Jewellery Quarter - The War Years

Written by Mac Jospeh

After retiring I decided to look for a project on research into buildings in Birmingham, especially the Jewellery Quarter.

Following a tour of the New Standard Works, Vittoria Street in 2018 I was chatting to staff and found out that volunteers were needed to research the Jewellery Quarter, both in the research of the buildings and the oral history of the Jewellery Quarter, the research project was of great interest to me and that is what I decided I would like to undertake.

My first task was to research the Standard Works and wider Jewellery Quarter during World War II, and this is what I found out.

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Air raids

Aerial bombardments of Birmingham and in the Jewellery Quarter caused quite a large amount of damage and there were large areas of devastation around the area. As businesses changed to the production of munitions, the Jewellery Quarter became a target of bombing raids by the Luftwaffe in the Birmingham Blitz.

Below is a map which covers the Jewellery Quarter area and shows how it was affected by bombs.

RED – Incendiary BLACK – Explosion  CROSS - Unexploded

The War Effort

As you can imagine a considerable number of employees were called up for active duty and a great number of premises and businesses changed their work routine to include war work when general business was limited due to the shortage of materials.

Below is a list of some of the JQ companies involved in the war effort:    

  • Joseph Smith & Sons (B’ham) Ltd., Vittoria Street
  • Blanckensee & Son Ltd., Regent Place
  • Hassett & Harper Ltd., Regent Place
  • Deakin & Francis Limited, Regent Place                    
  • Midland Utilities Limited, Regent Place
  • Nathan Brothers, Vyse Street
  • Payton Pepper & Sons Ltd., Vyse Street
  • E. J. Clewley & Co. Ltd., Vyse Street
  • GEO. Taylor & Son, Vyse Street
  • GEO. Taylor & Son, Vyse Street
  • Thomas L. Mott, Vyse Street
  • Turner & Simpson Ltd., Legge Lane
  • Astley & Wilson Ltd, Kenyon Street
  • Adie Brothers, Soho Hill
  • William Adams Ltd, Barr Street
  • Barker Brothers, Constitution Hill
  • Pickering & Meyell Ltd., Caroline Street
  • Elkington Co. Ltd., Newhall Street
  • Ellis & Co. (Birmingham) Ltd., Hall Street                  
  • J. W. Evans & Sons Limited, Albion Street
  • Maples & Beasley Ltd., Albion Street
  • Suckling Ltd., Albion Street
  • Joseph Fray Limited, Albion Street
  • David Hollander & Sons, Barr Street
  • Morton & Crowder Ltd., Brearley Street
  • F.J. Munster & Co., Hockley Street
  • J. Bernard Stagg & Sons Ltd., Hockley Hill
  • C. H. Collins & Sons Ltd., Hockley Hill
  • F. W. Tomkinson Ltd., Hockley Hill
  • B. J. Round & Sons, Northampton Street
  • A. P. Watson Ltd., Gt. Hampton Street
  • Hathaway & Muddiman Limited, Gt. Hampton Street

The collective effort was unparalleled and should have pride of place in the history of the Jewellery Quarter.

1939-1940

The first year of the war and many schemes were put in place at very short notice. The Ministry of Supply contacted a Jewellery Association with a request to organise production of military badges and buttons.

1941-1942

It was these years that bought about great changes in the trade and no longer could they be called Jewellers or silversmiths etc. Instead they were producers of munitions and war supplies. The concentration of industry made it a target to empty/release factories for war production. A severe blow was dealt to the area with an order prohibiting the supply of goods of gold content of 9ct or finer. An amendment to the order was issued to allow 9ct Gold to supply wedding rings of 9ct, 2dwt maximum at a controlled price of £1/1/- to the public.

There was almost a complete change from peace time production to war time armaments.

1942-1943

In 1943, the Birmingham Jewellers’ and Silversmiths’ Association created a committee to discuss the regeneration of the industry in the Quarter. A decade later, a City Council survey concluded that 23 acres of land were beyond repair. The council then put its own redevelopment scheme into place. The proposals included a flatted factory, workshops with car parking above them as well as a new Assay Office, School of Jewellery, exhibition hall, restaurant, and office block. The flatted factory, known as the Hockley Centre was completed in 1971, with the workshops following a few years later. Despite this accomplishment, the scheme was unsuccessful and carried complaints over higher rent prices with many firms moving elsewhere in the Quarter.

More heavy restrictions were put on companies and even greater sacrifices were urged, but fortunately the trade survived.

The committee of the School of Art arranged for students, for the duration of the war, to be trained as craftsmen for the war effort and the Vittoria Street School was fitted with suitable machinery for gauge making and similar work.

1945

After the war preparations were put in place for a return to peacetime production, but again precious metal supplies were in short supply.

A focus on Joseph Smith & Son, 63 & 65 Vittoria Street

This company moved to the Standard Works and were to become the last business operating from the building before Ruskin Mill Land Trust bought it in 2014, some 20 years+ later. Before this time, they were based further down the street. 

The outbreak of the Second World War found Joseph Smith & Sons Ltd., engaged on expanding their overseas trade, which up to the time of the Lease and Lend Agreement with America, was steadily increased for the export drive.

Below are some trade catalogue adverts from 1941.

During the war years the greater part of the factory was turned over to wartime production which included Capstan Products for Aircraft, Admiralty and Ministry of Supply orders.

They also produced large quantities of small pressings for Aero Instruments. Other items included brazing, filing and assembling of aircraft parts. In addition, they assembled and packed many types of screws, bolts, etc., which were sent to the Far East.

With the help of three or four elderly employees, the jewellery side of the business was continued under Board of Trade licence, which in fact, along with other firms similarly placed, helped to keep the trade alive during the war years.

1940’s advert

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Matt Felkin    

Birmingham Library   

Kelly’s Directories      

The Jewellery Quarter book  

Arms & The Jeweller