By Holly Williams, research volunteer
The Squirrel Works is a Grade II listed, former silver factory built in 1912 for SJ Levi and Company, who were well-known manufacturers of silver and silver plate goods. SJ Levi and Co were known for their production of high-quality silverware including cigarette cases, bowls, bottle holders, napkin rings and vases, which were manufactured under the ‘squirrel’ brand. As well as appearing as part of their hallmark and was marked on the bottom of many of their goods, the Squirrel appears on the original sign over the main entrance to the building, which remains to this day.
The building itself exhibits dark red brickwork with terracotta detailing, which is synonymous of the Jewellery Quarter, with a rectangular courtyard layout, entrance to the street and workshop ranges to the rear which enclose the rectangular courtyard, now roofed over. The existing building has been subject to numerous alterations over the century since it was constructed. The most significant of these is the enclosure of the central courtyard above the lower ground floor as aforementioned and the rooftop extension often described as the ‘white box’ on top.
Newspaper archival records show a number of further businesses occupying the premises once SJ Levi and Company vacated, including an entry for a ‘Desmond Cooper & Co of 32 Regent Place, Hockley’ in a 1966 copy of the Birmingham Daily Post (see clipping).
Prior to the construction of the existing building for SJ Levi & Co, the site was occupied by a number of residential properties on the frontage of Regent Place, with a courtyard to the rear and associated factory/workshop. This is depicted by the engraving of 1863 (see photo) of Thomas Aston and Son, who were goldsmiths, jewellers and silversmiths and inhabited the site from approximately 1841 to the late 1800s. The domestic origins of the street frontage are clearly depicted in this drawing, with the courtyard behind leading to the manufactory of the business itself.
In the early 1800s, extensive parks and gardens occupied the site and were presumably associated with the large houses which dominated the landscape surrounding Regent Place and leading to Vittoria Street, the extent of which is shown on a Map of Birmingham by J. Pigott Smith in 1828 (see below).
Site and Building Timeline
Site originally features large parks and gardens (see Map of Birmingham 1824 below). The area surrounding Regent Place and Vittoria Street was dominated by large houses and gardens.
Site occupied by a number of smaller residential properties with four main frontages visible from Regents Place (see 1890 plan).
Occupation of the site by Thomas Aston and Son, Goldsmiths, Silversmiths and Jewellers, with courtyard and workshop to the rear.
Planning consent granted for the demolition of the original buildings on site and construction of a new purpose-built three-storey manufactory designed by architect John G. Dunn, who was based on Newhall Street.
Occupation of Squirrel Works by SJ Levi and Company, silver manufacturers and with whom the ‘Squirrel’ brand is synonymous
Construction of an additional storey which is still in place today.
Assigned Grade II listed status by Historic England.
Restoration and conversion of the Squirrel Works into apartments and ground-floor office space, by Sjolander da Cruz architects and LIV Projekt.