Category Archives: Graffiti

What A Load Of Cr*p! 26th February

Ocker Hill to Walsall Town Basin

Opening up the side hatch Mick exclaimed, ‘What a load of crap!’ The gunnel was covered in white splatterings. Something hadn’t agreed with one of our feathered friends last night. It would get sorted the next time we could reach that side.


Oleanna had obviously been a good target as when we came outside the roof was covered in it too. We both looked over head, not an obvious tree branch or cable to shit from! The roof got a scrub down with canal water, well as much as I could reach. This would do for now.

Just as we untied ready to push off a lady from the nearby offices decided that it was a good time to come and have a chat. Mick had just got rid of his rope, luckily it wasn’t too windy! But when it started to sleet she headed back inside to leave us to get on with things.

Oh s….t!

Back out on the canal we pulled in at the services at the junction to top up the water tank. The tap took a bit of finding hidden away behind fencing. But one thing wasn’t so hard to find, more sh*t on the port side. More scrubbing down as the possible offender watched from on high.

Bet it was him!

Straight on to new water again and the Walsall Canal. Not the most pleasant day for cruising as sleet wind and rain managed to come and go in between the odd bit of sunshine.

We’d been warned that the Walsall Canal is the least respected in the country with the most amount of rubbish. So we were prepared for our two hour cruise to be a long one.

Nearer Ocker Hill
Nearer Walsall

Plenty of graffiti to look at, not much artistic flair in most, just tags. We were definitely in the area of Ghost EA though. A few weeks ago I’d taken a photo of his tag on a bridge on the Tame Valley Canal, just white spray paint. Today we’d see his progression through the years to silver, then a touch of orange, followed by an array of colours and far more intricate designs the closer we got to Walsall.

Holyhead and Darlaston Road Bridges

The rubbish in the most part clung to the edges in amongst the reeds. Plastic bottles, aerosol cans, beer cans. At most bridge holes the banks were covered with unwanted items just dropped over the wall and out of view. Every now and then a fire extinguisher would bob along. Why, where had they come from? Today the fire extinguishers way outnumbered the coconuts. Most probably stolen, set off and then thrown into the cut once the fun was over.

Two more

A chap walking his dog warned us that there were trees down ahead. Not unusual at the moment after all the storms. But he said that it had been kids chopping them down, right across the canal.

Would this impeded our progress? Was the chaps version of ‘right across the canal’ the same as ours would have been, we could only find out.

Ahh trees

A few miles on through Porket’s Bridge we knew this is where he’d meant, plenty of branches in the water, but it didn’t look too bad. Under the surface however lurked numerous shopping trolleys. Mick put the engine into neutral and with the wind behind us we coasted through very slowly.

Poor trees

The branches weren’t too bad, coasting meant they didn’t entangle themselves around the prop. A little bit of engine was needed at one point to realign Oleanna to avoid the next felled tree, then we could coast again. Those poor trees. Splintered stumps standing to three four foot the rest pushed into the cut.

Pes planus

A double take as two flat feet drifted past with jewels on their fallen arches. A doll no doubt.

More coasting to be done here

Where the canal narrowed crap would have collected, one such place with a steel overhanging edge and wind. Was the overhang such that it would get the cabin sides as we coasted through? The wind certainly didn’t help! But we managed it in the end.

Here we go!

By one bridge a group of four chatted, two lads ran up onto the bridge and hung over. Here we go! Time to be sitting ducks. No chance to say hello before we might have to duck. But then they dashed back off the bridge to join their mates again. Cheery Hellos, Phew!

Cemetery gardens

As we approached Walsall Junction new buildings rose from the ground, the chimney at Majorfax reminding the area of times gone by.

Nearly there

We followed the canal round to the right, the locks can wait for another day, and headed in towards the basin.

Buildings matching the sky

A narrowing with a yellow boom across it to stop the rubbish, as we’d been told the boom just pivoted out of the way and allowed us entrance.

In we go

Two pontoons to choose from, no other boats. We pulled into the one furthest out and then battled against the wind to tie up. What should have been around a 2 hour cruise had turned into 3.5 hours. Time for a late lunch as Tilly quickly realised she preferred to explore the inside of her eye lids once more. Soon we’ll be back in the countryside Tilly, I promise.

