Victorian values

Rare behind the scenes open day at Victorian factory in the Jewellery Quarter.

On Saturday 7th May members of the public are being invited to go behind the scenes of the New Standard Works, an iconic but dilapidated four-story Victorian factory, built in 1879, in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter, to give feedback on the Ruskin Mill Land Trust’s plans for its new exciting future.

The iconic and grade II listed Standard Works, significant because it is one of the very first examples of a flatted factory development which was built for multiple occupancy, has seen a myriad of businesses and trades operating from its premises during its 136 year old history; ranging from trademark Canadian Gold jewellery and watches, hand-cut crystal perfume bottles, and scent cases, belt buckles and bookmarks made of sterling silver which were produced at the end of the 19th century, to bangles, car parts and wire netting manufacturers from the 1940s onwards.

This tradition of innovation and creativity lives on as the first floor of the building is home to Argent College, a specialist educational college for young adults who are learning traditional crafts as part of their curriculum. Fundraising by the Ruskin Mill Land Trust to refurbish the final three floors continues.

Awarded an initial grant of £39,500 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop its plans for a full grant of nearly £890,000, if successful the Trust will use the money to create a visitor centre and heritage lounge, Makers Studios, and run a five year programme of heritage and history-related activity. The prominent white frontage will also be restored. The wider plans for the building’s redevelopment also include a café which will sell produce from its on-site bakery, rooftop garden and urban bee colonies. Other facilities, including a training kitchen, creative workshops, therapy and movement studios and a community hall and performance space, will be available both for their students and the community to use.

Janine Christley, Director of Fundraising at Ruskin Mill Land Trust said, “We are really keen to involve the public in shaping the plans for our heritage lounge, café and a five year programme of temporary exhibitions and activities where we can bring the fascinating history of this building to life for visitors to the area as well as for its local communities. We want the New Standard Works to become a destination, a hands-on experience of heritage and set a new standard in how people can access heritage. Our vision is that people from all walks of life and abilities feel included in the story of innovation and industry of Birmingham. The stories we tell and how we tell them is important and we want to learn from the public, our potential visitors of the future”.

Suzanne Carter, who is organising the open day, says “It’s a rare opportunity for people to go inside a Victorian factory before refurbishment begins; it’s so atmospheric, especially in the walk-in safe. We’ll be uncovering some of stories from the building’s past including the case of the untrustworthy servant, imprisoned for steeling some scrap silver clippings, and the assault charge of one of the factory’s business owners who was witnessed in 1880 shouting to his rival before punching him in the eye… ‘I will be the death of you. Take this as the first instalment!’

“Visitors will find out about many more interesting facts and incidents which our researchers have been uncovering. We would be really interested to hear from anyone who has a connection to the building and can shed light on more of its history”.

On Saturday 7th May, the doors will be open from 12-4pm. Visitors are encouraged to pre-book onto one of our scheduled tours to gain access to all three floors; and also to bring their cameras to capture the experience. To guarantee a place on one of the free tours, pre-book via