The Argent Centre: Restoring a key historic cornerstone for modern use

The Jewellery Quarter contains many fascinating buildings, one of which is the landmark Argent Centre. 

This Grade II* listed gem, originally known as Albert Works, has a unique history. It was built in 1862 by local architect John George Bland for William Edward Wiley as a factory making pens and pencils. The building also housed Turkish baths on the upper floors of the four-storey wing on Frederick Street.

The Turkish baths cleverly utilised the waste steam from the factory engines below and were lavishly decorated with marble seating and stained-glass windows. There were suites for working men, gentlemen and ladies which were arranged over three floors with separate male and female entrances.

The baths remained open until 1870 when Wiley’s factory merged with other local companies to form Perry & Co Ltd. By 1983, only a small area of the original floor tiling remained of the original Turkish Bath.

The building was constructed in such a way that it could be easily extended and added to over the years. Such an addition was made in 1915 when it was extended to the west, and extended further still with an additional floor added in the 20th century.

Within the Jewellery Quarter, the building is well known for its ornate architectural detailing, with chequered brick arches and the use of different coloured brickwork to create an elegant visual effect.

Over the years, the building has seen many changes in use, from its original use as a pen factory, to a warehouse for scientific equipment! Nowadays, the building is known and loved as the Argent Centre, owned by Midlands Industrial Association Ltd, and houses small businesses along with the JQ’s very own Pen Museum.

Most recently, the Argent Centre has been awarded the very first grant from the Jewellery Quarter Townscape Heritage project. This grant will allow restoration work to be completed on the building that includes:

  • Repointing and repairing the brickwork and stone detailing
  • Refurbishing the cast iron windows
  • Reinstating the pyramid quarter turrets evidenced in contemporary drawings of the building

This work will help protect the building for the future and showcase the architectural beauty of this key historic cornerstone of the JQ.

Alison Walker from the Argent Centre says,

“The Argent Centre is an important place for small businesses who need a high-profile image at a modest cost. There are a diverse range of businesses operating from the Argent Centre including web designers, security company, chocolatier, photographers, jewellery designers, martial arts dojo, the Pen Museum, of course, and even a master puppet maker! We are pleased to restore the frontage of this important Grade II* building to its former glory with assistance from the Jewellery Quarter Townscape Heritage project.”

The Jewellery Quarter Townscape Heritage (JQTH) project is a three-year scheme funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and other partners. It aims to regenerate an area within the Jewellery Quarter’s ‘industrial middle’ through the repair and restoration of historic buildings and the delivery of events and activities for all. Find out more about the project on their website, th.jewelleryquarter.net.

Read additional articles from issue 8 of JQ Life Magazine online.

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