Not a Ghost EA

0 locks, 6.1 miles, 1 reverse, 2 straights, 1 right, 1 boom, 2 lemons (no longer needed after Shrove Tuesday), 3 coconuts, 18 fire extinguishers, 6 broken trees, 5682 trolleys, etc, 1 near miss, 1 huge splattering, 1 resigned cat, 2 Walsall schnitzels.

Turkey Schnitzel

Cadburys Goodness. 18th February

Bridge 68 to Hopwood to BUMingham

Last Friday Mick had tweeted C&RT regarding the Figure of Three Locks on the Calder and Hebble. The stoppage notice for that stretch of canal after Storm Ciara was that the towpath was closed. Was the damage really as bad as it looked in the photos and video we’d been seeing on Facebook? This morning they tweeted back the following.

Hi Mick thanks for getting in touch. Sadly Figure of Three Locks won’t be open for your visit in summer. It was badly damaged during the recent storms and flooding. We estimate it will be 12-18 months before it reopens. Please get in touch if you have any more queries and we look forward to welcoming you in Yorkshire this summer. Naomi

Figure of Three at the moment

Later in the day a stoppage notice was sent out too. At least 12 months before the lock will reopen. We’ll have to put plan B or C into operation.

Waiting for it to stop raining took a while this morning. But we were ready for it when it stopped. Outside covers rolled up and folded down, ropes untied. ‘Hang on! There’s a boat!!!!!’ ‘What? A boat?????’ We waited for them to come past before we pushed off. That’s not happened for months.

About to wind at Hopwood

As we made our way towards Hopwood very dark storm clouds were gathering, we wondered if we’d make it into Wast Hill Tunnel in time before it started to rain again. No was the answer. A strong gust of wind coincided with us winding meaning the engine had to work hard to get the stern round, then the heavens opened. Oh well!

Wast Hill Tunnel ahead

We could tell it was half term, plenty of hire boats were about. The boat ahead of us could still be seen in the tunnel and by the time we’d got three quarters of the way through ourselves another boat was following. Was it drier in the tunnel than out in the rain was debatable!

Back out into daylight

Popping back out into day light all signs of the crime scene had gone, apart from one length of plastic Police tape attached to branches.

Despite there being a boat moored on the bollards at the water point there was enough room for us so we pulled in and topped up the tank another load of washing was just finishing. We then pulled along a touch further for some lunch before carrying on retracing our steps back into Birmingham.

Straight on please

The aroma passing Cadburys today was more caramel than chocolate, or was it salted caramel, or fudge? We decided that it must be fudge and both started to sing the song from the advert. Link. ‘It’s full of Cadbury’s goodness’! No way would you be able to suggest fudge is good for you in adverts today.

What a jingle though, we both remembered it, well Mick forgot the bit about ‘it’s very small and neat’. It was written by Mike d’Abo based on the folk song The Lincolnshire Poacher. Mike d’Abo was more famous for being the lead singer of Manfred Mann and ‘The Mighty Quinn’.


I also found out that Fingers of Fudge are no longer produced in England, production moved from Keysham to Poland in 2010. So what was it we could smell today?

Talk turned to our cruising plans.

Plan A. Go over the Pennines via the Huddersfield Narrow through Standedge Tunnel for me to work at the Lawrence Batley Theatre. Then cruise the Huddersfield Broad, Calder Hebble, Aire and Calder then the tidal Ouse to get to York. This is now out of the window.

Cat or a devil?

Plan B. Cruise over the Huddersfield Narrow so that I can go to work with ease, but then have to retrace our cruise and not head to York to meet friends and family with one days work at York Theatre Royal. Maybe.

Plan C. Cross the Pennines via the Leeds Liverpool Canal then Aire Calder and Ouse to York. This would mean having to commute to work on and off, then find somewhere handy to do this from for production week, or paying to stay in Huddersfield when needed, my expenses come out of my fee or the production budget. But then we’d be able to carry on to York, so long as the Ouse behaves itself! This is looking the most favourable plan.

Back in the city

Back in BUMingham we turned back towards Sheepcote Street Bridge. Loads more boats moored here today, but still three familiar ones from yesterday. We pulled in.

If looks could kill! Tilly was so not impressed.


0 locks, 8.99 miles, 1 wind, 1 straight, 1 left, 2 tunnels, 2 mysterons, 1 damp soggy cruise, 1 load washing, 1 full water tank, 1 very disappointed cat.

Flake Aroma. 17th February

BUMingham to Bridge 68, Worcester and Birmingham Canal, most definitely not BUMingham!

