Green door, what’s that secret you’re keeping?

According to the 1956 hit song, ‘there’s an old piano and they play it hot behind the green door’. It’s a tune that was running through my head as I approached a battered green door in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. However, rather than finding a smoke-filled speakeasy, I discovered an entirely different world of wonders: a perfectly preserved 130-year-old jewellery manufactory.

It’s a typical Birmingham experience. In every part of the city you can wander down a seemingly half-abandoned street, only to stumble across something extraordinary. In this case it’s the Grade II* listed Alabaster & Wilson factory on Legge Lane. It’s also typical of Birmingham that it’s a name barely anyone recognises, even though the company made jewellery for such lofty figures as Princess Diana and the Queen. The business closed four years ago, not because they didn’t have customers, but because an offer was made on the building and almost everyone working there was due to retire.

However, one jeweller remains. Patrick Lambert continues to work at the top of the stairs on the first floor, acting as a kind of custodian while a future for the building it sought. He is a master craftsman and is also far too humble, which in itself is another typically Brummie quality. Patrick very generously spent about three hours showing me around the factory, regaling me with stories of its past, and letting me into some of the secrets of the trade. What struck me most was when he breezily admitted that “nobody gets rich making jewellery”. In fact, he’s often had to work second jobs in pubs or at the airport to make ends meet.

Patrick Lambert, the last jeweller still working at Alabaster & Wilson.

It’s this I hope to distil into my 10-minute play for Gem of a Place, which I’m thrilled to say will be performed inside the Alabaster & Wilson factory, a building that is rarely open to the public. Without gritty, unprepossessing streets like Legge Lane and without brilliant unsung artisans just like Patrick, London jewellers wouldn’t have made their profits and the great and the good wouldn’t have been able to sparkle and shine. And that’s typically Brummagem too.

So don’t miss this opportunity to go behind the green door and discover an extraordinary hidden world for yourself. Tickets are on sale now! Tim Stimpson

Gem of a Place runs for 18 performances only: 9, 10, 11, 16, 17 & 18 September at 11:30am, 2pm & 5pm. It is presented as part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival and Birmingham Heritage Week.

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