Birmingham, United Kingdom, a city steeped in history and innovation, hosts an array of captivating historic sites and heritage buildings. Known as the heart of the Midlands, Birmingham boasts a remarkable tapestry of architectural wonders, reflecting its rich past and vibrant present.
From its iconic Town Hall, an exemplary piece of Victorian architecture, to the regal Birmingham City Council House, the city exudes a blend of grandeur and historic significance.
Amidst its bustling streets lie hidden gems like 17 & 19 Newhall Street, once The Bell Edison Telephone Building, and the historic Birmingham Curzon Street railway station, embodying the city’s industrial heritage.
The Hall of Memory, New Hall Manor, and The Barber Institute of Fine Arts stand as testament to Birmingham’s cultural depth. Further exploration unveils architectural marvels like The Victoria Law Courts and the charming New Hall Mill.
As we embark on this journey, we’ll navigate through a treasure trove of heritage, exploring gems such as The Old Crown and St Mary’s Convent in Handsworth, discovering the rich history etched in every corner of Birmingham.
The Birmingham Town Hall
The Birmingham Town Hall, an iconic Grade I listed building opened in 1834, sits proudly in Victoria Square. Following an extensive renovation from 2002 to 2007, it now hosts a diverse array of events, ranging from classical concerts and organ recitals to spoken word performances, conferences, and fashion shows.
Initially conceived as a venue for the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival and public gatherings, the hall’s construction was the result of a design competition that attracted submissions from prominent architects like Charles Barry.
Eventually, Joseph Hansom and Edward Welch were chosen as architects, envisioning a building with Roman architectural influences, specifically the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Roman Forum. However, financial difficulties during construction delayed its completion, with Hansom facing bankruptcy.
Tragedy struck during construction when a crane accident claimed the lives of two workers. Despite these setbacks, the hall opened in 1834 and quickly became a cultural hub, hosting significant events like Charles Dickens’ public readings and premieres of classical works.
Over the years, the Town Hall witnessed historical events, including public protests and coronation celebrations, reflecting the city’s diverse social and cultural fabric. Its popularity extended to hosting renowned artists like The Beatles and Pink Floyd during the 1960s and 1970s.
A £35 million refurbishment in the late 1990s restored the hall to its original grandeur, preserving its historic features while enhancing its functionality. The restoration project ensured the preservation of its celebrated 6,000-pipe organ, a technological marvel of its time.
The Town Hall stands not just as a cultural venue but as a symbol of Birmingham’s rich history, with its Corinthian temple-inspired architecture and enduring legacy in the city’s cultural landscape.
The Birmingham City Council House
The Birmingham City Council House serves as the local government seat in Birmingham, housing council offices, committee rooms, a council chamber, and a grand banqueting suite. This Grade II* listed building stands at Victoria Square in the city centre, featuring a first-floor balcony often used for public addresses by dignitaries and sports teams.
The Council House was initiated in 1852, replacing the old Public Office, as the town council’s venue. The land purchase in 1853, including Ann Street properties, laid the foundation for development. However, financial issues stalled progress until 1871 when plans for offices emerged after a design competition.
Construction commenced in 1874 based on Yeoville Thomason’s design, featuring a central section with Corinthian order, a clock tower known as “Big Brum,” and a pediment. Extensions followed, first in 1881–85 and then in 1911–19, expanding the structure and adding the Feeney Art Galleries.
The building’s architectural elements include a mosaic tympanum, a pediment displaying Britannia, and a bridge connecting the original and extended sections, resembling Venice’s Bridge of Sighs. Illuminated for King Edward VII’s coronation, it stands as a historic symbol in Birmingham’s landscape.
17 & 19 Newhall Street (The Bell Edison Telephone Building)
17 & 19 Newhall Street, an architectural treasure in Birmingham, England, boasts Grade I listing for its striking red brick and terracotta design. Known colloquially as The Exchange, it served as the Bell Edison Telephone Building and housed the Central Telephone Exchange and National Telephone Company (NTC) offices upon its 1887 opening.
