13 May 2017
Newman Brothers' Coffin Furniture Works, Birmingham B3 1JP
Newman Brothers' Coffin Furniture Works is an exceptionally rare survival of a ninteenth-century Birmingham metal-working factory. The firm operated from purpose built premises in the Jewellery Quarter for over a century. When the doors finally closed in 1998 after a long period of decline, the building was left as an extraordinary time capsule.
Newman Brothers styled themselves as 'Coffin Furniture Manufacturers' and their products included coffin handles, breastplates, cruxifixes and decorative ornaments as well as shrouds and robes. Most famously they made the ornate handles and other fittings for Winston Churchill's coffin.
When the Mausolea & Monuments Trust last visited the Coffin Works in 2004 its route to becoming a museum had barely started. Since then, under the care of the Birminghama Conservation Trust the building has been transformed - but not so you would notice it. Although the contents were removed while the buillding was conserved and decontaminated, they were then replaced exactly where they had been.
After a light lunch two historic cemeteries were visited. Key Hill was founded by dissenters in 1836, a few years after Kensal Green, but earlier than all the other great London cemeteries, Warstone Lane following in 1848, operated by the Church of Enbgland Cemetery Company. Both were run by private companies but have since been taken over by Birmingham City Council. Although there is still a lot to do, the condition of both has improved since the last MMT visit in 2004. Neither has a mausoleuym but Key Hill has such a collection of Birmingham notables that it was once dubbed 'the Westminster Abbey of the Midlands'. It is a good example of a ninteenth-century garden cemetery with a picturesque layout.