Pushing off

I’d made a promise to Tilly that today we would move the outside just for her, so that is what we did. There was a touch of rain in the air, and the air was still moving quite a lot at times but we kept my promise and moved.

That’s new

An earlyish start for us saw us going right at Old Turn Junction at around 9:30am. Passing under Broad Street Tunnel I noticed a new looking sign, ‘Black Sabbath Bridge’. Last summer a bench was unveiled for the 50th anniversary of Black Sabbath on the bridge/tunnel. We’ll have to have a look at the information board by the canal when we’re back again. As we approached The Mailbox the wind whipped up, blowing a right hoolie it was, we were glad we’d dressed suitably.

Worcester Bar
Edgbaston Tunnel

Onwards we forged along the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. Through Edgbaston Tunnel. Past the hydrogen boat where someone is having a go at developing zero carbon emission propulsion, pedal power.

Pedal power, future proof propulsion

The new footbridge by Selly Oak Sainsburys now has large columns of concrete on either side of the cut, wonder how long before the bridge spans the water?

New bridge coming along nicely

Then the smell of childhood. Cocoa. My childhood in York was filled with the smell of Matchmakers, a slightly minty chocolate smell. Today the air smelt of Flakes, Cadburys Flakes. It soon blew away as we neared the secure moorings on the off side. Plenty of boats here, one jolly chap said hello from the comfort of his pram cover as we passed on by.

Graffiti Tree

Behind the covers of the Toll House at Kings Norton we could hear people at work as we carried on straight past towards Wast Hill Tunnel.

Keeping close to us

We were being followed. Now most Herons you see on the canals get all upperty as you approach them and as you get close they fly off a hundred yards ahead to fish, only having to do the same again and again. Well today we met a Heron who had very different ideas. He obviously knows something that the others don’t as he followed us time and time again, waiting for us to pass and churn up any fish.

What’s going on here?

Approaching the water point there was a lady in a lot of high-vis yellow, she made a phone call and then walked towards us. The Policewoman asked us to pull in as they had a crime scene ahead, a length of police tape closed off the towpath.

Being right by a water point we would quite happily tie up and replenish the water tank as the washing machine had been put into use since we filled up yesterday. She explained that if we carried on we might compromise the crime scene. Mick replied, ‘We watch Vera, we know all about such things!’ She laughed.

Entering the crime scene

She knew what to do with pedestrians but hadn’t thought she’d have any boats coming past. Just as we stepped off to tie up she had a call back, we were good to go. Up ahead on Friday night a man had been assaulted, he had ‘significant facial injuries’ and then had been thrown into the canal where a passerby spotted his body on Saturday morning.

A tent with flood lights
More tape

Another Policewoman stood by a tent a touch further on and by Kings Norton Bridge there was a chap with some apparatus on a tripod, it could have been a 360 degree camera. The towpath slope up over the tunnel was being searched by a team of officers whilst plain clothed police stood by the canal. As we passed we were asked how long the tunnel was, ‘2493m’. I wonder if they were considering if the poor chap might have been pushed in at the other end of the tunnel?

Few boats moving for days and we have to meet one in a tunnel!

Once in the tunnel we pootled along, hang on, someone was coming! Just after half way we pulled right over and just about stopped, their tunnel light quite bright. The chap at the helm asked if we were alright as we’d stopped, we were and carried onwards as soon as they’d passed.

That’s a better view

No Police presence on the other side of the tunnel. We carried on a short distance and pulled in where Mick and Tilly had spent a night whilst I was in Vienna. Just as we were sorting out ropes the heavens opened and gusts of wind sent it sideways at us.

Inside, Tilly had already been surveying the outside and was sat waiting for me in the bathroom, SHOUTING!!!!!!

Four and a half hours!!! Bloomin brilliant!! But hang on. I’m not going out in that! Not for all the Dreamies in the world! The door closed, then opened again. It hadn’t changed! Several more attempts and eventually the outside was dry. See you!


Today the C&RT National Council Elections results have been announced. Only one of the people we voted for has been elected, the others came very close, but at least we voted. Out of around 34,000 boats on the network only 2040 people voted in the elections, that is 6%. Congratulations to those who got elected, please report back in some form for those of us who are interested .

0 locks, 8.47 miles, 2 straights, 1 right, 3 tunnels, 12 police, 1 graffiti tree, 1 load washing, 1 keen heron, 4.5 hours spent well, 1 white card finished, 1 set of costume designs finished, 2 panto award nominations, 1 photo from Frank, Thank you.

