New Futures for Birmingham`s Historic Buildings

Newman Brothers Coffin Fitting Works – Refurbishment

Posted October 15th, 2013 by Birmingham Conservation Trust with No Comments

Mid October and the FWA construction team has just received permission to carry on with the renovation of the pitched (felted) roof of the 19th century wing to make it permanently watertight and safe.

In order to put on a new roof, the slate roof tiles that have been previously felted, tarred over and glued down, will have to be removed.  The whole roof is being re-slated.


The external wall on the North East side of the building has suffered from damp and therefore it will have to be repointed as soon as possible. This is because the gutter that sits on top of this wall has repeatedly overflown, causing mould.

The Victorians were typically very good with designing and fitting gutters and in this case, it is obvious that the abundant rain water actually came from a second building that once neighboured the factory. In fact, the edge of this building can be seen close to Mitchell & Butlers’ headquarters, the Coffin Work’s existing neighbour.

A lot of work has been carried out in the past couple of months.

The 1960s’ wing roof has been relayed and felted over. The roof of the future gallery space has also been renovated, replacing twenty rotten timber joists and the old cement fibre boards, also known as rock-wool boards. This last material, when wet, becomes brittle and is more likely to collapse. Woodchip or OSB boards are much more resistant and are used as modern alternative building materials.



Furthermore, progress has been made on the plumbing for the new toilets. The system extends to a temporary canteen for the workers, which has been fitted on the first floor of the 1960’s wing. This facility will serve its purpose throughout the whole of the building process.

A new lift shaft timber frame can also be seen from ground floor of the link building (early 20th C) to the second floor. The lift is being installed to provide disabled access.

All the flooring has also been stripped down. The tar surface that covered the floor boards in the Vacuum Plating Shop has been removed.

Last but not least, repair work has started on the windows on the second floor of the Victorian wing and the damaged glass panes are being replaced with a similar glass type.




The aim is to complete and hand over the building as if the contractors never had to work on it. The Coffin Works should be able to tell its fascinating story and live on, serving its purpose, through time.

What I have learned

Through this site visit I have realised how even buildings can get used and abused during their lifetime.

‘A car is only as good as its driver’. Similarly, a building’s performance is reliant on how well the occupier uses it.

Respect for a good building will help retain its quality over time, and ensure that people still use the facility so that it continues to deliver as a safe and comfortable shelter.

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