Simeon Greenberg's time. The three other large houses on the same side of the street date from the 1830s and early 1840s and have long been used for manufacturing purposes. Note, in typical Birmingham fashion, the proximity of these large houses, evidently built for wealthy people, to the artisanís houses we have just seen.

Turning to the rapidly deteriorating Variety Works (E), we can see right away that this is a pair of houses that have been adapted for manufacturing purposes, right? Well no, not exactly. This building was, in fact, erected as a purpose-built house and workshop which was designed to look like a pair of houses, presumably to make it fit in with its surroundings (and there's nothing wrong with that!). There are quite a number of similarly foxing buildings in the Jewellery Quarter, and unfortunately there is no reliable way of telling them from genuine converted houses. This building, which was put up in 1881, was rather oddly arranged, with the living room and scullery on the ground floor, warehousing on the first floor, and bedrooms on the second. The shopping was built out at the back. 

When you cross the street, note the special slabs let into the pavement, which present interesting facts about the Jewellery Quarter. This is one of two pavement trails, covering parts of Newhall Street / Graham Street and Newhall Hill / Frederick Street respectively, details of which can be found in an information leaflet.   

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J W EVANS

In March 2008, English Heritage acquired for the nation the premises of J W Evans, which it described as 'one of the most important Victorian and Edwardian manufactories in existence. Its loss would not just be for Birmingham but the world'. Repairs to the fabric of the building are to be carried out urgently. It is hoped that the premises will eventually be opened to the public as a working museum.

© 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 Bob Miles