Tuesday 21 May 2024

Not going to the art gallery.

 Mr GBT didn't really want to visit an art gallery whilst we were in the Midlands last month....he's a clever fellow though and distracted me with a tempting alternative. Any thoughts of looking at paintings immediately flew out of my noggin as soon as he dandled this in front of me. Needless to say I was sold!

Alfred and Edwin Newman set up their cabinet fittings business in 1882. However, with Birmingham's high rate of mortality and the Victorian obsession with OTT mourning and funeral practices, they took their company in a different direction and by 1894 they were manufacturing coffin furniture. In terms of profits they could charge five times as much as ordinary door handles. By the 20th century until their demise in the 1990s they were the best maker in the country and their products have adorned the coffins of the rich and famous. Everyone from the Royal family through to Churchill and even Judy Garland who died here unexpectedly. They moved with the times and by the end they were selling versions in plastic which could go through the cremation process. Despite what you might have been told they don't take the handles etc off the coffins! Strangely the 'Coffin Works' is rather a misleading name because coffins were the one thing that they didn't make.

Although this place is open on other days, I would strongly recommend taking one of the tours as it really brought it alive [an unfortunate choice of words there] and you were left with a greater understanding of how it operated and the characters who worked there. There were so many snippets, but I don't want to spoil if for any would-be visitors. It did amuse me to see the frosted window panes as their sole function was to stop the young ladies sewing the shrouds and coffin linings upstairs from admiring the young fellows working the heavy equipment in the yard below. Some things never change eh.

Following a morning of funeral facts I thought I'd round it off with a nice jolly trip over to Warstone Lane cemetery after lunch. Well they've got catacombs there and I might never get the chance to see such a thing again. I like to make the best of any opportunities which present themselves. In the end they were the least interesting thing about the place, but I did take the obligatory photo just for the record.

The war stone from which the place takes its name. It's a glacial boulder made from volcanic felsite and once served as a boundary marker.

Such spaces tick many boxes for me as I nearly always come away having learnt some tales of those who ended up here. Below is the rather ostentatious grave of George William Manley. If you hadn't have told me I don't think that I'd have realised that it's supposed to represent one of the Stonehenge trilithons. It's a bit stumpy isn't is. Mr Manley was a druid of the Ancient Order of Druids which was formed in the 18th century. Knowing druidry as a form of paganism today it seems rather odd that he should be found in a Christian place of burial. The reason is that this group were neither political or religious.

Poor little Lily Evans chances of survival were dimmed from the minute she breathed her first. Born to William and Emma Evans she was only ten ounces at birth and 9 inches long. Her parents had already had several healthy children, but they were poor and they saw the chance to make money from this poor little mite. Known as the 'Lilliputian Wonder' they were paid 30 shillings a week for her to be shown to the public for up to 16 hours a day. She lost her fight for life at six weeks after which her mother faced legal action for drinking heavily and not feeding her infant properly. In the end the charges were waived on the grounds that Lily was to receive a decent burial. She is interred in a public grave with 175 others.

These were a couple more notable graves which I spotted as we wandered around which were also of interest.

We didn't set out to have our very own day of death, but that's how it turned out and fascinating it proved to be too. This is the final instalment of our Brum trip.



  1. I'm definitely visiting the coffin museum next time i'm in Birmingham, I'm so excited. Your photos are wonderful. x

  2. not your usual museum (well YOUR usual - I'd expect nothing less of your blog) but in the sense of the idiom - not one's usual museum, and certainly unexpected. Clever find Mr GBT


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