Designed by Frederick Martin from Martin & Chamberlain, this establishment held 5,000 subscribers, reigning as the country’s largest central exchange. Initially, it was identified as “Telephone Buildings” within NTC but gained popular recognition as the “Bell Edison Telephone Building,” evident from the names inscribed on the NTC logo behind the wrought iron gates at its entrance.
Following NTC’s takeover by the Postmaster General in 1912, the building transitioned to GPO ownership, accommodating a TAS exchange crucial for routing telegrams nationwide. During World War I, it played a pivotal role as the Midland air raid warning system headquarters.
Post-1936, the Central Telephone Exchange relocated, leaving its legacy. Today, 17 & 19 Newhall Street houses Core Marketing, Mitchell Adam, and GBR Phoenix Beard, with Bushwackers, a basement bar, accessible from Edmund Street. Despite its official postal address as The Exchange on 19 Newhall Street, the building extends across 17 & 19 Newhall Street and 103 Edmund Street.
The Birmingham Curzon Street railway station
The Birmingham Curzon Street railway station, once a thriving transport hub in central Birmingham, played a pivotal role in early railway development. Originally a joint venture between the London and Birmingham Railway and the Grand Junction Railway, it was the convergence point for these pioneering lines, heralding the advent of intercity travel.
Opened in 1838, Curzon Street served as a significant passenger terminus for trains bound for London, Manchester, and Liverpool. However, limitations in its design prompted its closure to passengers in 1854, superseded by the more efficient Birmingham New Street station.
Relegated to handling goods, the station underwent transformation, witnessing a surge in rail freight activities.
The station’s notable features included twin platforms, a train shed, and a grand Principal Building designed by Philip Hardwick, mirroring the style of the Euston Arch in London. Evolving into a bustling goods depot, it accommodated various goods handling facilities, employing horses, turntables, and capstans for wagon movement.
Surviving through various phases, including wartime bombings, the station ceased rail-based goods operations in 1966. Though its platforms and train sheds were dismantled, the Principal Building, recognized for its historical significance, remained and earned Grade I listing.
Subsequently used as office space and for occasional events, its renovation into the new Birmingham Curzon Street railway station for High Speed 2 services was planned in the 2010s, promising a blend of heritage and modern transportation infrastructure.
The Hall of Memory
The Hall of Memory, a poignant war memorial in Centenary Square, Birmingham, stands as a tribute to the 12,320 Birmingham citizens who lost their lives in World War I. Designed by S. N. Cooke and W. N. Twist and constructed between 1922 and 1925 by John Barnsley and Son, this memorial’s significance and impact endure.
Its location, directly above the former Gibson’s Arm canal basin, was part of a larger civic development plan that included new council offices and public facilities. Although only partially realized due to the outbreak of World War II, the Hall of Memory stands as a testament to the city’s commitment to honor its fallen heroes.
Crafted from Portland stone and adorned with bronze statues by local artist Albert Toft representing various military services, the Hall of Memory embodies solemnity and remembrance. Its interior showcases detailed bas-relief plaques by William Bloye, depicting the departure, wartime struggles, and homecoming of soldiers.
Listed as a Grade I building since 2014, the Hall of Memory holds a prominent place in Birmingham’s history. Its enduring legacy extends beyond commemorating past sacrifices, serving as a symbol of peace and remembrance for all those affected by armed conflicts.
The adjacent St. Thomas’ Peace Garden, redesigned in 1995, complements this sentiment, honoring both the fallen and the pursuit of lasting peace.
The New Hall Manor
New Hall Manor, a medieval gem in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, now operates as a hotel. Dating back to the 13th century, it’s touted as one of Britain’s oldest inhabited moated houses. Initially a hunting lodge by the Earl of Warwick, it gained manor status in 1435 after Sir Richard Stanhope’s death.
The core, notably the grand hall, dates to the 16th century during the Gibbons family’s residence, relatives of Bishop Vesey. Thomas Gibbons purchased New Hall in 1552, passing through different hands like the Sacheverells and Chadwicks. In 1739, the Sacheverells mortgaged the estate to Francis Horton of Wolverhampton.
