J. W. Evans: A Snapshot in Time

Silversmithing in the 19th century

English Heritage

Jenkins Family Photograph (c.1902)Original Source: J. W. Evans

J. W. Evans and Sons: A Family Business

In 1881, J. W. Evans Silversmiths was founded. Rescued by English Heritage in 2008, it survives as one of the most complete historic factories in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter.

In 1881, Jenkin William Evans set up business in a converted terrace house in central Birmingham.

His talents as a businessman meant that by 1902, he had extended across a further four properties.

Drawing of Jewellery, 19th century, Original Source: J. W. Evans
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Evans was a talented artist, training at the Birmingham School of Art. He used these skills to develop his career after he completed his apprenticeship in the Jewellery Quarter.

Drawing of Foliage, 19th century, Original Source: J. W. Evans
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A study of a candlestick, c.1870s-1880s, Original Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY
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Evans’ flair for design and knowledge of silver-working enabled him to develop J. W. Evans into a successful business.

Moulds on Shelves at J. W. EvansOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

On the factory floor, Jenkin designed (and often made) his own patterns and stamps.

Moulds on Shelves at J. W. EvansOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

From 1881 to 2008, the Evans factory retained and archived every single pattern, die (or former) and tool they used.

Working Space, J. W. EvansOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

This remarkably complete and varied collection shows the changing fortunes and fashions within the silverware industry through the history of a remarkable family business.

J. W. Evans Silver Factory (1881-2008) by Jenkin EvansOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

The factory produced a huge range of tableware, jewellery and novelty items, particularly in the years leading up to the First World War.

At this time the Evans factory was designing and producing hundreds of original patterns and dies a year.

Letter OpenersOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

Design and Production

The tools and records of the J. W. Evans business offer insights into the craft of silver-working. 

J. W. Evans Silver Factory (1881-2008) by Jenkin EvansOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

Jenkin Evans kept very detailed business records of what was produced, including account books and personal business correspondence.

These exist in both physical form...

Pages of Die Book, 1902, Original Source: J. W. Evans
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... and through archives and printed catalogues.

There are records of every design, carefully sketched and labelled in Indian ink.

Pages of Die Book, 1902, Original Source: J. W. Evans
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A Die, 19th-20th century, Original Source: J. W. Evans
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Sheets of silver were stamped into these dies to make ‘pressings’

A Die and Impressed Mould, 1902, Original Source: J. W. Evans
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Women at Fly Press (c.1902)Original Source: J. W. Evans

These were then ‘cut out’ using a fly press and cutting tool to get rid of the spare metal.

This work was generally done by women while the stamping was done by men.

Bowing Shelves (19th-20th century)Original Source: J. W. Evans

The shelves of the workshop groan under the weight of the tools.

The dies and cutting tools were used with these machines. They were operated by workers who were trained through apprenticeships to carry out specific jobs.

Sections of Mould for a Corinthian Candlestick (19th-20th century)Original Source: J. W. Evans

A number of these pressings could then be soldered together...

Night Cap Mould, J. W. EvansOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

... and made up ‘in the rough’ giving a recognisable 3D object.

TrayOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

The objects would also need to be plated and polished before being returned to the retailer for selling.

Moulds on Shelves at J. W. EvansOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

It was a complex process and required a large workforce, with a varied range of skills.

J.W. Evans Silver Factory, BirminghamOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

As this video featuring Tony Evans, grandson of Jenkin Evans, demonstrates, making a candlestick was not as simple as it might appear.

Silverware DisplayOriginal Source: J. W. Evans

The Finished Article

From candlesticks to teapots to mustard pots, J. W. Evans would supply it.

Candlesticks, 19th-20th century, Original Source: J. W. Evans
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Silver candlesticks were one of the most frequently made items.

Designs varied from plain to exotic and some proved more popular than others.

Candlestick, Original Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY
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This Corinthian candlestick continued in popularity throughout the factory’s history.

BowlOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

The Evans factory also created practical objects which were still beautiful enough to grace the smartest tables. Wine coolers and coasters protected the table from spillages or water marks.

