The company was founded by Benjamin Woolfield in 1786. It was established in Harper’s Hill House (15 – 17 Regent Place). In 1840 Mr C W S Deakin took control with his business partner Mr C W B Moore. On the latter’s retirement. Mr. S. H. Deakin joined his uncle, and this partnership continued until Mr. Deakin, senior, gave up his interest. Mr. H. Francis then joined Mr. S. H. Deakin, and the firm has since traded under the name of Deakin and Francis.
The business is now led by James and Henry Deakin, the 7th generation of Deakin’s at the helm.
When Harper’s Hill House was built, and occupied by James Watt, it stood on its own plot, with its entrance gate on James Street, and a sweeping drive up to the house. The area had yet to become industrialised. From here, Watt designed many of his most significant inventions.
The refurbishment in 1905-6, (related specifically to No 17 Regent Place) by Martin and Martin, architects of Birmingham, for Deakin and Francis, Jewellery Manufacturers, incorporated earlier structures, including part of a house of 1824 which had been converted to industrial use, and additions of 1887-1902
The 1905-6 development was considered to be an advanced factory design, which provided open plan, double depth workshop facilities with natural light from both side walls and roof lights allowing jewellers’ boards to be placed in the centre of the workshops as well as along the side walls. This then state- of-the-art complex was equipped with telephones, an advanced central heating system and compressed air for the blow pipes used for soldering. The frontage and rear ranges were interconnected.
The building was further extended between 1910 and 1914. A purpose -built jewellery manufactory made up of offices, warehousing and shopping and designed in the Arts and Craft Free style so strongly represented in Birmingham. This little-altered site displays the distinctive characteristics associated with late C19 and early C20 manufactories in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, now recognised as an historic manufacturing district of international significance.
The impact of the Great War
Deakin and Francis, like so many others, experienced the human impact of the First World War as well as the economic. In the Birmingham Mail, 07 June 1915, it was reported that Captain J. Francis, who was 28 years of age, son of Mr. J H. Francis, Westbourne Road, Edgbaston of the firm of Deakin and Francis, electroplaters, Birmingham was shot dead by a German sniper on June 4. Mr. Francis was described as an enthusiastic officer, popular with all ranks. The captain was a man of splendid physique, and will be remembered as a member of the Rugby club.
Deakin and Francis also suffered the loss of employees. In the Birmingham Mail, 15 August 1915, it was reported that a Mrs Page from Selly oak received notice of the death of her only son aged 19, Private John Page, employed by Deakin and Francis. The Birmingham Daily Post , 20 September 1916 reported the death in action of Sergeant W E Bennett, also employed by Deakin & Francis
Crime reports related to Deakin and Francis
Widely reported across many regional newspapers was a robbery which took place at the British Industries Fair, Olympia, London in February 1937. It was the first robbery in the Fair’s history.
The stand occupied by the firm of Deakin and Francis, forming part of the composite exhibits by 70 firms who are members of Birmingham Jewellers’ and Silversmiths’ Association, had been broken into. The doors were forced and thieves took between £60 and £70 worth of silver cigarette cases. ” I don’t know why they didn’t take anything else,” said an official of the firm. Possibly it is because they were more portable. ” The gold cigarette-cases had not yet been moved in.” (As reported in the Birmingham Daily Gazette – Tuesday 16 February 1937)
Theft whilst travelling (As reported in the Birmingham Daily Gazette – Saturday 29 October 1955)
Police seeking a gem gang were investigating a theory that a jewel gang is at work waylaying Midland jewellers travelling north on business. and robbing them of gem samples worth thousands of pounds. The latest raid, reported yesterday, is the theft of £5,000 worth of jewellery from a car in Chester. The owner. a representative of Deakin & Francis, found his leather Jewel case missing from his car which he had parked in the driveway of a friend’s house. Missing were signet rings, cuff links. brooches, bracelets and ear-rings. An official of Deakin and Francis Ltd. said yesterday: “There have been a number of thefts of this nature. Our man may have been followed for weeks by whoever did the job.”
Skilled labour shortage as demand for jewellery increases in the 1930’s
The Birmingham Daily Gazette – Tuesday 14 November 1933 – reported a story on Christmas rush for Jewellery and the need for more labour, suggesting a change in fortunes after the slump.
It reported how the various branches of the Birmingham jewellery trade are benefiting by the general improvement in trade. There was a particular demand for girls with a knowledge of press work. A member of the firm of Deakin and Francis Ltd., said trade was better to-day than it had been for the last three or four years. Like other firms they were experiencing difficulty in getting the orders for Christmas out owing to the shortage of skilled labour, many of the skilled workers having settled down in the motor and other metal trades.
J A Vann – long serving Managing Director at Deakin and Francis
Birmingham Daily Post – Saturday 07 January 1961 reported that J A Vann had completed 70 years with Deakin & Francis, being Managing Director since 1932. Aged 84, he was in the office every morning from 8.30 – 6pm.
Fire at Deakin and Francis
The Birmingham Daily Post – Monday 19 December 1977, reported that a fire at Deakin and Francis swept through the ground floor of the workshop causing 10,000 pounds worth of damage. Crews and a team with breathing apparatus put out the fire after an hour. The polishing shop was destroyed
Links (Literally and metaphorically) Down Under
The Birmingham Daily Post – Friday 15 January 1960 – ran a story of a Mayoral order from Australia.
“A Birmingham Jewellery firm. Deakin and Francis Ltd., of Regent Place. have completed a mayoral chain, worth between £200 and £300.for the Mayor of Grafton, in New South Wales, Australia. The firm received the order after an advertisement had been published in Australia showing the Lord Mayor of Birmingham in his robes and chain”.
Closer to home, in 2019 Deakin & Francis reported on the Company’s role in restoring the Chain of Office for Birmingham’s Lord Mayor.
The earliest record of the site when it was known as Harper’s Hill House
Harper's Hill House was occupied by the inventor James Watt. He stayed there until 1790
Deakin & Francis , now the oldest family-run jewellers business in the UK, used a converted part of the building as their factory and offices
A major building renovation, the building was converted into that which remains much the same today
The building was granted Grade II listed status
Discover the personal stories connected to Deakin and Francis, through the JQ People's Archive