New Hall saw varied roles, serving as a school briefly in 1885 and later restored to residential use by Lt. Col. Wilkinson in 1903. Acquired by Alfred Owen in 1923, it remained the Owen family home until the 1970s. Thistle Hotels converted it into a hotel in 1988, and it’s currently managed by Hand Picked Hotels.
The estate’s significance extends to local landmarks like the Sutton New Hall ward, New Hall Valley, New Hall Valley Country Park, and residential developments. The Grade I listed structure holds historical charm, preserving features like the medieval hall, ornate ceilings, and a newel staircase.
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, nestled within the University of Birmingham’s campus, is an art gallery and concert hall. This Grade I listed Art Deco gem, designed by Robert Atkinson and opened by Queen Mary in 1939, stands as a beacon of English architecture from that era. Its layout is centered around a concert hall with adjoining lecture halls, offices, and libraries below and art galleries above.
Recognized for its international significance, the institute, situated 5 km from Birmingham’s city center, boasts a remarkable 20th-century art collection.
Established by Martha Constance Hattie Barber in memory of her husband Henry Barber, the manor holds works by renowned artists like Gwen John, André Derain, and René Magritte. Henry’s influence in expanding Birmingham’s suburbs shaped the couple’s connection to the city.
The institute’s roots trace back to Lady Barber’s generous endowment following her husband’s passing. Since its foundation in 1932, it aimed to cultivate art and music appreciation. Directed by Thomas Bodkin and later Ellis Waterhouse, the institute flourished, amassing an exquisite collection hailed as “the last great art collection of the twentieth century.”
Featuring masterpieces by renowned artists such as Van Gogh, Monet, and Rodin, the institute’s galleries are a testament to artistic brilliance across different eras. The collection spans the Renaissance to Impressionism, including portraits, sculptures, prints, drawings, and objets d’art.
Additionally, the institute houses a vast coin collection, particularly Roman and Byzantine coins, and hosts various concerts and music festivals throughout the year.
The Victoria Law Courts
The Victoria Law Courts, an imposing red brick and terracotta structure on Corporation Street, houses the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court. This Grade I listed building, inaugurated in Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year, stands as a testament to Birmingham’s judicial history.
In the late 19th century, as court cases surged in Birmingham, the need for a dedicated courthouse became evident. The site, once home to the old Birmingham Workhouse, was chosen for this purpose. Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone in 1887 for this Aston Webb & Ingress Bell-designed building, adorned with intricate terracotta ornamentation sourced from North Wales.
Opened in 1891 by the Prince and Princess of Wales, the courts were an architectural marvel. The asymmetrical façade on Corporation Street featured a grand entrance flanked by turrets and towers, crowned by a statue of Queen Victoria. The interior, adorned with sandy-yellow terracotta and ornate detailing, exuded a grandeur befitting its purpose.
While Crown Court trials moved to the Queen Elizabeth II Law Courts in 1987, proposals to relocate the magistrates’ court were met with resistance. Despite plans for a purpose-built structure nearby, budget cuts and the magistrates’ desire to remain within the historic Victoria Law Courts complex led to the abandonment of the project.
New Hall Mill
New Hall Mill, nestled in Walmley within Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, stands as a testament to history.
This Grade II* listed watermill, under the guardianship of the New Hall Water Mill Preservation Trust, welcomes visitors on designated Open Days or by prior arrangement. Imbued with restoration, the mill pulsates back to life, offering a glimpse of its operational prowess.
Privately owned yet accessible to the public, New Hall Mill exists adjacent to the New Hall Valley Country Park. Its brick facade, an 18th-century construction, holds vestiges of an earlier timber-framed wing, echoing its evolution through time and varying purposes.
Once a wheat mill producing flour, its role shifted, adapting to become a hammermill focused on grist and animal feed production using a diesel engine for power.
The mill’s transformation over the years is tangible; from dual internal waterwheels, it now relies on an external overshot waterwheel propelling two pairs of millstones.
