|Traditional goldsmiths' circular bench - leather pouches catch valuable scraps|
The streets of the Quarter have more than a trace of their past – handsome old workshop buildings and houses mingle with modern ones, there's a sizeable, and spooky, graveyard, the factory of Thomas Fattorini that has been manufacturing bespoke badges and regalia, and medals for nearly 200 years and the last Georgian square left in Birmingham with the handsome St Paul's church at its centre.
Over the years the Quarter has seen booms and declines, as wars, depressions and competition from abroad hit trade. At its Victorian peak 40,000 people were employed; now it's nearer 7000 and what was a largely wholesale and manufacturing trade is now full of retail shops, though it's still an area very much comprised of small craft businesses and family firms.
|Timewarp of a workshop at Smith & Pepper's|
|The ancient office and, above, its hi-tech wiring|
The place is brought to life by its brilliant, knowledgeable tour guide who talked us through the workshops and demonstrated pieces of the equipment. From her we learned how carefully waste gold was recovered: materials were weighed out to each worker for his job every day and at the end of the day weighed back in in finished or waste form. Only a two percent margin of loss was permitted.
|No just jewellery in the Quarter - this huge factory made pen-nibs|
But by the 1970s the owners were in their 80s (none had married so there were no children to inherit) and the country was in recession so no-one wanted to buy an antiquated business. So the three of them paid off the remaining staff, shut the doors and went home to retire.
Leaving us to enjoy the best four quid's worth of museum experience in a long time.
|The Assay Office where precious metal items are checked and hallmarked|
|Handsome St Paul's Square; Birmingham's last surviving Georgian square|
|Spooky catacombs in the Quarter's graveyard|