Society – according to my favourite line from Burke – is a partnership between past, present and future.
Only anarchists, nihilists and teenagers think the past holds no lessons. Only the under imaginative and the overly privileged think it cannot be improved upon.
We live among our history in the Jewellery Quarter. “A small jewellery manufactory of c.1870,” reports the Historic England listing for 16 Frederick Street, the building that 1000 Trades is proud to call home. “Despite alteration, it retains the distinctive architectural and plan form characteristics which distinguish the purpose-built manufactories of this specialist manufacturing district of Birmingham, now recognised as being of international significance.”
While other cities spin beyond their substance, Birmingham’s substance outpaces its understated spin. Amazingly, at the Barber Institute, for example, it is not unusual to view works by such artistic giants as Turner, Manet and Matisse, while having the gallery to yourself.
It would be taking it too far to say, as Harold Macmillan, famously, did in 1957, we’ve never had it so good. After all, Aston Villa won the FA Cup that year and, as the second city now cannot boast a single Premier League club, we seem some distance from such footballing heights. But Birmingham, fortunately, is more than our underperforming football clubs. Much more. More than Brummies sometimes seem to realise. And a significant part of what Birmingham is, is wrapped up with the rich tapestry of the city’s history.
Some of the slogans of recent years – Make America Great Again, Take Back Control – imply that things were better in the past. Next to rusted factories, the past can seem full of achievements that will never again be scaled. We should seek, though, to be inspired, not overawed, by our past.
After securing £1.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the Jewellery Quarter Townscape Heritage programme, we look forward to more of this inspiration coming round our way. Making the Jewellery Quarter great again is, in part, about finding new ways to appreciate how great it already is. As the programme enhances visitor engagement with heritage, we are excited about it doing this.