A Selection of SpoonsOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

J. W. Evans made a variety of silverware, but on occasion they did buy items in.

From the business records we know all the miniature condiment spoons were supplied by a separate, specialist manufacturer.

Stamped Rams HeadsOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

As well as complete pieces, they produced decorative elements such as these rams' heads...

Stamped Lion HeadsOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

... or even a lion's head!

Both would have been added to a round silver bowl to hold the ringed handles.

Pressed Moulds, J. W. EvansOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

A variety of animals in cheaper base metal can be seen on a sample card. These samples enabled customers to choose a design and size perfect for their object.

Miniature Tea Set, J. W. EvansOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

As well as the popular and practical there is also a more whimsical, lighthearted side to Evans' products.

Pictured here is a miniature tea set fully equipped with a tray, tea pot, coffee pot, milk jug and sugar bowl and presented in a velvet lined box.

Night CapOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

Another novelty item was this silver nightcap, which when turned upside down could hold a surprisingly large measure of alcohol.

The idea was that one could take a silver nightcap to bed, filled with a ‘nightcap’, to ensure a sound night’s sleep.

DishOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

This salt cellar (dish) in the shape of a shell had a glass insert to stop the salt damaging the silver surface.

Pedestal DishOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

This is a Victorian-style pedestal dish with dolphin and shell details.

JugOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

Although pressings were mass produced, every object would be made up and finished by hand to a very high standard.

This creative flair enabled J. W. Evans to continue in business for 120 years.

Sugar Shaker (19th-20th century)Original Source: J. W. Evans

These differing sugar shakers show variations in size and design.

This was important as J. W. Evans supplied to a wide range of manufacturers, and each would want a slightly different design to their competitor.

Conserve As Found

English Heritage had already carried out a survey of J. W. Evans and other important Jewellery Quarter buildings during the late 1990s. It was only when the factory finally closed in 2008 that English Heritage became responsible for its care, and the extent and importance of the collection was fully appreciated.  

The variety of objects uncovered at J. W. Evans spanned the history of the business, with drawers, shelves and whole rooms packed to bursting point.

English Heritage’s challenge was to catalogue and conserve them, keeping them exactly as they were found.

View from a Window, J. W. EvansOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

A major conservation project was necessary, and was carried out from 2008 to 2011. It was clear that certain issues had to be dealt with, such as leaking roofs and gutters, broken windows, rickety shelves, not to mention a resident flock of pigeons!

The method of retaining the atmosphere of the property but still making it weathertight developed over time.

J. W. Evans Silver Factory (1881-2008) by Jenkin EvansOriginal Source: J. W. EVANS SILVER FACTORY

With collections in every available gap, a comprehensive programme of repairs and documentation began.

This included totally reroofing each workshop while all the objects stayed in place, protected by sealed scaffolding decks and plywood boxes.

Despite looking very little changed, the factory has been extensively conserved. In this room the wallpaper, wall and ceiling plaster have been stabilised and the external wall has been reinforced.

The charm of J. W. Evans is its character, the feeling of an untouched space. The very essence of the place has seeped into these rooms.

Group Photograph of Stamp Shop Workers (c.1902)Original Source: J. W. Evans

A space almost untouched by time remains.

Carrying out major building works without removing objects did make the process more complex.

The tottering piles of stampings, cluttered workbenches with their tools and paraphernalia and hidden corners all had to be left undisturbed.

Despite the difficulty, English Heritage chose to ‘conserve as found’ so that visitors could continue to experience this industry and feel a connection with the workers who used these spaces.

Group Photograph of Workers at J. W. Evans (c.1902)Original Source: J. W. Evans

This image of four drop stampers is from an original glass negative and was taken by Harold (Jenkin Evans’ son).

Tools at the WindowOriginal Source: J. W. Evans

Each room is preserved as if the last worker has downed tools, tidied their bench and clocked out. 

Sign (19th-20th century)Original Source: J. W. Evans

Credits: Story

Contributors
Bethan Stanley, Rose Arkle

Visit J. W. Evans Silver Factory

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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