Coffin works

13-15 Fleet Street, Birmingham, B3 1JP, United Kingdom

Former Use: Coffin factory
New Use: Industrial museum and workspace for small businesses
Category: Industrial Museum, Workshop
Reuse Architect: Rodney Melville and Partners
Construction year(s): 1894 -
Reuse year(s): 2005 - 2014


Newman Brothers were established in 1882 by Alfred Newman and his brother Edwin. Originally brass founders, they predominantly made cabinet furniture until 1894, when the company moved to the present site on Fleet Street and began to specialise in the production of coffin furniture. Newman Brothers continued to specialise in this area until, due to competition from abroad and failure to modernise, they were forced out of business and ceased trading in 1998.
It was Joyce Green, the last owner of Newman Brothers, whose wish it was for the company to become a museum. After five vacant years and tireless campaigning, she sold the business to Advantage West Midlands (AWM) in 2003, on the basis that the building would not be used for residential use for a period of five years, thereby giving the project enough time to raise funds to fulfill her dream. In the same year it was featured on the BBC television series, Restoration, which drummed up even more interest in the project.
That dream appeared to be a reality when Birmingham Conservation Trust (BCT) were brought on board the same year to lead on the development of the project. But uncertainty over funding stalled the project until 2005 when further project development and a business plan could be drawn up. The project seemed to be back on track in 2006 when £1.5 Million of funding was secured, which allowed a full professional team to be appointed by 2007. Everything was moving in the right direction with listed building consent and planning permission secured in June of 2008, which set out designs to transform the Newman Brothers’ building in to a visitor attraction and a mixed-use venue of lettable studios spaces. Newman Brothers was now a designated listed building and its Grade II* status brought wider recognition to the importance of the project.
Advantage West Midlands, who owned the building and were the chief supporter of the project, had its funding withdrawn by central government in 2009 and announced that they would be unable to assist Birmingham Conservation Trust with any further grants. This was a devastating blow for the project that had already been seven years in development. But with the help of a grant from Birmingham City Council, BCT purchased the building and its contents in June 2010 from AWM. A complete re-think of the project was in order, as costs had to be reduced by half in order to secure the £2m necessary to transform the building and guarantee funding. But, with new maintenance and business plans drawn up and a successful HLF bid of just under £1 million, the project was alive and kicking once again [...].
Between July 2013 and September 2014, building contractors Fairhurst Ward Abbotts, along with architects Rodney Melville and Partners and the wider professional team contracted by Birmingham Conservation Trust, worked hard to transform Newman Brothers at the Coffin Works from a semi-derelict building into a visitor attraction and mixed-use development. This transformation has always kept the historical integrity of the building at the heart of the project, so that as many original features have been restored and retained as possible. There were some conservation challenges though.
Over this period there was lots of activity going on behind the scenes; including tours, working in schools, putting together research groups, creating resources and interpretation, and preparing for opening.[...]
The three storeys of the front range of the building have been preserved, so that it retains its many original features, resembling the space it was prior to construction when Newman Brothers were still in business. The remainder of the building has been converted into units and workspace which were almost immediately full let. (1)

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Added on 2018-05-22 by editor Dora Chatzi Rodopoulou