Alongside this, a Ruston & Hornsby diesel engine fuels additional machinery within the mill, offering a unique blend of historical mechanics and restoration, echoing the evolution of industry and innovation.
The Birmingham School of Art
The Birmingham School of Art building, designed by architect John Henry Chamberlain, stands as a hallmark of Victorian Gothic architecture. Constructed between 1884 and 1885, its construction cost £21,254, primarily funded by generous donations from the Tangye brothers and Louisa Ryland.
The red-brick structure, showcasing a Venetian style and naturalistic decoration, is considered Chamberlain’s masterpiece and was completed posthumously by William and Frederick Martin, his partners.
Adorned with intricate Doultons tilework and original iron railings by Hart & Co., the building is characterized by a continuous plinth band containing floral motifs. Its historical significance dates back to its foundation stone laying in 1884, followed by its opening in September 1885.
Throughout its history, the School of Art evolved from the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists’ initiative in 1843, eventually becoming the first Municipal School of Art in 1885. Its growth and expansion, supported by figures like Edward R. Taylor and benefactors Sir Richard and George Tangye, solidified its place as a leading center for the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Despite organizational changes and affiliations, such as becoming part of Birmingham City University’s Faculty of Arts, Design and Media, the School of Art’s Grade I listed building on Margaret Street retains its historical significance. Home to the university’s Department of Fine Art, the structure remains a cultural cornerstone and a testament to Birmingham’s artistic legacy.
122–124 Colmore Row
122–124 Colmore Row stands as a Grade I listed gem in Birmingham. Initially serving as the Eagle Insurance Offices and later inhabited by Orion Insurance, this architectural masterpiece transitioned into Hudson’s Coffee House until 2011. Presently, it’s known as the Java Lounge Coffee House, having taken on this identity since July 2015.
Crafted in 1900 by the hands of architects William Lethaby and Joseph Lancaster Ball, this structure epitomizes the Arts and Crafts style. Revered as a paragon of originality, it has garnered acclaim in esteemed architectural texts.
Described by Pevsner’s The Buildings of England as “one of the most original buildings of its date in England” and lauded in Foster’s Birmingham guide as “one of the most important monuments of the Arts and Crafts Free Style in the country.”
In 2011, Evenacre acquired the property, embarking on a comprehensive £500,000 renovation. This endeavor encompassed the restoration of the stone façade, interior refurbishments, and the creation of a distinctive reception area. Subsequently, in 2014, CBRE commenced marketing the vacant building to potential occupants.
The building itself stands tall with its stone façade, exhibiting a fusion of striking features including a large ground-floor window, symmetrically positioned doorways, pilasters, sash windows on upper floors, and attic embellishments featuring a chequer work pattern and a prominent eagle.
Its interior retains originality with preserved metal doors and many original furnishings, embodying a unique historical character.
The 21 Yateley Road house
21 Yateley Road in Edgbaston, Birmingham, stands as a testament to the city’s architectural evolution. Constructed in 1899 by Herbert Tudor Buckland, a prominent figure in Birmingham’s architectural scene, this Arts and Crafts-style house embodies the city’s architectural heritage.
Buckland, deeply rooted in Birmingham’s design tradition, made this house his residence until his passing, showcasing his commitment to the area’s architectural development.
Reflecting the Arts and Crafts movement popularized by luminaries like Edwin Lutyens and Edward Hudson, the house boasts typical features of the style. With its two-storey structure, hipped roof, off-centre gable, and pebbledashed brick construction, it stands as an embodiment of this architectural trend.
Its interior, a treasure trove of original Arts and Crafts elements, includes remarkable woodwork, stained glass, plasterwork, and distinctive fireplaces with copper overmantels, maintaining the style’s essence.
The house, thoughtfully designed and laid out with a plan by renowned horticulturalist Gertrude Jekyll, remains a private residence. Recognized for its architectural significance, 21 Yateley Road is classified as a Grade I listed building, a testament to its historical and architectural value in Birmingham’s landscape.
