The Hive JQ

The Hive is a community hub for Birmingham in an historic building, with an award-winning organic café and bakery, craft workshops, exhibitions and event spaces.

Swann & Adams were makers of brooch tongues, and operated out of Canada Works on Regent Place (this was a part of Standard Works, which faced onto Vittoria Street and is now occupied by Ruskin Mill Land Trust and the Hive!). We know that the firm was active in Canada Works in 1909, but the records do not detail how long the company had been there previously. The history of Swann & Adams is somewhat mysterious, and little is known about its founders, Augustus John Adams and William Albert Swann.

Census records reveal that Augustus John Adams was born in 1850, but there is no birth registration under his name, and no census results until 1881. However, we do know that he was registered as a jeweller (working as a ring maker, and manufacturing with gold) from at least 1881 - 1911. He lived in various locations across Birmingham with his wife Mary Eleanor Angelina Grimmett. Notably, Augustus was recorded as an ‘employer’, indicating that his company was large enough to hire employees. When he died on 31 March 1918, he was living in Acocks Green, and left effects to the value of £4556 3s. 6d. - this would have been a considerable amount of money, and is equivalent to around £260,000 today.

There is slightly more information about the company’s co-founder William Albery Swann. He was born on 15 September 1841, and married his first wife Elizabeth in 1862. In 1871, the couple were living at 22 Regent Place and he is registered as a jeweller. Kelly’s Directory reveals that in 1876, William Swann was making brooch pins, jet mounts, watch pendants, bows, joints, and catches - this means that Swann & Adams was formed some time between 1876. In 1906, William re-married Fanny Hughes and is now recorded as a retired ‘material maker’. When he died in 1914, his effects were only £88 16s. 6d, considerably less than his business partner. We can see from newspaper archives that William lived a lavish lifestyle: in 1890, he listed his ‘large, airy’ country residence in Ilfracombe to let, and his wife advertised for a general servant.

On 2 November 1891, there was a devastating fire at the Swann & Adams factory on Regent Place. The newspaper article details that ‘The building and the content of the top floor were burnt out, and the rest of the premise was seriously damaged by water’. The insurance company announced that they incurred £600 worth of lost stock, equivalent to around £76,000 today. The Directory shows that the building was repaired, and the company continued to trade from Regent Place throughout the 1890s and into the early 1900s.

This decorative silver vesta case from 1901 is one of the few examples of Swann & Adams metalwork that exists today. The company’s hallmark from 1898 shows ‘S’ and ‘A’ in two conjoined circles.

(Thank you to Suzanne Hayes for the research)