The Other Side Of Outside. 16th February

BUMingham to the other BUMingham

For days, weeks, years, a lifetime, we have been in BUMingham. Some days I’m allowed to come and go as I like, which isn’t very much now, and others I am confined to quarters. They aren’t though!

Only biscuits for me this morning!

This morning Tom popped out to get them extra yummy things for their morning DingDing despite it still being blowy. He didn’t bother getting me anything special did he! No smoked salmon, or any of that smelly stinky yummy stuff She came home with. Then they just sat around not letting me out.

Then they sat around some more, but I could go out. Then they sat around even more and said I couldn’t go out! Can’t they make their minds up!!

When I went out though it hadn’t changed so there was next to no point.

Last nights catchings around our tyre fender

A flurry of activity. They were getting ready to untie this blustery BUMingham outside. About bloomin time. Dennis had left us lots of stuff, but they didn’t want any of it. As soon as the ropes were undone the outside made a bid for freedom. They soon caught another and pulled it in, this one has a fast tap so they filled the tank.

Bye bye BUMingham

With the tank full again, they let the outside go again. Woho!!! What would we catch next?

Turn around

Tom span the outside round and for a little while I thought we’d be heading back to the outside we’d come from, passing Paul’s boat and bipping the horn before pulling back in. But no, not today. This was exciting

Lots of bicycles

She soon hopped off and caught the outside. Hurry Uppp!! But as they were securing the outside another boat came by, they looked at each other and deceided to nudge up the outside. This boat has form, they run their engine for hours and hours and hours, quite often stopping it when we all go to bed, so we didn’t want to be too close to them.

NO stopping me!

Once all was secure the back doors were opened. At last!!!! This outside was on the otherside, I’d already sussed this out. I jumped off…..


Here hang on. Now wait a minute!

This side used to be
this side!

This was just the same outside except they’d swung it round! We are still in BUMingham. She says they’ll move the outside just for me tomorrow if Dennis has gone, but you know what I don’t believe her.

Sort it out will you!

0 locks, 0.8 miles, 1 wind, 2 straights, 2 waves to Paul, 4 sausages, 2 poached eggs, 4 tomatoes, 7 painted costumes, 1 patch of blue sky, 3 moving boats, 1 tap open, 1 water tank full, 1 pesky boat, 1 new roast chicken recipe, 2 lemons, 5 tsp oregano, 2 full tummies, 1 confused and disappointed cat.

First costumes coloured in

Keeping A Handle On The Dead. 13th February


Yoghurt descending Farmers Bridge

A walk down a few of the Farmers Bridge locks this morning and then across the arched footbridge. A familiar cruiser Yoghurt was making it’s way down the flight. We’ve seen the boat in Droitwich before and such a good name cannot be forgotten.

Newman Brothers

Just a couple of doors up the hill is Newman Brothers, a place more commonly known as The Coffin Works. This is another museum based around a factory where the workers laid down their equipment on the last day of employment and today it still lies there for visitors to see, a time capsule.

Ornate handles

Alfred and Edwin Newman established the works in 1882, originally brass founders they predominantly made cabinet furniture. In 1894 they moved to Fleet Street and started to specialise in the production of coffin furniture, there was more money in dead people than furniture. Edwin left the company leaving Alfred to be the sole owner in 1895. The company was doing well, the fashionable dead liked having ornately decorated coffins, even the poor would do their best for the deceased.

Stamped out
A stamp

Alfred left the business to his two sons, George and Horace. Shares were sold and handed out to employees. When Horace, the last surviving son died in 1952 the last direct link to the Newman family was cut. The company was then run by a small group of shareholder directors.

Wrapped and ready to go

Joyce Green started work as a secretary in 1949, she rose quickly to company secretary during the 50’s. As employees left or died she would buy up their shares until in 1989 she became the major shareholder of the company. Her association with the company had been for 50 years and when it was finally dissolved in 1999 she turned her attentions to saving the building with the hope that one day it would become a museum.

The office

The prime location was held onto for five years by Joyce, tower blocks now surrounding the three story building. In 2003 she sold the premises on the basis that the building would not be used for residential use for five years, hopefully giving enough time for funds to be raised for it to become a museum. Birmingham Conservation Trust then came on board, it took some time to raise the £1.5 million needed to transform the building, things were looking up.

