There’s something magical about a frozen moment in time. In 1998 the last of the workforce downed tools at Newman Brothers Coffin Works and locked the doors. For many years this workshop was forgotten, despite its illustrious history. Coffin furniture for the funerals of Princess Diana, Chamberlain and Churchill were made here, but it seemed as if this workshop and yard would be left to crumble.
Those fortunate enough to open up Newman Brothers years later found tools left on worktops, unfinished coffins and bottles of polishes and fluids. They described it as a mercantile Marie Celeste. Everything was labelled and catalogued and put away in storage. In a previous job I was fortunate to visit the Works. There were a few coffin handles and ornaments left. There were stacks of crumpled, brittle newspapers and creaking wooden stairs. It was a frosty damp day, but shafts of golden sunlight fell upon the courtyard. Inside, the air was fusty, but sharp with the tang of embalming fluids. The small square panes of glass were trailed with silver webs. It made me think of the blacking factory where a young Dickens had so loathed his labours.
The Works lie on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter, sandwiched between a Chinese restaurant and a towering collection of glassy new-builds. Across the road, beyond the shadows thrown by the new builds and the roar of traffic from Paradise Circus, is the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal. The Birmingham Conservation Trust has worked tirelessly to preserve the site and, after a period of uncertainty when funding was withdrawn, they’ve stepped in with help from the City and an ambitious set of plans. They deserve to succeed. Click here for more images from Birmingham Conservation Trust on Flickr.
While there is a fascinating story of Birmingham’s working past to be told it will be interesting to see how much is made of the macabre side of the Coffin Works.
A themed environment could easily be tacky, but surely the story of funerals and the way we treat death as a society would be an interesting draw for many……..
There is also talk of training and maybe a mini-conference centre. Goth managing directors and CEOs know where to apply…..