If you are wanting a bit of a different day out, I’d suggest visiting the Coffin Works, Fleet Street, Birmingham. The museum is situated on the edge of the city centre and is walkable from Snow Hill (closest), New Street and Moor Street stations. It’s also easily reachable on foot from most bus terminuses in the city centre. There is parking near by and you can also walk along the canal to the museum from Brindley Place or the Mailbox. The museum have a number of arrangements with local businesses for discounts on food or hotel stays when visiting the area. The museum is generally open Wednesday to Sunday, but check their site for opening hours before you visit. Disabled access is available and there is a lift to all floors.
The Coffin Works was the headquarters and manufacturing centre of the Newman Brothers. Making high quality cast brass coffin fittings and other coffin furniture, the coffin works didn’t actually make coffins (coffins were much more usually made by local carpenters), but provided most of the items that were fitted to the coffin either internally or externally. The firm ceased trading in 1998 and the building was later renovated by the Birmingham Conservation Trust before being opened as a museum.
Your visit will be by guided tour with about 15 of you on a tour. I suggest that you book in advance if you are going on a weekend or have a larger group. Whilst you are waiting for your tour to start you can browse in the shop, use the cafe or get your time card stamped by the old fashioned clocking in machine. I’ve been to the museum twice in the last couple of years: once with an adult group and the other time with family members with children from 8 to 14. The length of the tour (just short of an hour) was about right for children that age. It is an unusual museum, but it’s not scary, just matter of fact about the funeral business.
As you go round from one area of the factory to another you find out about different aspects of the trade and also follow the fortunes of the company through its over one hundred year history. On the ground floor there are a number of areas associated with making handles, decorations, nameplates, etc. You get to see some of the machinery in action and get an understanding of the way these items were made and finished.
The factory produced an enormous array of high quality, metal coffin furniture, but the firm also sold plastic fittings which were more suitable to the cremation trade. They didn’t make these items from scratch, but bought them in.
As well as the external coffin furniture the company produced linings and shrouds for their customers. It was interesting to see the selection available from sample books used by traveling salesmen for the company.
You also get to see the office of the factory with its old fashioned equipment like this Gestetner, the photocopier equivalent of its day.
It’s a very interesting place to visit and I would recommend it as I don’t think you’ll find another museum quite like it.
If you are looking for other places to visit in and around Birmingham, you might want to consider a trip to Aston Halll.