The walk at  www.jquarter.org.uk

12. REGENT STREET & VITTORIA STREET


Explore the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter

THE WALK

THE INFO

From the junction of Frederick Street and Regent Street (1), walk to the end of Regent Street (2). Turn right into Vittoria Street and walk almost to the bottom (3). Cross over and walk back up the street (3). Passing the Birmingham School of Jewellery (4), continue to the junction with Warstone Lane.

 

Piggot's map of 1824 shows William Elliott's house on the north side of Regent Street. The long run of shopping bordering the street is clearly visible

Piggot's map again, showing Regent's Place, the narrow lane running across the top of the map. DEakin & Francis's premises are at A, whilst James Watt's Harper's Hill home was the building just above the letter C.

A. The white building on the left is built on what was William Elliott's front garden. The brick building, which was built in 1888 for the Berndorf Metal Co, stands on the site of William Elliott's house and shopping (see map above)

B. The extension to William Elliott's house and shopping

C. The premises of Deakin & Francis in Regent Place, which are said to have been built on the site of James Watt's home at Harper's Hill

D. 51 Vittoria Street

E. 54-58 Vittoria Street

F. The Standard Works, 41-49 Vittoria Street

G. Nos 35-37 Vittoria Street

H. Nos 30-34 Vittoria Street

I. The Unity Works, 36-46 Vittoria Street

J. The earliest part of the School of Jewellery, originally a goldsmith's factory built in about 1865

K. The entire frontage of the School of Jewellery

L. James Watt's home at Harper's Hill

 

(1) William Elliott’s button works

In the first half of the nineteenth century William Elliott was a celebrated button-maker, noted for the range and quality of his  buttons. He lived in a house which fronted onto Frederick Street and had a long range of shopping at the back, which ran along Regent Street (see the middle map, left) for the full length of the warehouse building shown at A. This was all built prior to  1824,  the date of the map. In 1837 he added an extension to the back of his shopping which still survives on the corner of Regent and Vittoria Streets (B). I think this could be the oldest surviving substantial factory building in the Jewellery Quarter, although I think the Victoria Works is probably only a few years younger. Indeed the similarities of style between the two buildings - the austere look, well-proportioned fenestration, rounded corners and low-pitched roofs - strongly suggest they were built around the same time.

In 1888 William Elliott's original house and shopping were demolished to make way for  warehouse which is still there, and which was built for the Berndorf Metal Company (A). The white building at the Frederick Street end is built on the site of William Elliott's front garden. 

The 1824 map suggests that there was another house with a substantial range of shopping on the opposite side of Regent Street, where Fattorini's is now. On the next section of the walk we shall see just such a house, which has survived.

(2) Where James Watt lived

Almost opposite Regent Street is the narrow lane known as Regent Place. A couple of hundred yards along on the right, the premises of Deakin & Francis stand out by virtue of the 'D & F' sign on the end wall (C). As recorded by the blue plaque on the front of the building, the shopping behind these premises is said to stand on the site of the house at Harper's Hill that James Watt lived in for around 15 years from March 1777 (see bottom map). That may well be so, but let's be nit-picky: whereas Deakin & Francis is above A on the bottom map, James Watt's house was actually a bit further on; it's the building immediately above C. Although Mary Ann Galton described the Watts' home as 'modest', she was judging by her own standards - the Galtons lived in a Georgian mansion, Duddeston House, which was set in parkland. In fact, as shown at L, James Watt's home, which was big enough to be divided into two houses when he left, was a substantial three storey, five bayed property, which provided accommodation for Boulton & Watt's drawing office as well as for the Watt family. James Watt conceived and designed some of his most important innovations in this house. 

(3) Listed buildings in lower Vittoria Street

There are several interesting listed buildings, all Grade II, in Lower Vittoria Street, which are worth a look, comprising as they do a varied set examples of Jewellery Quarter architecture.

On the left hand corner of Regent Place, as one looks from Regent Street, is No 51 Vittoria Street (D), a town house dating from the 1820s. It was originally part of a terrace. The shop-type window on the ground floor was installed in the 1870s. Diagonally opposite on the corner of Regent Street is the handsome No 54-58 (E), which dates from 1905. The architects were Essex, Nicol and Goodman. 

Walking down Vittoria Street from Regent Street we have, on the left, the Standard Works, Nos 41-49 (F), now vacant. Designed by Thomas F Williams and built in 1879-80, it was built for multiple occupancy and is thus an important early example of a flatted factory. Built to let as 15 separate units, it is unlikely that the building was ever occupied by more then seven firms, some of which took more than one unit. By 1900 the whole building was occupied by just one firm, D & L Spiers Ltd, silversmiths.

 Lower down on the same side are Nos 35-37 (G). These were built around 1830 as two 'three-quarter' houses. Their height and the extent of the embellishment on the facade indicate that they were built for more prosperous clients than the three-quarter houses we saw in Albion Street and indeed, one of the early occupants was a magistrate. By 1860, both had had shopping added at the rear and were in use as manufacturing premises. 

Almost opposite is No 30-34 Vittoria Street, a purpose built jewellery works erected in 1866. Walking back up, on the same side we find the Unity Works, Nos 36-46, an impressive toolmaker's factory dating from about 1865. Originally having a symmetrical 12-bayed front, the building was extended in 1898 by the addition of a further five bays. Despite the fact that the sign now says 'Unity Wok', the property is more likely to be converted into flats than into a Chinese restaurant. 

(4) The Birmingham School of Jewellery

The building is in three parts. On the right as you face the building is a lovely goldsmith’s factory of about 1865 built in the Venetian gothic style, which was adapted to form the school’s original premises when it opened in 1890. The centre portion dates from 1911, whilst the left-hand portion is modern, having been completed in 1993.

The Birmingham Jewellers and Silversmiths Association took the lead role in setting up the school, with the aim of promoting ‘art and technical education’ among apprentice jewellers. The first classes were held in a branch of the Birmingham Municipal School of Art in Ellen Street, with the Association paying half the fees for members who enrolled employees. Classes grew rapidly and with help from the City Council and the Assay Office the Jewellers’ Technical School opened in the Vittoria Street premises in September 1890. Classes were held strictly outside working hours, from 6.30pm to 8pm and pupils were required to attend two nights per week.

Initially classes were restricted to boys, but after a couple of years girls were allowed, under the strict stipulation that they attend separate classes and be taught by women teachers. By 1898 sons of masters and ‘the better class of work people’ were allowed to be taught in the daytime. The top floor of the original building was added in 1906 to accommodate growing needs. By this time the school had become a branch of the Municipal School of Art, and was known as Vittoria Street School for Jewellers and Silversmiths. Five years later a further extension was added. The most recent extension involved the removal of part of the interior of the 1911 building and the construction of an atrium behind the facade, with galleries on each floor that open onto classrooms and workshops..

Today the Birmingham School of Jewellery is part of the University of Central England, offering to its many students, who come from all over the world, a wide range of full-time and part-time courses at various levels up to degree level and in a variety of subjects which includes industrial design, jewellery, silversmithing, horology and engraving.

From time to time the School of Jewellery mounts exhibitions of its students' work. These are well worth visiting, as some of the work displayed is exquisite.

 

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© 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Bob Miles