David demonstrating one of the four stamps

Birmingham City Council put money into the kitty and by 2012 a new professional team were brought on board to manage the project. During 2013 and 2014 teams of conservationists moved in, photographed the collection and the building was restored and made safe for visitors. On the 24th October 2014, launch day, Joyce’s dream finally became a reality.

Locking up after us
Flywheel press

The old foundry no longer stands in the courtyard, a newer building takes it’s place, this now houses businesses that lease parts of the old factory taking advantage of a rather good address ‘The Coffin Works, Fleet Street’. David our guide showed us into the Stamp Room, here decorative panels where stamped out of tin. Then flywheel presses, bigger than those at the Jewelry Museum would cut out the shapes. These would then be polished up and passed up to the packing room ready for orders from Funeral Directors.

Shelves of handles and embelishments

The demise of the company was partly down to foreign imports, but also more people were getting cremated. Cremation brought with it a ban on using metal, wooden handles or plastic were used instead. Newman Brothers invested in machinery to be able to make plastic versions of all it’s metal coffin furniture, but they couldn’t compete with prices from abroad.

Boxes of plastic

The office was revamped in the 1950’s, a cupboard high up held the beer and cigars to help woo the funeral directors into placing large orders. Then David took us up more steep stairs to the Shroud room.

Worthington E or a sherry with your Castella?

Here 14 sewing machines were kept busy creating shrouds for people to be buried in. There was a big market in such things until it became the fashion to be buried or burnt in your best suit or favourite dress.

The Shroud Room

When we’d arrived we clocked in and as we left we were encouraged to clock back out. Another museum well worth a visit in Birmingham.

A safe place to have your tea made

Handy hint if you plan on visiting one or more of The Jewelry Quarter Museum, Coffin Works or Pen Museum, it’s worth trying to do them with a couple of days as you can get money off if you keep your tickets.

0 locks, 6 walked down, 0 miles, 1 yoghurt pot, 6.53 clocked in, 8.03 clocked out, 100 years of coffin handles, 1 undertaker, 8 on the tour, 1 determined Joyce, 1980 Joey Tempest Lion.

Next door the lead singer of Europe

Back To Backs. 6th February


The other day we made a call to the National Trust to see if we could get on a tour around the Back to Backs in Birmingham. This is another thing we’ve been meaning to do for a while. Ringing them meant that we could slot onto a tour this week when space was available.

The Back to Backs

Walking through Birmingham can be problematical at the moment with underpasses closed and not being able to walk along some of the tram tracks. So we took the usual route past the library and then joined Hill Street, walking through China Town onto Hurst Street. Modern buildings gave way to reveal a corner of red brick, an enticing sweet shop on the corner.

Our tour was for 2:30pm and we’d arrived in plenty of time to check in at reception and have a look around the exhibition upstairs. There is an amount of being able to be nimble at the National Trust property as there are plenty of steps involved on narrow winding staircases.

In Court 15

The exhibition gives you some of the back ground of the houses on the tour . In 1789 the land was leased by Sir Thomas Gooch to builder John Wilmore. By 1802 the first house was completed and during the 1820’s more houses were built and by 1831 court 15 was completed. Birmingham’s back to back houses were unique as they were all built around a courtyard which housed all the services for the houses on that court. Court 15 was possibly one of the smallest in the area.

The last shop

By the end of the 19th Century all the front facing houses on Hurst Street had become shops on their ground floors, the occupiers living on the top two floors. In 1966 the last family to live in the houses moved out after the courtyard was condemned for domestic use. Some shops continued to be run for some time, George Saunders tailors being the last to leave in 2002.

Court 15 with bay windows

The court became Grade 2 listed in the 80’s but the properties deteriorated rapidly. Restoration work began in 2003 and in 2004 they were handed over to the National Trust and opened to the public.

Tours are kept to a maximum of eight people and the route through the houses is tight. We were lucky as there were only six in our group so we could see a bit more in each room. Starting off in the street we were given the history of the houses and then we passed through a gate across the alleyway into the court.

The two wash houses

Court 15 had 11 houses and in 1851 there were 60 people living there. Three toilets and two wash houses between them, the nearest tap was across Hurst Street.

A Large scullery with one window and a candle for light mid afternoon

The first house we were shown into was the largest and laid out in the earliest period, 1840. A scullery added onto the front of the house, the main room all lit by candle light. The fire in the hearth just keeping the chill off.

