The Newman Brother’s Coffin Fitting Works opened in 1894 and was in operation until 1999 when work stopped and the entire contents were left untouched – a perfect time capsule of a small Birmingham manufacturer with a fascinating history, and influence which stretched far beyond the city.
The Birmingham Conversation Trust project to save The Coffin Works began in 2003, and it’s been a long hard road to completion – you can read more about the struggle here – but finally, yesterday, all the hard work paid off and the museum was launched!
I first heard about the project in 2013, when I attended a Victorian Society day school and heard the latest plans for it’s development. I finally got a chance to see the building for myself later in the year when I went on one of the hard hat tours to see the restoration in progress.
It was a rainy day and the building was still mostly a shell clad in scaffolding, but it was easy to see the little details which made this place and it’s history so important. The tour also gave an insight into the care with which it was being brought back to life.
I was immediately enchanted with the place and wanted to get involved in the project but wasn’t sure how. At the Death in Scotland conference I met a researcher who was a coffin fitting expert and had been volunteering on the project. I mentioned my interest and by the time I got home from the conference, I had an email from Sarah Hayes inviting me to meet up and discuss volunteering! Isn’t it funny how these things work out?
Because I have been working so much this summer, I haven’t been able to get as involved as I would have liked (I missed tour guide training for instance) but I did get to see the work on the building progress at another tour for volunteers. It was also a chance to see even more of the unique treasures of the building.
Can you see the outlines of the different coffin fittings around their hooks?
I did find time to produce some information packs for visitors, one about Burial in Birmingham from the 18th to 20th century, which is also available as a free ebook through the Jewellery Quarter Research Trust, and a second one about Victorian Funerals (hopefully available online soon).
I was so excited to attend the launch last night and see the factory in all it’s glory. I was not disappointed with the results – it’s a treasure trove of delights and so vividly full of life. Unfortunately my phone battery died, so I couldn’t take any photos, but perhaps that’s for the best – you’ll just have to visit and discover for yourself! I can tell you that the shop contains some amazing souvenirs, like this mug, which I couldn’t resist buying!