… a delightful slice of manufacturing history …
When Joyce Green, the last owner, shut the door on “the Coffin Works” in 1998, her dearest wish was for the place to become a museum and, after a 15 year campaign to save it, you can now wander around this virtually untouched factory and imagine what it would have been like to work here.
The enthusiastic and informative guide explained in the Stamp Room that the factory didn’t make actually make coffins at all but the furniture, the metal fittings, which decorated the wooden boxes. He demonstrated how the metal was stamped and cut into shape with bench and drop presses whilst we marvelled at the dust, noise and total lack of any safety guards.
Upstairs in the Shroud Room, the lines of sewing machines were still left waiting for the women who made the “frillings” for the inside of the coffins and samples of the silk shrouds were laid out on display, including a rather natty one in the claret and blue Aston Villa football club.
With their telegraphic address as “Shroud, Birmingham”, Newman Brothers was a leader in its field in the c19th and c20th and provided coffin furniture for famous people such as Winston Churchill; however the business slowly declined due to the increasing use of plastic furniture and changing tastes in funerals.
To me, the most delightful room of all was Joyce Green’s office. This woman started out as an office junior in 1947, methodically bought up all the shares and eventually owned the business – a remarkable achievement for the time. She was obviously a tremendous character and it’s because of her vision, we can stroll around this factory today.
Newman Brothers is in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham and further details of opening times and exhibitions can be found at their website here.