Andy Foster, in the Pevsner Architectural Guides, lauded this house as “especially fine,” capturing its significance in the city’s architectural narrative.
The Red Lion
The Red Lion, an abandoned pub nestled along Soho Road in Birmingham’s Handsworth district, has a legacy dating back to 1829. Erected in 1901 by architects James and Lister Lea for Holt Brewery, it later came under Ansells’ ownership post their acquisition of Holt in 1934.
This three-storey architectural marvel, with a brick and terracotta facade crowned by a polygonal tower, gained Grade II listed status in 1985. Shutting its doors in 2008, attempts to auction it in 2014 failed, rendering it vacant since December 2015.
Regarded as “at risk” by CAMRA and Historic England, it boasts an exquisite interior detailed by CAMRA as having floor-to-ceiling tiles, ornate bar fittings, intricate tiled paintings, and a panelled ‘coffee room.’ Notably, its mahogany and gilded bar back, adorned with Holt Brewery lettering and squirrel motifs, stands out.
This architectural gem showcases a Free Renaissance style with pink terracotta ground floors, buff terracotta upper levels, and a striking corner tower. Its interior exudes opulence, boasting Minton tiling, gilded glass, polished wooden paneling, and decorative lithographs, reminiscent of pastoral settings.
The staircase hall, adorned with elaborate tiling and colored glass, stands as a testament to its opulent past. With unparalleled richness and completeness, the Red Lion’s interior remains a remarkable relic of historical grandeur.
The Bartons Arms
The Bartons Arms, situated on High Street in Aston, Birmingham, has a rich history dating back to its construction in 1900-1901 by the architects James and Lister Lea for Mitchells & Butlers. It stands as a grade II* listed building, lauded for its historical significance and preserved interior, earning a spot on CAMRA’s National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors.
This pub is renowned for its distinctive features like the Minton-Hollins tiles and snob screens, intriguingly allowing visibility between different social classes. The establishment, originally divided into three bars, once housed function rooms upstairs, designated for billiards and club activities.
Purchased by Oakham Ales in 2002, the pub underwent a meticulous restoration in 2003 after being dormant for three years. The revitalized Bartons Arms, renowned for its excellent Oakham ales and in-house Thai cuisine, faced adversity when a fire damaged the premises in July 2006, causing disruptions but not dampening its grandeur.
Beyond its ornate Dutch gables, Victorian lanterns, and central clock tower, this pub has welcomed a host of notable patrons. Laurel and Hardy, Enrico Caruso, Charlie Chaplin, and even Ozzy Osbourne frequented this esteemed establishment.
Apart from its celebrated history, the Bartons Arms has left an indelible mark in popular culture, featuring in films like Atom Egoyan’s “Felicia’s Journey” and Ron Dawson’s novel “The Last Viking.” Its recognition in media and awards from various sources underscore its status as an architectural treasure and a cultural icon in Birmingham.
The Stratford House
Stratford House, a Grade II* listed building in Birmingham’s Highgate area, has a rich history tracing back to 1601. Originally owned by Ambrose and Bridget Rotton, the house showcases their initials carved over the porch along with an insurance plate, signifying its heritage. Initially part of Ambrose’s 20-acre farm, the property was home to various livestock.
In 1926, amid plans by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway to demolish the house, public outcry led to its preservation. Later, in 1954, Ivon Adams acquired and meticulously restored the dilapidated property, saving it from further demolition in 1950.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Stratford House transformed into office space for Network Records, a prominent player in the UK techno music scene.
However, its narrative took a different turn when, in 2015, reports surfaced of the house being used as a swingers’ club, sparking controversy among local residents. Unfortunately, a fire damaged the building in December 2015.
The house found a new lease on life after extensive refurbishment in 2020, now serving as the base for Age UK Birmingham and Age UK Sandwell, local charities. Birmingham City Council’s approval in April 2021 paved the way for a road closure and the creation of a Knott garden in front of Stratford House, preserving its historical significance while adapting it to contemporary needs.
