Crockett & Jones

History of Retail - Birmingham

This week, we explore the history of Birmingham, and the back story of our two shops there. The city might be a retail hub today, but it was built by the Industrial Revolution…

History of Retail - Birmingham

Birmingham occupies a unique position in the world of British commerce. Today, it’s the second largest city in the UK, and one of the country’s largest markets for consumer goods, but the city wasn’t built on consumer-facing retail.

Nicknamed ‘the workshop of the world’ during the Industrial Revolution, historically, Birmingham was a manufacturing hub, known for the production of everything from cars to munitions. It’s a picture painted only too well by the brooding urban landscape in the BBC’s hit period drama, Peaky Blinders, the first season of which is set in Birmingham in the 1910s – all fire and brimstone, and factories.

The city also sits at the centre of the UK’s Midland coal fields, and most of the coal that powered the south of England during the 20th century was transported through the city’s manufacturing districts via rail and an extensive canal network; the procession of coal trains and river barges through the city was commonplace for over a century between the 1850s and 1960s.

After manufacturing prosperity follows an increased demand for luxury goods – so economists say – and slowly but steadily, Birmingham’s manufacturing power has morphed into a gargantuan retail hub. Today, Crockett & Jones plays some small part in this, with our two shops on Colmore Row and Burlington Arcade (not to be confused with our Burlington Arcade shop in London).

The Burlington shop is relatively new. It opened in 2017, and is similar to our London stores in terms of its interior look and feel. The Colmore Row store is a little older. We opened the shop in 2006, replacing The Anatomical Boot & Shoe Co., a defunct bespoke shoemaker that opened on the street in the 1920s.

Colmore Row itself is one of the most distinguished streets in Birmingham’s old town – a tree-lined boulevard, lined with a parade of grand early 19th century limestone-built shops. It was designated a national conservation area in 1971, thanks in no small part to its 23 Grade I and II listed buildings, all of which are early Victorian.

Perhaps the most striking property on the street is Birmingham’s famous Grand Hotel, which our shop sits directly beneath. It was designed in 1875 by architect Thomson Plevins, and opened in 1879 with no small amount of fanfare, and was the go-to stopping point for weary travellers descending from their trains at Snow Hill station nearby. It closed in 2002 and has since been completely redeveloped into The Grand, a multifaceted space that houses a mixture of retail outlets and offices.

Of course, life moves on, and we were saddened to be replacing another old shoemaker when we opened the Colmore Row store. But today, we’re both pleased and proud that Crockett & Jones now keeps the flag flying for English shoemaking in the heart of this great city.