Over the summer this year, from June to September, we have been engaged in an exciting project in the centre of Birmingham, at Newman Bros. Coffin Fitters. This work was undertaken on behalf of the Birmingham Conservation Trust, who intend to convert some of the works into a museum. The conversion will involve the reinstatement of all the fittings, furniture and other objects exactly as they were left on the day the works closed.
Ironbridge Archaeology were employed to carry out the cataloguing, recording and removal of everything that was not nailed down (and some things that were!) prior to the renovation work being carried out. In this work the team were guided by Michael Worthington the project manager, who had carried out similar projects at the Jewellery Quarter and Broseley Pipe Works, and assisted by a team of volunteers. Things were made significantly more challenging due to the strict Health and Safety measures it was necessary to carry out. Numerous heavy metals were used in the manufacturing processes used on the site, and a significant amount of asbestos boarding was used in the building. For this reason it was necessary for the cataloguing team to wear protective gloves, P3 filter face masks and coveralls. In a fit of patriotism these last items were ordered in red, white and blue!
The majority of the work required the cataloguing of boxes and boxes of coffin fittings such as breast plates, handles and coffin screws. However there were some more unusual finds such as the book of Masonic rituals, the funeral shroud in Aston Villa colours and a number of body-bags (presumably unused).