The Sheldon Hall
Sheldon Hall, a Grade II* listed manor house dating back to the early 16th century, stands majestically on Gressel Lane in Birmingham. Its striking red and black brick structure adorned with stone dressings defines its historical significance. Originally situated within Warwickshire, it now serves as a restaurant within the city bounds.
The manor’s lineage traverses through various noble hands. From Duke Humphrey Stafford to the attainder of Henry Grey, the ownership of Sheldon Hall shifted amid political upheavals. Queen Elizabeth I later granted it to Henry Grey, eventually sold to Sir George Digby.
The present hall, constructed by Sir Edward Digby, replaced the older East Hall and remained in the Digby family’s possession until the early 20th century.
John Taylor, an industrialist from Birmingham, acquired the property in 1751, leasing out the land. Despite changing hands, the Digbys held sway until its sale in 1919. The hall faced neglect until its rescue from demolition, finding a new life as a restaurant in 1997.
Fondly nicknamed “Baldy’s Mansion” by local children in the 1960s and 70s, Sheldon Hall saw various owners like Mr. Albert Brayley in the late 20th century, contributing to its diverse and storied past.
The Spring Hill Library
Spring Hill Library, a Victorian marvel designed by Frederick Martin in 1891, stands proudly in Birmingham. Its red brick and terracotta structure, graced by a 65-foot clock tower, has been a city landmark since its inauguration on January 7, 1893.
Positioned at the corner of Icknield Street and Spring Hill, the library once neighbored the turnpike gate house for Icknield Street.
As a Grade II* listed building, this Gothic-style library embodies Martin and Chamberlain’s architectural finesse, boasting rich terracotta detailing and a commanding tower. Its interior, with galleried spaces supported by marble columns, represents late 19th-century design.
Since its inception, the library has held a significant place in local history, setting records for book issuances and witnessing unusual incidents, including a notable bus crash in 1949 that left indelible marks on its walls.
Despite threats of demolition during the 1970s due to road development plans, public outcry saved the library. In the early 21st century, amidst a changing landscape, a Tesco superstore replaced a declining shopping precinct and now shares an atrium with the historic Spring Hill Library, symbolizing a blend of past and present.
The Argent Centre
The Argent Centre, a distinguished Grade II* listed building in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, was crafted by J. G. Bland in 1863 for W. E. Wiley, a gold pen manufacturer. Named Albert Works, it comprised narrow multi-storey workshops arranged around a courtyard to flood workspaces with natural light.
Despite its grand façade, the building’s design features narrow workshops allowing ample light onto workbenches. Its construction with fireproof materials eliminated the need for insurance, using multicolored brickwork that echoes Renaissance Florence.
Originally, the building had pyramids atop corner towers, later removed, but reinstated in 2020. Damage from a bomb during World War II was visible until the mid-1980s.
Home to scientific equipment suppliers Griffin & George and Gallenkamp, it housed technical staff and engineers until conversion to offices in 1993.
Managed by Midlands Industrial Association Ltd, it supports small firms’ growth, offering risk-free workspace on a monthly license. Among its occupants is The Pen Museum, the UK’s sole museum dedicated to pen-making history.
This heritage property is part of Midlands Industrial Association Ltd’s portfolio, managed by Prince, Warnes Ltd, promoting employment growth by redeveloping inner-city brownfield sites. Alongside the Argent Centre, the Association oversees four other properties across Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
The Main block to Oscott College
The Main block to Oscott College, an architectural gem situated in New Oscott, Birmingham, represents a storied history of Catholic education in England. Originally established in 1794 as Oscott College, it underwent relocations and renovations before settling in its current location.
The 1838 move to New Oscott brought about a grand transformation designed by Augustus Pugin and Joseph Potter, lending the structure its distinctive allure.
This Grade II* listed building, with its red brick façade and Tudor-style detailing, boasts a captivating architectural ensemble. The South-East range, flanked by gables and a central tower, showcases ornate mullioned-transomed windows and a striking oriel window, embodying the rich heritage of Gothic Revival architecture.
