Sunday, 17 July 2011

JW Evans silversmiths, saved or lost?

When a craft business that has a special part in our history is in danger of closing what should we do? How about buy it and spend large sums of public money on preserving the building, artifacts and accumulated detritus whilst letting the last skilled artisans stop work and walk away?

Two years ago I blogged about JW Evans Silversmiths in Birmingham. It had just been saved for the nation by English Heritage and at the time they said "at the heart of this decision is the desire to safeguard a skilled craft which is seriously under threat."

Well after 2 years JW Evans is now open to the public for pre booked tours, it looks fantastic and well worth a visit but how well do you think they have done at safeguarding a skilled craft? Seems that they have preserved all the fabric but lost the living heritage of the skills that made the place important. I feel we need a new way to look after this part of our heritage, apart from anything else turning businesses into museums is incredibly expensive. We could learn from the Spanish, I visited the knife making town of Taramundi where many small artisan workshops are open to the public on a sort of heritage tourist trail. This means they get lots of business which keeps the heritage truly alive rather than some preserved in aspic snap shot of how it used to be done.

More info and book your tour here


  1. Fascinating, thankyou for updating us on this place.

  2. Robin's comments are well-made and balanced; the skills of machine-assisted craft are still alive (but dormant)in the population and will be lost if not harnessed soon.

    It isn't so simple though: the Jewellery Quarter is still in development as a visitor attraction, but doesn't have the instant appeal that less thoughtful funders look for.

    The neighbouring Museum of the Jewellery Quarter shows that it can be done, but it is more accurate than authentic. JW Evans is a highly complex space and confined with it. The logistics of having economic numbers of visitors at the same time as operating distinctly hazardous machinery is very challenging.

    Then there are the economics of production. Even assuming that very little of the output were silver/plate, many of the things the factory is equipped to make we do not use any more, or at best have a lot less use for. Amongst the ten thousand dies there will be marketable items to be made; somebody must find what they are and then encourage the public not to buy the cheapest, mass-production versions instead. I really hope somebody can reanimate JWE, but we may have to be just grateful it's been saved for now.

  3. Thanks for that Flypress, sounds like you know the area well. I would like to know more, if you would be interested to discuss and fill me in drop me an email