Gateway Object: Victorian Backplates

Two victorian backplates
drawn plans for the casting shop and other newman brothers factory buildings


These backplates are sand cast.

The Casting Shop was located on the south side of the Newman Brothers’ courtyard. This is where Newman Brothers famous high-quality brass coffin handles and backplates were made. The one-storey range containing this workshop was demolished in circa 1967 and replaced by the two-storey range we see today.


These are the oldest Newman Brothers’ backplates in the collection, dating from around the late 1890s. Some may be older, dating from Newman Brothers’ time as cabinet ‘furniture’ makers. Both coffin and cabinet handles would be mounted onto a backplate. Cabinet and coffin fittings were interchangeable. This allowed Newman Brothers to make an easy transition into the funerary trade.

The move into coffin furniture was probably financially motivated. Newman Brothers entered the funerary market at the height of the Victorian ‘cult of death.’ There was no other period when the English funeral was more lucrative. The Victorians were obsessed with social etiquette and needed to ensure that their loved ones were given a ‘good’ funeral and a respectable funeral was expensive.

For a firm of brass founders like Newman Brothers, the change from making furniture for cabinets to fittings for coffins was not difficult. If you could make a handle for a cabinet, you could make one for a coffin. Coffins and cabinets were very similar in design. The materials, manufacturing processes and machinery were the same.

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