997/0/10270 NEWHALL STREET
29-APR-04 Assay office
Assay Office. 1878, extended 1885, by Andrew Phipson, architect, further altered and enlarged in 1890, 1899, 1907 and 1914 to designs by Ewen Harper, architect, and again altered in 1974.
Red brick, with ashlar gritstone and polished granite dressings and detailing. Restrained Italianate style.
PLAN: Evolved, irregular U-plan, the result of 2 main building phases on 2 street frontages, the first phase comprised of offices and workshops in an L-shaped configuration, with an added frontage range with rear workshops extending westwards from its rear which formed a semi-enclosed rear yard.
EXTERIOR; Office range (to left) with symmetrical 5-bay frontage to Newhall Street of 3 storeys above a basement. Central entrance porch with balustraded parapet, and with polished granite Tuscan columns, rising from shallow plinth walls. Ashlar sandstone doorway and surround, with pilasters flanking the moulded semi-circular arch-headed doorway and half-glazed double doors. Tall flanking windows in moulded brick surrounds, with shallow segmental arched heads. Shallow pilasters with Corinthian capitals at the original cornice level define the frontage bays. Wide ashlar storey band, and moulded sill band to first floor windows with recessed brick panels between, set below semi-circular arch-headed window openings. Tripartite sash windows with intermediate slender granite columns, their foliated capitals supporting moulded lintels above which rise the brick arched heads .Above the entrance porch, flanking Corinthian columns to central first floor window support wide segmental pediment, surmounted by an entablature with the Royal Coat of Arms. Added storey of 1914, with pairs of ashlar-framed square windows below rectangular advanced brickwork panels flanking the coat of arms, and replacing the original balustraded parapet with urn finials to piers. 13-bay return elevation to Charlotte Street, the first 4 bays originally storeyed, remaining original bays single-storeyed and successively enlarged and altered to present form.
Extension of 1885 (to right) originally of 3 storeys, with later attic storey with hiped roof set behind balustraded parapet. Symmetrical elevation with slightly advanced central bay with pedimented surround carried on deep ashlar brackets. Semi-circular arch-headed opening with flanking pilasters, formerly doorway, now window . Flanking former windows, now doorways with shallow -arched heads and moulded brick surrounds with pivot overlights. Upper floor windows similarly detailed, their sills within sill band and now with C20 frames. Moulded cornice below shallow balustraded parapet with urn finials to piers.
INTERIORS: original Newhall Street range with tiled entrance lobby, and main stair hall with dado tile work and a dog-leg cantilevered stone stair with decorative cast-iron balusters and a moulded curved handrail. First floor rooms house the Boulton Collection of silver, and the Assay Office library, with wall panelling and hearth surround and overmantle, flanked by fixed shelving. Adjacent to the library, the Dining Room of the Assay Office Guardians, with moulded plaster ceiling, bolection- moulded architraves and decorative carved overmantle.
HISTORY: The Birmingham Assay Office was established in 1773, following the promotion of a Parliamentary Bill by Matthew Boulton, supported by Lord Dartmouth, and others of the local nobility and gentry, as well as fellow industrialists in Sheffield engaged in the manufacture of silver and plated wares. The first Assay Office was established in rented premises at the Kings Head, New Street, before the purchase of offices in Little Cannon Street, where the Assay Office remained until the opening of the Newhall Street site in 1878. These premises contained meeting and waiting rooms, offices, workshops and a refinery, and was later extended to provide an enlarged weighing room and additional facilities for scraping and marking. It is currently (2001) the most heavily-used assay office in Britain, handling over 12 million items of gold and silver annually.
The Birmingham Assay Office, developed on this site from 1878 is an example of a specialist historic building type, found in very few locations within England, which continues to fulfil its original function, that of validating and certifying the quality of jewellery and precious metal products made in Birmingham's specialist manufacturing district, The Jewellery Quarter, now recognised as being of international significance.