Silversmith William Neale & Sons & The Birmingham Jewellery Quarter
The firm was established by William Neale in 1850 in the heart of Birmingham's jewellery quarter. Between 1860 - 1875 two ornate purpose built jewellery factories were erected at 27 - 29 Warstone Lane, as shown in the image above. Number 27 (left) was built for Edward Day, as a refining and assaying works. Number 29 was built for William Neale & Sons, who were listed as silversmiths and jewellers. The imposing premises owned by these two firms demonstrate the prosperity of the area which was fueled by the increased demand for jewellery in the mid-nineteenth century.
Number 29 is described as a High Victorian Gothic jewellery works. The impressive building stands three storeys high with painted stone dressings. The impost blocks on the ground floor are adorned with ornate carvings of acanthus leaves.
William Neale's mark was entered at the Birmingham assay office in April 1862 and at the Chester assay office in September 1882. Later the firm was known as William Neale & Sons to acknowledge the partnership of William Neale senior, William Neale junior & Arthur Neale. New larger premises were required and the firm relocated to a purpose built factory at 29 Warstone Lane, Birmingham (1896). In 1905 the firm became a limited company - William Neale & Sons Ltd. William Neale is noted for producing small to medium sized items crafted from sterling silver - cigarette and vesta cases, vanities, dressing table accessories and cased vanity sets. Ornate silver and oak picture frames, condiment sets, florid Art Nouveau pieces which include magnificent silver serving trays and nurses belt buckles. In 1910 the company moved to 34 Cox Street, St. Paul’s Square, Birmingham. In 1942 the firm was absorbed by Suckling Ltd. The marks are shown below.
ORNATE REPOUSSAGE SILVER PERFUME BOTTLE
This wonderful fully hallmarked Victorian sterling silver cased perfume bottle was crafted by William Neale. This piece was assayed at London in 1873.
A gorgeous baby blue guilloche enamel and sterling silver powder compact with the most eye-catching Art Deco design. The delightful enamel lid features a ziggurat and clam-shell like waves, representing sun rays rising from behind the magnificent structure, which is the base on which a temple would be set. The purpose of the ziggurat was to elevate the temple closer to the heavens and provide access from the ground to it via steps.
The Mesopotamians believed that these pyramid temples connected heaven and earth.
This fully hallmarked sterling silver William Neale & Sons vanity was assayed at Birmingham in 1948. The compact was originally made for loose face powder or as a handbag mirror.
This is such a traditionally stylish Art Deco design - angular shapes, chopped edges and slender in appearance.
A stunning fully hallmarked octagonal sterling silver and blue guilloche enamel loose powder compact crafted by William Neale in 1922. This super compact has the most gorgeous enamel depicting a highly stylized Art Deco sunrise. There isn't any enamel loss or fading. The lid also features a hand chased border and a double thumb catch for ease of opening. The lid lifts to reveal an excellent mirror which gives an accurate reflection. The original puff and sifter are in place. This accessory is a gorgeous and impressive handbag mirror and it is also suitable for use with all loose face powder. An immaculate pouch is included to protect this high quality vanity. All clasps and hinges work exactly as they should. The base is decorated with an engine turned design of tiny diamond shapes. Measures 2 1/2" and weighs 78.1 grams.
The Birmingham jewellery quarter is still a collection of houses and workshops to a certain extent. Many of these buildings were converted houses that were redesigned to carry on as workshops in the metal and jewellery trade almost two hundred years ago. The machinery still used to craft high quality items today often dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries, as no better machinery has been made for particular tasks. In 1913 it is estimated that 70,000 people were engaged in some capacity in the jewellery trade in Birmingham's jewellery quarter. The trade in this location dates back to medieval times. The trinkets, trinket boxes and inexpensive jewellery were often referred to as 'toys'. Gaining the quarter the sobriquet of 'the toy shop of Europe'.
Most of the makers were family firms operating from converted dwellings using hand powered machines. The larger makers would have an area to the rear of the house as a designated work place. The productivity of the makers was such that Arthur Young described the area as 'the first manufacturing town in the world' in his book 'Travel in England And Wales' (1791). The small makers continued to use hand powered tools such as the lathe, stamp and press.
The metal working machines, for example, the stamp and press were heavy and so they were usually located on the ground floor. These processes also caused considerable noise and vibrations. Stamping involved a heavy weight which was cased in an iron frame being dropped onto a metal blank in which it formed an incised pattern. Jewellers would be on the upper floors and their benches would be located near to large windows.
ELKINGTON & MASON AND COMPANY'S FACTORIES
By the 1830s the famous electroplating firms Elkington and Mason and Company occupied large factories in Newhall Street which relied on steam engines as well as hand powered machinery to turn out large quantities of silver plated goods. Note the facade of the building which looks palatial.
By the 1840s the well known Vyse Street consisted of terraced houses which were converted into workshops. Often outbuildings / workshops were constructed in the gardens to cater for the growing demand for jewellery.
The larger more successful enterprises would have ornate facades erected at the front of the premises and luxurious showrooms from which they could display and sell their pieces. Regency style facades were used to enhance the buildings until the mid-nineteenth century. Gothic styles were popular up until the late Victorian era. By the 1890s Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau frontages were fashionable.
You may be familiar with the address 17 Legge Lane, Birmingham, as seen in the advertisements associated with the brand name Gwenda. The building is shown below. It was known as the Gwenda Works, formerly the Union Works. The premises were built for the silversmith Sir Henry Manton in 1913. This building is recognised as one of the most important examples of Arts and Crafts factory architecture in the jewellery quarter of Birmingham.
One thing all the buildings in the jewellery and metal working trade had in common was large windows. The need for natural light was paramount as so much of the work was intricate and highly skilled.