Pugin’s influence is profoundly evident within the Chapel’s polychrome designs, integrating medieval elements with Gothic revival principles, a hallmark of his vision.
Edward Welby Pugin’s Weedall Chantry and side chapels, adorned with stained glass by Hardman and Warrington, further enhance the building’s aesthetic grandeur.
With its structural evolution through the years, from Edward Welby Pugin’s Northcote Hall to the additions by G.B. Cox in the 20th century, Oscott College stands as a testament to architectural brilliance and ecclesiastical heritage, preserving a legacy of theological education and Gothic-inspired magnificence.
The Icknield Street School
The Icknield Street School, nestled near the Hockley Flyover in Birmingham, stands as an emblematic example of a Birmingham board school. Originally designed in 1883 by J.H. Chamberlain of Martin & Chamberlain, it served as St Chad’s Roman Catholic Annexe before transforming into the current Ashram Centre, owned by Birmingham City Council.
This educational institution, once a hub of learning, began its legacy by hosting Standard VII classes for girls in 1885, later expanding in 1886 and again in 1894. Evolving from its roots, it transitioned into a modern secondary school in 1945, accommodating nearly 950 pupils by 1960.
The architectural elegance of Chamberlain’s design echoes the focus on hygiene, light, and fresh air, typical of Birmingham’s board schools. Characterized by red brick and terracotta accents, the school flaunts gabled structures, steep roofs, and towered features facilitating ventilation.
Ornamental ironwork, terracotta plaques, and tall windows adorned the building, along with remnants of stained glass windows and decorative elements seen in the roof-supporting ironwork post a fire incident.
Recognized for its architectural significance, the school holds a Grade II* listing, alongside the headmaster’s house on the site. However, their inclusion in the Heritage at Risk Register and the Victorian Society’s “Top Ten Endangered Buildings” list signals the urgent need for preservation efforts to protect these historical landmarks.
The Friends’ Institute buildings
The Friends Institute Buildings in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, stand as a testament to the legacy of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers. Originally completed in 1897 and designed by Ewan Harper, financed chiefly by the philanthropic Cadbury family, this architectural marvel served both as a Quaker meeting house and a community hub.
Throughout its history, these walls witnessed significant events, hosting the Yearly Meeting for Quakers twice, marking a break from its traditional venue in London in 1908 and 1954.
The building’s originality shone through various elements like the replaced organ, now absent, and the installation of a war memorial, a testament to its evolving role within the community.
Crafted from red brick adorned with terracotta detailing, the structure remains largely unaltered both inside and out. Its original design of 37 classrooms, although some walls have been removed, and an assembly hall capable of accommodating 2,000 people, still stands proudly at the rear.
The entrance, flanked by a reading room and a coffee room with a lecture room above, exudes an aura of historical significance.
Today, the Friends Institute Buildings house the Birmingham Centre for Art Therapies (BCAT) while the Birmingham City Council oversees the rest, utilizing the space for various community functions.
The Gas Retort House
The Gas Retort House, located at 39 Gas Street in Birmingham, stands as the sole remaining structure of the city’s original gas works. Rediscovered during redevelopment in 1992, its distinctive cast iron trusses and wrought iron rods caught the eye of city planners.
Known as St Luke’s Gas Street, the building holds a Church of England license for worship. Its history dates back to 1817 when the Birmingham Gas Light and Coke Company was established by John Gosling, supplying gas street lighting to ten streets, with Samuel Clegg pioneering gas engineering.
The retort house, where town gas was produced by heating coal without air, was erected in 1822 alongside a canal, replacing the original Clegg plant. Alexander Smith designed this structure along with a new gas holder and coal store.
While the gas works ceased in 1850 and closed entirely in 1879 following municipalization by Joseph Chamberlain, the retort house underwent refurbishment in 1998-99 for non-residential use, preserving its Grade II* listed status.
Despite being declared “at risk” in 2010 by English Heritage, renovations in 2011 and subsequent ownership by The Church of England in 2014 transformed it into a Resourcing Church targeting Birmingham’s students and young adults.