Landlords had to redecorate between tenants, so they kept it as simple as possible

Our tour wound up the narrow flight of stairs into the main bedroom, where two beds and a wash stand filled the room, up another floor and three beds squashed together. A door led to the property at the front. This has been left so that you can see what the houses were like before being restored. Colour wash on the walls, the plaster barely hanging onto the ceilings. Torches were needed to look at photographs of the houses through the ages.

Wash stand
Very pretty lace bedspread

Down into the next house where a family with nine kids once lived. The children sleeping four to a bed, topping and tailing, a blanket hung between beds for some privacy. Next floor also two beds and a work bench. The chap who lived here made clock hands and many of the tools he’d have used would have been similar to those we’d seen in the Jewelry Quarter Museum the other day.

Old doors and frames kept in the top rooms

A bigger stove in the groundfloor room with two ovens. This house had gas lighting, but our guide said that this type of house in 1870 wouldn’t have had it, by the 1930’s then maybe.

A fancy range with two ovens

Back into the court and into the third house, 1930’s. Kitchen utensils more familiar to us all. Here a chap lived who made glass eyes, some for people but the majority for taxidermy. He wouldn’t have worked from home as the glass needed high temperatures to melt it. This house is laid out with electric light, our guide poo pood this also.

Eye eye!

Up more stairs and into the tailors house. This is where George Saunders worked through the 70’s and into 2002. Quite a few of his possessions, machines, off cuts of fabric and patterns are on show.

Great cowboy wallpaper

When he first came to the country he applied for tailoring jobs, one he was invited for an interview with the job being made for him. On arrival he was turned away, being told that the job had gone. George was very well qualified for the job, the colour of his skin his main problem!

Teddy coat

He worked in factories until he set up his own shop here. His firm prospered, he had regular clients and didn’t need to advertise. A Teddy coat with all the tailors stitches sat on a stand for all to see his craftmanship.

Back out into the court we were shown a wash house. When you moved into a house on the court you would be told which day was your wash day. Originally water was brought from across the street to be heated up, then a tap was brought into the yard and in later years each house was provided with a cold tap.

The toilets started off being just earth closets, these were upgraded to buckets which the night soil man would take away and then upgraded further to flush toilets.


What an interesting hour and a half. We had to finish it off in the 1930s sweet shop on the corner. But what to choose? 1/4lb bag of sweets but so much choice. Many I remembered from the School Shop when I was a kid, but the shelves here were much longer, so much more variety.

Pompom my Grandad would have been happy with some Frys Chocolate Cream. I opted for Raspberry and Blackcurrant chews, Mick a bag of dark chocolate ginger. Marvelous.

Fry’s Chocolate Cream, Pompom’s favourite

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 aborted smiley lady, 11 back to backs, 60 people, 3 toilets, 2 wash houses, 4 to a bed, 8 to a tour, 1 nimble tour guide, 80 eye balls, 1 fascinating afternoon, 1 tap on the roof, 1 visit from Paul.

Bowie now with eye bandages

Smith And Pepper. 4th February



The Museum of the Jewelry Quarter has been on our list of things to do whilst around Birmingham for some time and finally today we walked down the first couple of locks of the Farmers Bridge flight then headed off northwards. Gradually the buildings turned from light industry and flats to small Victorian factories and then to houses. The houses are mostly shops, jewellers, bullion dealers, we’d entered the Jewelry Quarter.

The Jewelry Quarter

Here is where the FA cup was designed, whistles for the Titanic were made amongst many other things boasted about on brass plaques laid into the brickwork below your feet as you walk along.

Information plaques on the floor

The Chamberlain Clock stands proud as a roundabout, erected in 1903 to commemorate Joseph Chamberlain’s tour of South Africa in 1902/03 after the end of the Second Boer War.

Chamberlain Clock

A small group of people were stood taking photos by the bridge over the railway, a Council street cleaner was busy too. It took a couple of seconds to realise why. This is where about two weeks before last Christmas some graffiti appeared overnight right next to benches where the homeless tend to sleep. Banksy had been at work. (Link to footage from Banksy’s Instagram page). The artwork made it into a lot of the papers.

Cleaned up, but who added the red noses?

The two reindeer are now covered with sheets of perspex which un-skilled graffiti artists now leave their marks on most days. The council chap was busy removing the latest offering as he chatted away to us, I think he rather enjoys his job now. As the pink squiggles were wiped away we chatted about similar artworks in Birmingham, especially David Bowie by the Bull Ring.

