Friday Photo – Assay Office, Newhall Street
Some of you may be getting gold or silver in your Christmas stocking this year. You can be sure that all Five Gold Rings really are gold by checking the hallmarks. These impressions are applied by one of the UK’s four Assay Offices after testing the purity of the metal. One of those offices is located in Birmingham.
Birmingham became a major source of silverware as the industrial revolution gathered pace. Matthew Boulton was one of those manufacturers and he objected to sending all his work to the assay offices of Chester or London. The government was persuaded to establish new assay offices in Birmingham and Sheffield in 1773. The Birmingham office kept expanding to cope with the work coming in and moved around the city until settling in Newhall Street in 1877. The assay office moved again to new premises in 2015 and the Newhall Street building was sold for redevelopment. It was Grade II listed in 2004.
The photo shows the front of the 1877 Victorian building by Andrew Phipson. Over the next hundred years it was extended both sideways and upwards. An entire extra storey was added in 1914. You can see the brickwork and square windows either side of the Royal Coat of Arms motif is more functional than the floors below. The Arms originally stood out above the roof line. The final rebuilding phase took place in 1974 but ultimately all these modifications were not enough for a 21st century assay office.