IGers Birmingham instameet at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter

The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter takes the visitor back in time, giving a glimpse of what it was like to work in this hive of industry in days gone by.  Read on to discover more about this treasure trove of an attraction and see images taken by members of the IGers Bimirngham community when we visited on Monday.

This treasure trove is built around the old workshops of family-business Smith & Pepper (an uncle and nephew). In 1899 their address at 77/78 Vyse Street was the site of two terraced houses with a single storey workshop at the back that they built in the garden.

By 1914 the business was doing well enough to replace the two old houses with a new front office block, linked to the workshop at the back.

From the 1930s until they ceased trading in 1981, Eric, Tom and Olive who were the children of one of the founders ran the firm. They operated in a virtually unchanged fashion throughout that period. In 1981 when the siblings had reached their seventies and eighties and with no direct heirs to take on the business, they took the decision to close Smith & Pepper.

When they closed it was as if they had simply left for the evening with the expectation of returning the next day – papers were left scattered in the office; tools, cigarette packets and tea mugs were left in the workshop.

For many years this was left undisturbed. In 1990 the Ironbridge Institute started the process of developing the site in to a museum and began the enormous task of photographing, cataloguing, restoring / preserving every single detail of the building. Once this had been completed, they then put everything back. Over 70,000 items were involved – from a milk bill from 1899 to the machines, tools, dies, records, and even a half-empty jar of Marmite in the office.

As you can see from these photos, the vast array of items, machine and tools are laid out in such a way that you can really see exactly what it was like when it was in operation. The Museum’s enablers present the history of the area, the traditional way that the company operated in, and the stories of people that worked there in a knowledgeable and interactive way, including demonstrations of some of the equipment.

Tom Smith’s office at the front of the building on the ground floor, where he would weigh out gold each morning to issue to the staff, noting the amounts in a ledger. Finished and unused metal were weighed back in at the end of the day. Photo by Martin @ocuk
Around the workshop are various machines from different periods of the company’s history. Many of the work benches made the most of the natural light that streams through the large windows. Photo by Victoria @victoria_beavon
The overalls that workers would wear to protect their clothing. Photo by Fran @narflet
The domestic side of the business is also shown through items such as the tea making facilities in the workshop. Photo by Beth @bethastington
A close up of one of the around 7,000 steel dies such in the workshop. These were used to stamp and cut out gold or silver components. Each one was meticulously catalogued during the restoration. Photo by Rebecca @poppybeadcreative
Museum enabler William demonstrates the heavy drop stamp machine and shares the story of Arthur Brewer who was the ONLY man responsible for operating it for the entire 1920-1981 period! Photo by Martin @ocuk
There are around 7,000 steel dies such as these ones on wall racks in the workshop. These were used to stamp and cut out gold or silver components. Each one was meticulously catalogued during the restoration.Photo by Ian @iancadman
Up to 37 people worked in the factory at its busiest period at benches such as these. Many of the tools and ways of working are still used in the trade today. Photo by Martin @ocuk


Around the workshop are various machines from different periods of the company’s history, including this gas lantern which was developed in the JQ. Photo by Martyn @hoody
Nothing would be thrown away by the siblings (as seen by keeping the milk bill from 1899) and as such, items like empty food tins would be recycled and put to good use. Photo by Chris @chris_in_moseley
Smith & Pepper generally made gold bangles, brooches, cufflinks, lockets and crosses. They were particularly well known for ‘snake’ armlets and necklets, and for ‘bamboo’ bangles. Photo by Rebecca @poppybeadcreative
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With reference to the accuracy of the restoration, former Smith & Pepper employees who came back to see the result gave it their seal of approval: “yes, this is how it was, this is just how it was”. Photo by Beth @bethastington
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Personal affects are dotted among the paperwork in Olive’s top floor office, offering a glimpse in to her personal life. Photo by Martin @ocuk

As part of the development of the museum, Birmingham Museums Trust occupied two of the neighbouring buildings to provide modern visitor facilities, displays, a tea room and gallery space (where you can see the IGers Birmingham exhibition until the end of this month of course!).

IGers at work. Photo by Martin @ocuk

IGersBirmingham visited the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust. With huge thanks to Jenny and William from Birmingham Museums Trust for facilitating and for providing an excellent, informative and interesting tour. Information in this instablogpost is based upon the tour and the guide book produced by the museum however any errors are by IGersBirmingham!

Visit the museum’s website to plan your own visit.