The museum wasn’t too far away and we managed to get onto the next tour round the factory. Smith and Peppers was established in 1899 by Charles Smith and Edwin Pepper (his Uncle) at 77-78 Vyse Street, Charles and his wife lived at 77. By 1914 the business was doing well and they expanded, houses were demolished and a factory built at the back.

The admin office with a paper trail back to when the company was founded

In the twenties Eric and Olive Smith (son and daughter of Charles) both joined the company and by the time Charles retired in the 30’s another of his sons, Tom, had joined. Eric and Tom then ran the business with Olive as company secretary. The factory continued until the 70’s when the recession hit them. People had little if any money spare so luxuries like jewelry.

Post corner
Safe electrics!

In 1981, Eric, Olive and Tom were 81, 78 and 74 they decided to retire. With no heirs between them they tried to sell the company, but there were no takers. So after the factory summer holidays the staff were gathered on the Monday morning and told to finish off what work they were busy with and at the end of Friday the doors would be closed for the final time.

Hung where they’d been left in 1981

They tried to get Avoncroft Museum interested but they weren’t. So on that Friday afternoon when the last pieces were finished the workers downed tools and left for the last time, the doors closed behind them everything left just as they left it.

The engravers bench

It took quite some time before the Council (who owned the building) to realise what they had and what they could do with it. In the 1990’s someone came up with the idea to open it as a museum. Detailed photographs were taken of everything, the building was emptied so that work could be done to make it safe for the public. Once this was completed everything was returned to the exact position it had been left in in 1981 when the doors closed for the final time. A real snapshot frozen in time.

Audrey at the jewellers bench

Today Audrey, a volunteer showed us round. From Eric’s office where orders were taken for wholesale trade, into the main office. Here box files contain every receipt the company ever had. Orders would be recorded and sent down in the dumbwaiter to the factory floor. Eric would have his breakfast, toast with homemade Blackcurrant jam or Marmite. Finished orders would return here by dumbwaiter and be boxed up, reusing packaging, then taken by the young office girl up to the Post Office in a string bag. The Jewelry Quarter was a safe place then, everyone was carrying high value goods about the place. The Post Office here was the busiest in the country outside London.

Line of cast iron patterns bow the shelves

Down below in the factory we were shown where the days gold was weighed into tin boxes for each worker, at the end of the day these would be returned and weighed, finished items accounted for and a 2% loss was allowed. Each day the floors were hoovered, each day the overalls were washed out, each day all the waste and water was drained through tanks of sawdust, the feet of the wooden stools would be cut back every now and then and below in the cellar this would all be burnt to recoup any gold. Over a period of two years this would amount to quite a chunk of gold.

Flame sat ready to have air added from a pipe that would sit in the jewellers mouth all day

We were shown round where engraving happened, walls covered in iron dyes for stamping out patterns into sheet gold.

Tools at the ready

A bench where nine jewellers sat soldering bracelets together had an army of angle poises illuminating the benches where soldering flames burnt at the ready, tools looped over string for easy access and leather pinnies fixed to the benches to catch any gold before it reached the floor.

Sqezy washing up liquid ( my mothers choice for many years)

3D relief shapes were stamped into sheets of gold. One chap who worked on this was quite elderly and was pulling almost his whole body weight each time he used the machines, so a motor was added to assist him, but being proud of his skill he refused to use the mechanised assistance.

Hand held sheets of gold
One stamped out Scottie dog

Other hand operated machines cut shapes out of sheet gold. Then a bank of polishing machines would be wurring round constantly with the ladies bringing the shine back to all the pieces.

Would you like sugar or something more sinister in your tea?

In a room to one side, tea making facilities sat next to the electroplating. Here the lady would make your tea, whilst handling deadly chemicals and putting items into a cabinet where the fumes would rise out of the factory, a form of health and safety.

Health and safety at it’s best, the cabinet to take fumes away with close fitting doors!

What a wonderful place, a must see.

White tiles on the building next door to reflect light into the factory

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 cooked breakfast, 2 reindeer, 1 sheet perspex, £7 twice, 2 floors of displays, 1981 stood still, 1 scottie on the floor, 2 adaptors, 1 toaster, 1 dumbwaiter, 3 siblings, 7 shades of overalls, 1 person to befriend, 1 tram, 1 package of post.