The walk at www.jquarter.org.uk
7. ST PAUL'S SQ, BOULTON & WATT
|Explore the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter|
Continue on your previous bearing, walking towards H B Sale and keeping the dual carriageway on your right. Turn first left into Water Street, continuing under the railway and across Livery Street. Turn right into Ludgate Hill, cross the road on the bottom side of St Paul's Square and take the path, going past the church door and up to the top side of the square (1), (2), (3).
A. Ludgate Hill looking up towards St Paul's church
B. A Georgian house on the corner of Caroline Street which has had shopping added on at the back. This used to be a string factory.
C. Georgian house at the opposite corner of Caroline Street with shopping added at the rear to adapt it for jewellery manufacturing.
D. St Paul's Church
E. Just the kind of thing they should build in Georgian squares (NOT!!)
E.50 - 54 St Paul's Square
E. Rear yard, 50 - 54 St Paul's Square
F. St Paul's Square (top side)
G. St Paul's House
G. 12-14 St Paul's Square, which date from around 1780 and are unaltered
H. 1-5 St Paul's Square.
There are a number of bars and restaurants in and around St Paul's Square, selling food and drink to suit a wide variety of tastes, appetites and pockets. All have toilets. Weather permitting, St Paul's Square is a pleasant spot to take a rest or eat out. The next toilets are in Warstone Lane (Walk 13).
We are now back on the Colmore estate, in a part that was developed somewhat later than the area off Colmore Row. In 1777 Charles Colmore donated three acres and £1000 for the building of a church. Although he didn’t follow the example of Ms Phillips by seeking to have the church called St Colmore’s, this was no act of altruism. William Hawkes Smith put the case rather nicely: ‘Such donations, though beneficial, are not quite disinterested; for the erection of a chapel or a church produces an immediate crop of houses around it and the land, from paying an agricultural rent, is soon many times doubled in value by being let by the yard and paying a building rent.’
In fact, Charles Colmore's aim was to stimulate a new focus of development here. By that time the toymakers' village had spread down from Colmore Row as far as Great Charles Street, with some building on Lionel Street below. The new development was intended to be more upmarket, catering for the prosperous middle class and sure enough, a development of high class Georgian town houses quickly sprang up around the square. A number of these houses survive, and are distinguishable by their doorways. Nos 12-14 (G) on the east side of the square remain in their unaltered state. All are Grade II listed. Of Nos 1-5 (H), 1-4 are in their original state, but No 5 was rebuilt in around 1870, the waggon arch being inserted at that time.
Although this is where the modern Jewellery Quarter was eventually to begin, in the main the first residents were not jewellers (see right-hand panel). But as we have seen, the canal came close by, some ten years after the square was built, and once the canal came it was not long before big, polluting industry came, too. By the 1820s the people living on the lower side of the square found themselves living with big steam mills with their smoky chimneys literally at the bottom of their back gardens. The middle classes started to move out, property prices fell and the jewellers began to move in. By the late 1830s there was a heavy concentration of jewellers in the area and the Jewellery Quarter had begun.
The square has had mixed fortunes during its two-hundred-odd years. After beginning as a prosperous residential district, and then becoming a manufacturing area, as the Jewellery Quarter expanded in the second half of the nineteenth century its centre of gravity moved away up the hill and the square became peripheral. Then, when the jewellery trade contracted after the First World War the Jewellery Quarter tended to fray most at the edges and the square became quite run down. German bombing during World War Two made matters worse. The church itself was quite severely damaged and there was talk for a number of years of knocking it down and building something else in its place (probably a pedestrian subway; they couldn't resist them in those days).
Fortunately inertia remained the order of the day until wiser counsels prevailed and it was eventually decided to restore what could be saved and to replace the rest. As regards restoration, an excellent job has been done, but when it comes to replacement the record is very mixed. There are some good new buildings on the top of the square, some boring but inoffensive ones along the bottom, and a ghastly block of flats on the west side. This building would look ugly in any setting; to have built it in a Georgian square is absolutely outrageous.
The two houses either side of Caroline Street (both Grade II) are interesting examples of the original Georgian houses. Looking at them, we can see that both have been used for manufacturing purposes. How is that apparent? Well, looking to the rear of the buildings alongside Caroline Street we can see that shopping has been added to both, that this is a later modification being apparent from the fact that the shopping is out of character with the houses at the front. The one on the right of Caroline Street was used for jewellery manufacture. It was originally three houses, which were knocked into one in the early twentieth century. The house opposite was a string factory. This retains its original brick finish, the stucco on the rest of the row having been added in the nineteenth century.
St Paul's House (G), on the east side of the square, has an interesting history. It was built around 1853 as the office-cum-warehouse block of a business controlled by the Goode family. They pioneered the mechanised manufacture of gold chain, and at one time there was a large works employing 400 people behind the office block and running along Cox Street. It was probably the first large integrated jewellery works in the Quarter and in its day the largest such works in the country. All of the manufacturing processes, from die-sinking through rolling, wire drawing and grinding, to polishing and soldering, were carried on under its roof. The St Paul's Square frontage was originally four storeys high with elaborate Italianate detailing, but has been reduced to three storeys and had much of the detailing removed in order to make it 'fit in' better with the rest of the Square.
On the opposite (west) side of the square, below the ghastly modern flats, stand Nos 50 - 54 (E), which were built in 1902 as a number of separate manufacturing units. Three-storey shopping ranges were built out at the back, with a connecting range running parallel to the street, creating a series of yards. In their time the units have housed a printer, an ink manufacturer, electroplaters and silversmiths. In 1989 the complex was converted into a cafe and offices. If you look through the archway into the rear yard you can see how the shopping has been most successfully adapted to its new purposes, without detracting from its character.
The church itself, a Grade I listed building, is a fine and very well-restored example of a late eighteenth century church. It was designed by Roger Eykyn, who was a master joiner, surveyor, nurseryman and architect from Wolverhampton, and was consecrated in 1779. The belfry and spire, which were added in 1822-3, are by Francis Goodwin. The beautiful, austere interior retains its original boxed pews and galleries. Pew No. 23 was Matthew Boulton’s, whilst James Watt held the freehold of No. 100 (but rarely occupied it). Unfortunately, both of these pews have been removed but brass plates indicate where they were - Matthew Boulton’s at the front on the left of the aisle and James Watt’s towards the back on the right hand side. The construction of the church was largely financed by selling 1000 pew freeholds at £5 per seat. These freeholds, which could be bought, sold and bequeathed, later became a problem when the population changed and their owners, having moved out of the area, no longer used their pews, which remained empty whilst there was insufficient seating for the incoming jewellers who did wish to worship there.
The beautiful east window (opposite the door), which depicts the ‘Conversion of St Paul’ was installed in 1789. It is the work of Francis Eginton, the leading Georgian glass painter, who was originally in the employ of Matthew Boulton but later set up his own firm. It is considered to be his finest work. Being of painted, rather than stained glass, it needs a bright day to show it at its best, but is strikingly beautiful when seen in the right light. Other points of interest include (right hand side, towards the front) a memorial to William Hollins, a Birmingham architect and sculptor, whose most famous commission was the design of the Royal Mint in St Petersburg for Catherine the Great (of which more elsewhere); and (left hand side) a new window donated by the Assay Office to mark the Millennium. In the centre of the design silver pours from a jeweller’s crucible into a map of the Jewellery Quarter. The church has superb acoustics and right from the start many concerts have been, and still are, held.
Do have a look inside the church. It is both beautiful and interesting. Take some time, too, to explore the square and the streets off it, which contain a number of pleasing buildings.
© 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007 Bob Miles