Time for a little insight into my creative family tree and a greater connection to Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter than I had ever imagined.
Since an early age mum has always encouraged me to explore my artistic nature, making art in creative ways. Dad had his input too, as a design engineer he has helped nurture my practical skill set and my passion for design. I left school wanting to do something creative and went on to do so at college. Although I explored a mixture of subjects by the end of my time there I still hadn’t quite decided upon what it was I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to design and create for a living. I had always excelled in textiles and so I was looking at studying textile based subjects at university. I also had a very strong desire to learn to make jewellery, something I had never studied although I had made a little pewter guitar once in 3D design. That was as close as I had come to working in metal. At this point I raised the idea that I would like to study at the Birmingham’s School of Jewellery, however my parents discouraged me. To be honest I don't blame them. I think they recognised I wasn't ready to home in on a particular skill at that point. They were concerned that I might narrow my options and instead encouraged me to continue to explore the art and design world further. I am so glad they did. Studying a mixed media course at the University of Wolverhampton was one of the best decisions I ever made and of course it was doing just that that led me to create the collections of etched jewellery I do today.
Much like dad, my granddad and his father too worked as an engineer. So it would seem the design flare certainly may be in my genes. But after my studies and setting up as a jeweller in the quarter I discovered that was not the only place my passion for jewellery may have come from. My granddad told me he used to work in the jewellery quarter. On the very street on which I worked. He would visit jewellers in the area such as Smith and Pepper, now the Jewellery Quarter Museum. He was working for a manufacturer of press guards that were fitted on their fly presses to prevent the loss of those precious finger tips!
But there was more still to learn about my families history within the quarter. Not only did my granddad work for a period of time in the very place that I do today but my granddads grandfather, Francis John Hanley, too worked in Birmingham, as a jeweller! How this information remained undiscovered by me and my father until I reached my 20’s is a mystery but as you can imagine this news came as an exciting surprise. I began to wonder whether it was perhaps in the genes! Or of course it could just be a great coincidence. Whatever you believe it made me happy to discover I was following in my great-great grandfathers footsteps.
Now me and my grandfather are very much intrigued by our family tree. He has been researching for years and I have been only too happy to expand that research further. In doing so we discovered something else. Not only was my great-great grandfather a jeweller but his father was too. Meaning I have a family history of jewellers stretching right back until at least 1861. And, as if this wasn't exciting enough, the family tree records revealed something else. In 1861 my great-great-great grandfather, John Hanley, at the age of just 11 was working as a jeweller alongside his eldest brother Luke. At that time they were not only living and one must assume working in the Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter but they were housed at number 22 Warstone Lane, the very street I work on today. The neighbours were jewellers too. In those days many jewellers would live alongside their workshops.
At a time when the making of jewellery was greater in Birmingham than anywhere else in the country. It is believed that in 1850 Birmingham was responsible for most of the jewellery manufactured in Britain, with half of the jewellery sold in London supplied from Birmingham. At this time boys of 14 were usually given apprenticeships and earned around 4 shillings on average. Which would increase annually until they reached 21. Would you believe they would work from 8am - 7pm? And it was also very common to work overtime on top of that? And I thought I worked long hours! It's not uncommon for me to do this but everyday?! I can imagine spending everyday like this would be hard going. By 1861, the jewellery trade employed 7500 people. The quarter reached its peak in 1914 with 20,000 employed in the area.
I believe my great grandmother, had a little time making jewellery in her early years too although that was not what she went on to do. I was never lucky enough to meet her and obviously not old enough to meet her father and his father before her but I am extremely honoured and excited to be working in an environment where they once lived and worked. I often walk round the Jewellery Quarter and think to myself how lucky I am to do what I do for a living. I am sure times were probably much harder back then. We live in a time where the world is our oyster and so many things are possible if you dedicate enough time and passion. Now I walk through the quarter and wonder what it was like back then. How different the place would have looked, what has survived that it still here today. Hopefully my research will slowly and surely in time revel more hidden treasures and the wonderful histories of this place.