New Futures for Birmingham`s Historic Buildings

Newman Brothers Coffin Fitting Works – Refurbishment (Week 1)

Posted August 21st, 2013 by Birmingham Conservation Trust with No Comments

First things first, thank you for stopping by and welcome to the Coffin Fitting Works conservation blog! Let me begin by introducing myself and my colleague Malcolm, who will be responsible for the stunning images in this blog…

My name is Barbara De Santis  and I’m a new volunteer at BCT.  I’m also a Part II architect with a particular interest in building conservation and sustainable designs.


Malcolm McMillan is also a volunteer at the Trust, and a photographer with a passion for national heritage and the arts and crafts.


If you would like to follow along with the conservation work of the Newman Brothers’ factory as it is happening, I will be writing a regular blog over the next 40 weeks to provide updates and photographs of the refurbishment process, as well as other related Coffin Works information.


At the beginning of August 2013 Fairhurst Ward Abbotts Group began the reconstruction of the 19th century Newman Brothers Coffin Fitting Works.

The Grade II* listed building, located in the Jewellery Quarter Conservation area of Birmingham, is the only intact historic building remaining on Fleet Street.

Once the repair work is complete, visitors will be able to visualize what life would have been like during the mid 20th century at the factory. They will be able to discover what the business produced and how it was run and explore the equipment and production of over 100 years of manufacturing.  Aside from the visitor experience, the factory will also provide workshop and office space aimed primarily at creative and start-up businesses. These will be located at the rear of the factory on either side of the courtyard.

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coffin works 04-02-13 51  DSC_0946

August 6th 2013

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

The Fairhurst Ward Abbotts Group (FWA) has a well-established reputation for their high-quality restoration and conservation projects across the country. Contractors Andy King and Ian Bird will be responsible in leading the craftspeople and the conservators across the challenging process to restore the original fabric of the 1894 factory. During the construction period educational tours will be taking place, with the building set to open to the public in summer 2014.

coffin works August (11 of 18)

coffin works August (4 of 18)


coffin works August (7 of 18)  coffin works August (1 of 1)

The Coffin Works has been subject of extensive surveys and research in consultation with the former employees. The aim is to retain the character of the place by keeping as much of the original form, features and detailing as possible.  As the FWA construction crew work their way through the schedule, they will have to replicate many of the construction materials and use some of the traditional 19th-century building methods. Samples of the mortar, bricks, stone work, joist, rafters, slate tiles and metal hardware will have to be provided in order to match the existing building materials.

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Last week I had the pleasure to interview Mr King and take a tour around the construction site. By Tuesday lunchtime, scaffolding was already up and protection was placed down in all the historic areas, floors and stairways. On the north side of the courtyard, the two storey 1960’s brick wing had already started to be stripped out. By the end of this first week, the walls on the first floor will have been deconstructed, and due to evident damp issues the existing floor coverings will also be removed. As we’re approaching the end of the summer season, there is also a lot of pressure in finishing the roof work. The flat roof and guttering of the north side will have to be completely replaced with the same construction system and materials as the original. On the other hand, the slate and felt roof used on the 1894 wing will need to be repaired.

coffin works August (13 of 18)

coffin works August (8 of 18)

coffin works August (16 of 18)

The majority of work taking place in the first week is to prepare and protect the site for the regeneration of the building in the coming months. However it is important to remember the years of planning and preparation by Birmingham Conservation Trust, and more recently, FWA to get the project to this point.


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