Tuesday 21 May 2019

Birmingham with Friends

A visit by train to the historic Jewellery Quarter

Probably NOT real diamonds in this shop window display in
the Jewellery Quarter, but the shop does sell real diamonds!
Birmingham is an easy journey from my home, and a city I have known since I studied there in the seventies, a city with both an interesting past and a lot of promise for the future. A couple of years ago I visited the Jewellery Quarter solo and after the experience of bringing a group to Birmingham for the Christmas Market last year decided to offer them the chance to visit the Jewellery Quarter with me. I wanted to return there myself to see the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter which I had not had the chance to see last time. Seven people signed up to come with me; three bought their own train tickets and left before the shared evening meal and five of us stayed on until the last train home so that we could eat together as we usually do on these trips.

I was able to get a small discount on train tickets by buying them well in advance, and also bought tickets for two attractions, the Coffin Works and a Canal Tour, so that we could be guaranteed places on them. Participants were then free to choose what other activities they wanted to do for the rest of the day.

We left Stamford on the 08:05 train to Birmingham New Street, dead on time out of Stamford and about right for the rest of the journey. Gathering on the platform at New Street we made our way up and out towards Stephenson Street for the Grand Central tram stop - currently the Birmingham terminus of the Midlands Metro but soon to be a through stop as the extension into Broad Street takes shape. For just £1 each we bought tickets to the Jewellery Quarter stop. This bargain fare is available for journeys within Birmingham, and our stop was the last to which it applies. We climbed the stairs to Vyse Street, the main spine of the quarter, and then went our separate ways, agreeing to meet again at the Chamberlain Clock which we could just see up the street at the main crossroads.

I went to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, as it happens at the same time as another of my party. There was time to look around the two galleries of self-guided material before the guided tour began. The museum is in two former terraced house which became a jewellery factory and was converted into the museum when the factory closed, and many of the processes of making craft jewellery are demonstrated here - the drop press (which we saw again later at the coffin works), the skill of using a piercing saw, the soldering of delicate components, the polishing. You really have to visit this place for yourself to take in all that is has to show.

The Museum of the
Jewellery Quarter
I was so taken with all that was shown to me that I was shocked when I looked at my watch and saw how little time I would have before the agreed rendezvous at the cross roads, and some of the party would be expecting me in the Rose Villa Tavern for lunch first! So I rapidly replaced my lunch break and had a sandwich in the museum café then ran down to the pub for just a quick pint, in time to gather everyone for the walk down to the Coffin Works.

The tour of the Coffin Works was, of course, similar to the one I had done on my own a couple of years ago so I shall not describe it here, but again the demonstration of how these small Birmingham metalworking factories mass-produced quality goods was fascinating to those who came with me on this trip.

After our tour of the Coffin Works we walked down along the canalside, past several locks, to the waterside by the International Convention Centre where we were due to join the boat for the canal tour. We were a little early and some of us had a very quick walk around the Brindley Place area which is now full of restaurants but which I remember as a semi-derelict old industrial area from my time in Birmingham in the seventies. It is wonderful to see what has been done.

We soon boarded our narrowboat and were taken around some of the canals of the Birmingham Canal Navigation - and past several sites that were still derelict, as well as a lot of new development, too, some of which had changed a lot since my last canal tour. Again, thoroughly recommended if you are in the slightest bit interested in the history or geography of Britain - and the boat has a bar, too!

If you've ever wondered why the mark
of the Birmingham Assay Office is an
anchor ...

After the canal tour one family left to take an earlier train home and the rest of us strolled along the canalside to Gas Street Basin to enjoy a pint at one of the pubs there, then walked back to the City Centre after taking a look at the underside of an aqueduct (Holliday Street) that we had crossed on the boat a short while before.

After the meal at ASK Italian we took the last train home to Stamford, tired and ready for bed on arrival!

I was pressed to arrange another trip this summer. We shall just have to see!

If you live near Stamford, Oakham or Peterborough and are interested in joining me on some of these day trips, please see the "Come with me!" Page.

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