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.
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.