Jewellery Quarter Festival 2018: Unearthing BCU’s gem!

The wonderful annual JQFestival is fast approaching, celebrating all that is great about Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. Well, did you know Birmingham City University, (BCU) has a School of Jewellery right in the heart of this area? It is located on Vittoria Street, No’s 82-86, not too far from the Golden Square. A recent visit to the School’s library, to become more familiar with the service and its stock, enabled me to unearth some gems of information on the rich educational history of the building.

During the late 19th century Birmingham’s jewellery trade grew. Consequently there was a demand for technical education in craft skills. In response, in 1888, the Birmingham Jewellers’ and Silversmiths’ Association and the Municipal School of Art began delivery of classes at the Ellen Street School to the west of the Quarter. It proved so popular that in 1890 oversubscription meant a move to the current Vittoria Street premises. Built in c 1865, on the former rear garden of No. 30 Frederick Street, the Venetian Gothic building had been acquired by William Randle for his goldsmith’s manufactory. Over time the building has been extended to meet need, most notably in 1911/12 and 1992/3.

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Throughout its history the School has remained committed to the development of craft skills. Many students have passed through the doors – male apprentices from 1888, female apprentices from 1892, ex-WW1 servicemen being retrained for work, YTS trainees in the 1980s and today our own BCU students. The first ever exams took place in 1892, with the first exhibition of work in 1925, and still going strong today. There was a slight interruption during World War II when the School was used for the war effort to produce gauges.

The years have seen some ‘tweaks’ in name and organisation, the stewardship of Birmingham Polytechnic, University of Central England and now as part of the BCU family, but the School continues the long, fine, tradition of equipping students with the specialist skills needed to support the jewellery trade. More recently course delivery and accommodation have expanded to include the Assay Office, home to one-of-a-kind Gemmology courses.

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The first Birmingham Jewellers’ and Silversmiths’ library was set up in 1897. BCU’s Library and Learning Resource Service is proud to have a small, but perfectly formed library on the site today. It supports the diverse range of courses from jewellery making, silversmithing to horology, offering books, journals, IT, printing and support, all from a fabulous location.

Back in 1890 a mere 30 year lease was taken out. It is incredible that the School has gone from strength to strength over the intervening years, due in large part to the support provided by Birmingham City Council, local companies, higher education institutions and generous donors. Faith in the ongoing need for the School seems to have been very well placed.

So, if you are attending the Festival take some time to wander by Vittoria Street to see a jewel of a building! How about attending the FREE event being hosted at the School of Jewellery as part of the JQFestival? Friday 20th July, 17.15-19.45, ‘Presenting the Jewellery Quarter: past & Future’.

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^Fid Bleasdale, BCU Library Advisor