William Powell & Sons – Gun & Rifle Makers – Carrs Lane – ACME
Image by ell brown
This is a former gun and rifle makers – gun shop and workshop on Carrs Lane.
When I got these shots, there was a bus stod in front of the building.
ACME – does it really exist or was it just fictional from cartoons such as the Looney Tunes?
It is a Grade II listed building.
Gun shop, workshops and living accomodation [now offices] of 1861, designed by Charles Edge [f.1827-1867].
MATERIALS: Red brick with diapered patterns in black brick and painted stone dressings.
PLAN: The street frontage is three storeys with attic and the rear, L-shaped workshop range has five floors.
EXTERIOR: The street front is rendered to the ground floor and first floor levels. The ground floor has three doorways at centre, right and left and between them are set shop windows. All of the openings have four-centred arches with deeply-incised hood moulds and label stops. The lower part of the shop windows are of C20 plate glass with modern fascia boards above, but the upper portions of the windows retain their two-light tracery and the surrounds are untouched. The left doorway has been converted to form a shop window and that to right leads to the staircase of the office chambers on the upper floors above the shops. The five first floor windows alternate between single and double-lights and have moulded surrounds and arched tympana beneath the black and red brick voussoirs. The piers between the windows have been encased in wooden panels. The four second floor windows are paired and have projecting figureheads to their tympana. Those to the third floor are sashes. A heavy cornice supports two gabled dormers with crow-stepped profile and polychromatic voussoirs to the relieving arches. The rear L-shaped workshop wing is of diapered brickwork with large windows above the work benches.
INTERIOR: The former central corridor which led to the rear courtyard has been incorporated and now forms a central arcaded colonnade, entered by the central door, to either side of which the shop interior can be reached. This has been largely re-fitted with replacement panelling to the walls and a suspended ceiling to the rear room at right. The offices are approached by an open-well staircase with stick balusters and shaped tread-ends. These upper floors retain their plan form relatively unaltered with two principal front rooms to each, although fireplaces have been removed. The architects drawings show these marked as drawing room etc. to first floor with bedrooms to the upper floors. The workshop wing at the back has ranges of large windows facing east and south and below these are work benches. There is a small forge to one room at first floor level.
HISTORY: The gun making industry in Birmingham was started in the C17 and expanded steadily through to the start of the C20. Firearms for the East India company and for slave traders were made in large numbers and guns for the army were a staple of the industry and led to the founding of the Government Viewing Room in 1798 and one of the two Proof Houses in the country for authorising guns. Powell’s trace their history to the partnership between William Powell and Joseph Simmons established in 1802 and were amongst the most prominent of the C19 gun makers. William Powell was elected Chairman of the Guardians of the Proof House where he also engaged Charles Edge to design the Proof Hole [proofing shed]. The firm made guns for the Napoleonic wars and for the American Civil War. They patented a number of inventions, including, in 1864, the Powell Snap Action and in 1866 a half-cocking mechanism.From 1861 William Powell gave his address as Carrs Lane, which implies that the acomodation was for his use. Gun-makers" did not usually manufacture the individual parts of their guns. Pieces were made by independent specialist sub-contractors. Some of these worked within the gun quarter and Showell’s Dictionary lists some fifty specialists. Assembly was done by "fabricators" or "setters-up" and the finished product was then sold by the "maker". It seems from the juxtaposition of shop and workshop at Carrs Lane that Powell’s assembled the guns themselves and then sold them through the shop, enabling them to better monitor the quality of the finished product.
SOURCES: Thomas T. Harman and Walter Showell, Showell’s Dictionary of Birmingham (1885); Andy Foster, Birmingham, Pevsner Architectural Guides (2005).
SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: This building was designed in 1860 by the noted Birmingham architect, Charles Edge, whose other listed buildings include the extension to Birmingham Town Hall [Grade I]. It houses a gun shop and associated workshops as well as accomodation [now office chambers] on the upper floors. The building has a good street front in a continental Gothic style which is little-altered, and a shop interior and accomodation which retain the essentials of their plan form. The juxtaposition of gun shop and associated workshops, where the parts made elsewhere were assembled, or "set-up" is rare and the degree of intactness in the workshop wing, with work benches and hearth still in situ, is remarkable. The building provides telling evidence of the specialist gun trade which was once such a vital part of Birmingham’s industry in the C19.
Powell’s Gun Shop dates from 1860 – 61, a late work of Charles Edge in Italian Gothic. Four storeys and dormers, rendered below red brick with blue brick patterns above, stone dressings. The ground floor originally two shops with a central rear access, has four-centred arches. Above the window arrangement narrows on each suceeding floor, creating upward movement. Many sculpted heads. The first floor projections are recent. At the rear a narrow five-storey contemporary workshop wing.
From "Pevsner Architectural Guides: Birmingham" by Andy Foster
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