New Futures for Birmingham`s Historic Buildings

Coffin Works Research Group Underway

Posted March 4th, 2013 by Suzanne Carter with 2 Comments

NMR AA99_05137

On Saturday morning, 2nd March, a group of volunteers got together in the back room of the Shakespeare Inn, just round the corner from the Coffin Works, to start work on researching the Newman Brothers’ archive. 

Julie and Rachel begin work on the Newman Brothers archive in the back room of The Shakespeare

Recently, we went to our Erdington warehouse, where nearly all the material – stock, equipment, records – from the factory is currently kept, and retrieved the boxes with the business records in them (see Jane Baker’s blog).   We brought the large plastic boxes into the pub, sat down with some coffees, and started to go through the records, carefully unwrapping them from the tissue paper. 

What we found were sales invoices, accounts, expense claims, sick notes, clocking-in cards, catalogues, correspondence – all the things you would expect to find in an office but in some cases going back to the early decades of the last century.  From these records our volunteer researchers will reconstruct in detail aspects of the history of Newman Brothers Coffin Fittings Works.  There are many stories to discover.  For example, Julie will use the records to trace the working lives of ex-employees.  Jo and Janine will be using the sales invoices to build up a database of the funeral directors that Newman Brothers did business with, and then contact some of these to find out more.  Caroline and Tim will be using the expense claims of travelling salesman HP Davies to build up a picture of his travels and work.

Nice as it was to initiate this work in the pub, our base for the research will be the Pen Museum, which has kindly offered us some work space until we move into the Coffin Works.  As well as its intrinsic interest, the research will help us with the interpretation of the Coffin Works when it opens as a heritage attraction in the summer of 2014.  If you would like to help with our research on the history of Newman Brothers, please get in touch.

Accounts 1945 002

Accounts from 1945

2 Responses to “Coffin Works Research Group Underway”

  1. Stephen Fisher March 22, 2013

    I am now retired having taught at the School of Jewellery for over 35 years. On Wednesdays I attend the Silversmithing class so that my love of working in metal may continue – it is my spiritual home. My main hobby is photography, I always carry a camera with me. As you may have gathered research has not been my experience but I am fascinated by the history of people who made things with their hands – real people doing real things. If I could be of use in any capacity please let me know.
    Yours in anticipation,


    • Simon Buteux March 22, 2013

      Hello Stephen,

      It would be fantastic to have someone with your knowlege of (and love of) working in metal join our little research team. Our research is largely paper-based at the moment, but when we eventually move into the Coffin Works there will be a huge task to do to catalogue, study and conserve the huge amount of coffin fittings etc that remain in Newman Brothers stock.

      I’ll be in touch with you again soon by email if I may.

      Best wishes



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