Ruby Compton-Davies is a proud adoptee of Birmingham and believes the buzz of Brum is something everybody should appreciate. In 2016 Ruby co-founded the walking tour company, Real Birmingham, and has since delighted thousands of guests with tales of the UK’s second city.
You won’t find many more hidden gems than in Birmingham’s very own Jewellery Quarter! This urban walk was one of my favourites to pen as the route allows you to explore the history of the neighbourhood that was so important in establishing Birmingham as the “City of a Thousand Trades”.
What makes Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter so special?
The Jewellery Quarter is enriched with history and widely regarded as the birthplace of industry for Birmingham. As the Industrial Revolution took over Birmingham and beyond, by 1880 there were over 700 jewellery workshops in this area – some of which still exist today. As you navigate the streets of the JQ, you can really appreciate how its industrial heritage has been forged to become a hallmark of this wonderful city. For me, this accentuates its charm as these traditional workshops are now surrounded by an amalgamation of the newer aspects of Birmingham, demonstrating its undeniable ever-evolving nature as a city.
It is also - in my opinion - one of the most aesthetic areas of the City Centre, characterised by its beautiful red brick buildings with the green square of St. Paul’s at its heart. There is so much going on here that it is impossible to not enjoy a visit to the JQ; from gastronomic delights to revered watering holes, and from physical relics of the past to the resting places of significant historical figures still impacting on our present - the JQ really embodies the “forward” thinking mindset of Birmingham, without losing sight of its founding factors.
When I arrived in Birmingham as a trainee teacher, my first home was on the edges of the Jewellery Quarter. For me, this area evokes a lot of memories from when I was getting to grips with the demands of the teaching profession. Many of my fellow trainees also lived around here and many a weekend was spent in this area. Either wandering past the cemeteries to meet for a drink and an offload about our schools at the Rose Villa Tavern. Or giggling as a slightly tipsy gaggle through St. Paul’s Square, via The Actress & Bishop on our way to dance the night away at some of the lesser esteemed haunts of the City Centre. Or dropping into (and once winning!) the nationally acclaimed pub quiz at The Queens Arms. Or mustering up what remained of my end-of-term energy to head to The Jam House for some live music with colleagues. In my early twenties, the JQ offered it all; it was the perfect bridge between being young and having fun and feeling like someone embarking on a “proper grown up” career.
I knew of a lot of its history anecdotally but it wasn’t until we started writing this book that I researched the area more thoroughly. One of the most striking things, I found, was the sheer number of influential figures buried at the two cemeteries, Key Hill and Warstone Lane. Scrolling through pages of death records led me down some seriously interesting internet rabbit-holes. Here, you have the more obvious political stars such as the Chamberlains or the ingenious inventors such as Alfred Bird (custard) and Thomas Gem (tennis) but the most impressive, I feel, are the pioneering Victorian women of Birmingham: the women who were laid to rest as equals next to the pioneering men of the same time. The stories of women such as Marie Bethall Beauclerc (first female reporter), Harriette Grundy (first Headmistress of King Edward’s Grammar School) and Harriet Martineau (first female sociologist) particularly intrigued me as an educator and sociology graduate. Birmingham’s innovative energy is something that was established over a hundred years ago by some incredible people and continues to live on today.
For a city born out of a desire to develop, the “Diamonds, Coffins and Clocks” walk showcases it all, in my opinion. The twinkling gems of the past still strongly hold their place in this modern landscape resulting in both the Jewellery Quarter and Birmingham maintaining its incongruous allure.
A-Z Birmingham Hidden Walks is the perfect way to explore the city in a new light. It features 20 walking routes in and around the city, including lesser-known gems and popular circuits.