If the historic hotchpotch of listed buildings, boutiques, bars, restaurants, galleries and museums that is the Jewellery Quarter was in most other cities, they’d never stop polishing one off about it. According to English Heritage, Europe’s largest cluster of jewellery businesses is a ‘national treasure’. But to Brummies – those shoulder-shrugging masters of the colossal understatement, bestowed with oodles of knockout Birmingham pubs and high-class restaurants – it’s just ‘alright’.
Locals take it in their stride that people have been making shiny things here for more than 500 years, or that it was once the centre of a global pen nib trade that brought literacy, academia and schoolkid subversion to the world.
It’s the home of ACME whistles, which you’ll know the sound of if you’ve ever been to a football match or been chased by a Victorian policeman. And according to legend, it was from the Jewellery Quarter that the Kray twins were given their marching orders out of Brum, although probably not before they’d been sold a sovereign ring or four.
Cut off from the city centre, Berlin-wall style, by the ring road, the JQ has an urban village atmosphere. From the serenity of St Paul’s Church, in the city’s last remaining Georgian square, to the bustle of Constitution Hill, it’s a place to work, play, linger and explore. In short, it’s pure gold.
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Top things to do in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham
Guzzle a flagon of mead at The Vanguard, which claims to be the UK's first cocktail bar and meadery.
Raise a pint of Black Country Ales’ Fireside bitter by a real open fire at The Jewellers’ Arms, the historic haunt of many a local artisan.
Indulge in a gin-tasting session at 40 St Paul’s, one of the country’s best gin bars.
With so much more than jerk chicken on offer, the Jamaican menu at Devon House brings a much-underrated cuisine to life. Choose the sea bass and don’t look back.
Mackerel, cucumber and English wasabi is a highlight at Folium, run by Lucy Hanlon and chef Ben Tesh, who cut his teeth at the mighty Noma in Copenhagen.
From full English breakfasts to nasi lemak, explore the Anglo-Asian menu at the tiny Lisa & Pann’s Kitchen.
Make your own pen nib or attend a calligraphy workshop at The Pen Museum, the only one in the UK.
Visit the museum of the workshops that made coffin furniture for Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother at Newman Brothers Coffin Works.
Enter the lost world of traditional Birmingham jewellery manufacturing at the JW Evans Silver Factory.
One-of-a-kind handmade bags, purses and accessories made with leather and fabric cast-offs by designer Gosia Weber.
Bag a loaf of locally made Peel & Stone sourdough and other artisanal goodies at The Eight Foot Grocer deli/pantry.
From Black Sabbath to Bowie, treat yourself to some original album art, a photograph or a quirky music artefact at St Pauls Gallery.
Whether it’s rings, bracelets, trinkets or charms you’re after, Artfull Expression showcases original work from more than 60 local designers and jewellers.