The site reflects Birmingham’s industrial past while serving as a contemporary space for worship and community engagement.
St Mary’s Convent in Handsworth
St. Mary’s Convent in Birmingham serves as a haven for the local Sisters of Mercy, located at the crossroads of Lozells and Hockley. This community, established in 1840 and designed by Augustus Pugin, holds Grade II* listed status for its historical and architectural significance.
The Sisters of Mercy responded to Nicholas Wiseman’s call to set up a convent in Birmingham, aided by patrons like John Hardman and the Earl of Shrewsbury. Pugin was commissioned to design the convent’s chapel, initially the parish church until 1847.
The need for a larger worship space led to St. Mary’s Church’s establishment in 1847, consecrated by Bishop William Wareing. Unfortunately, World War II destroyed the church, paving the way for St. Francis Catholic Primary School to occupy its site. The school maintains a strong connection with the convent, having a representative from the convent on its board of governors.
Pugin’s architectural brilliance is evident in the simple Tudor-Gothic style of the red brick, two-story building. Stone dressing, gabled dormers, and stone mullioned casement windows adorn its carefully detailed design.
The cloister at the rear reflects Pugin’s innovative approach with exposed timber truss roofs and tiled floors, showcasing his rational design philosophy in religious architecture.
The Public Library and Baths
The Public Library and Baths in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, stand as historical landmarks, the library opening in 1895 followed by the baths in 1907.
These Grade II* Edwardian-style structures, owned by Birmingham City Council, feature red brick and terracotta designs. While the library remains council-managed, the Baths are overseen by Moseley Road Baths CIO, rescuing them from closure.
Their origin dates back to discussions in 1890 to merge Balsall Heath into Birmingham, necessitating the construction of public baths. The Baths Department and Free Libraries Committee collaborated, securing a site on Moseley Road for both facilities.
Designed by Jethro A. Cossins and F. B. Peacock, the library flaunts a clock tower and opened its doors in 1895. The baths, delayed due to well-boring challenges, were completed in 1907 under William Hale and Son’s design, introducing swimming pools in 1908.
During World War II, the baths served as a temporary hospital. Structural issues led to a temporary closure in 2010, with extensive repairs facilitating reopening in 2005. Since 1982, these buildings, upgraded to Grade II* in 2004, have been championed by the Friends of Moseley Road Baths, with recent support from the Culture Recovery Fund in 2021.
Featuring two swimming pools, ‘slipper’ bath departments, and intricate Flemish-Renaissance exteriors with clock towers and terracotta detailing, these structures hold a place of historical significance. Their interiors boast ornate designs, such as glazed brick cubicles and decorative steel arches, adding to their architectural allure and grandeur.
The Old Crown
The Old Crown in Deritend, Birmingham, claims a legacy as one of the city’s oldest secular buildings, dating back to around 1368. Its Grade II* listing and “black and white” timber frame primarily date to the early 16th century.
Initially serving as the Guildhall and School of St John, Deritend, this building, believed to have been constructed between 1450 and 1500, transformed into an inn over time, possibly adopting the name ‘the Crown’ following events like the failed Armada in 1588. Records suggest its use as an inn from 1626, referenced as “the Crowne” in 1666.
During the English Civil War, the Old Crown witnessed skirmishes when Prince Rupert’s forces raided Birmingham. Converted into multiple houses in the late 17th century, it narrowly escaped demolition plans in the mid-19th century.
In 1991, the Brennan family’s local pub company took ownership of the Old Crown. Renovations in 1994 uncovered a long-hidden well, restored after being closed off for over a century. The Brennan family invested £2 million in meticulous restoration, leading to the Old Crown’s grand reopening in May 1998.
The construction of the Old Crown originally housed a central hall, arched cellars, and four upper rooms, with a rear courtyard enclosing a 26 ft well that was later deepened to 38 ft. Joshua Toulmin Smith installed an iron gate in 1863 to preserve the well.