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Coffin Works’ Covid Recovery Barrelling Along

By August 19, 2020No Comments

As part of our reopening, the Coffin Works’ team have ambitious plans to return more of the authentic sounds and sights of manufacturing to Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, and they need your help!


The sound of our barrels, used to polish coffin handles, would once have resonated throughout the Newman Brothers’ Coffin Works‘ courtyard. We want to motorise them and bring them back to life, to provide visitors with an even more immersive experience of what it would have been like to walk into the factory 100 years ago.   As we change our model in the wake of Covid-19, it is vital that we provide the very best for our visitors, to keep them coming back, and this is key to our plans.  We even have some exciting and exclusive rewards to thank our kind supporters.

In response to Covid-19, we are having to change our visitor experience from guided tour to self-guided tour and we want the museum to be as interactive as possible for visitors. This is why we want to get our barrels moving! We recently received funding to help us create a mobile museum tour for self-guided visits, but the grant doesn’t pay for any mechanical work. With your help, we could buy a motor to get one of our barrels working again, as well as fund the installation and associated way finding and interpretation. That’s why we’re looking to make £4,500 to pay for this work.

Hidden in the Newman Brothers’ cellar sits the original Barrelling Shop.  The barrels were crucial to Newman Brothers’ success as a casting company as they were used to smooth out and clean the brass work that the company became famous for. Since at least the 1920s, the barrels, otherwise known as electric tumblers were used to smoothen the surfaces of the coffin fittings. They were noisy and relentless, as they continuously spun for a number of hours in the ‘rotating drums’.  This is where, for instance George V, George VI and Queen Mary’s coffin furniture would have been polished.

Since 2014, the heart of our rescue campaign has been preserving and restoring the original machinery, dating from 1894.  Originally the barrels were powered by a belt run by a gas engine, and later an electric motor.  We need a modern motor to be fitted, to allow the barrels to run, and allow visitors the see and hear how the process worked. It will return life to the oldest remnants of the industrial buildings to the [south] of our historic courtyard.

You can help us to roll out the barrels by supporting our crowdfunding campaign.

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