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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Birmingham Part 2

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas SEPTEMBER. 28, 2021

This post carries on where I left off in Birmingham part one, half way down Broad Street, between two railway stations, Five Ways and New Street.

I have never "done" Broad Street before as a photo walk having only ever driven down it when that was still possible and not frowned upon. It was a surprise to discover how many older buildings of some quality were still left intact by the flattening of the city by Nazi bombs a few decades back. Albeit they were just islands of pre-war architecture that got missed by the Luftwaffe, with later towers of commerce wedged in between on former bomb sites.

In a twist of fate some of these relics are now the parts that look like bomb sites.

Below is the grade 2 listed former bank, BROAD STREET Nos 78 and 79 (Barclays Bank) 1898, by C E Bateman. In an Arts and Crafts interpretation of the late C17 style. Ground floor with banded rustication and 4 windows and a pair of narrower windows and a subsidiary door reading together as 2 bays. First floor with 6 tall sash windows in stone eared surrounds with bulgy friezes and dentilled cornices and fine wrought-iron balcony railings. Elaborately bracketted eaves cornice. Excellent detailing throughout.

Enjoy this view of the old Union Headquarters, Transport House, below, as it is going to be demolished, which I find hard to believe. What is so important that they need to demolish it? Another apartment tower just like the one next door. I long ago gave up trying to work out what the local council were doing regarding planning in this city, because they are rapidly wiping out the remaining bits that Hitler's bombers missed.

In 1932, Lee Longlands build the Portland stone art deco store on Broad Street, below, which opened 6 months later in September. By 1940, the Birmingham store was used for storage of food rations during the war, and during the war years, Lee Longlands sell 1,000's of miles of “Blackout” fabric as all domestic and commercial buildings needed to black windows out. (

You would need a few miles of blackout curtain for that tower behind it.

Below, built as the GRANVILLE INN by M&B; architect Arthur Edwards. Good faience frontage; the four identical round gables feature 'M&B' in a roundel, and the date 1923.

Several buildings in this area, that from memory only went up about 25 years ago are now completely covered by scaffolding and I cannot think of any logical reason for this. It seems that complete building makeovers are now just a hobby of the massive corporate industries that continually preach to us about their "green" "climate friendly" "carbon neutral" ambitions.

That's about fifty thousand single use carrier bags right there.

A detail below of the Figure of Eight pub, by Bernard G Warr, which was a former car showroom.

Below is the side of the grade 2 listed former Presbyterian church. BROAD STREET No 55 1848-49, by J R Botham of Birmingham. Originally a Presbyterian church. Blue brick with stone dressings. On the return, blank windows at ground floor level and arched windows at first floor level. All first floor windows with panels below forming a broad band. Interior wholly altered.

I really only took this shot because I liked the brick, and the light patterns reflected on it. The brand new addition of a fire escape got me to thinking about faith. Maybe the original worshippers had so much faith they saw no need for fire escapes.

The foundation stone was laid on 24 July 1848 by Charles Cowan MP and the church opened in 1849. Some restoration work was undertaken in 1859. By the early 20th century, the church was not prospering, and in 1914 there was a proposal to turn it into a cinema. In 1929 the building was acquired by the Second Church of Christ Scientist. (Wikipedia)

It is now a nightclub called Popworld. Maybe that is why it needed a fire escape addition, with the late night hedonists needing more than blind faith to protect them.

Below, this is Berkley Street off Broad Street, looking south to The Cube.

The Cube is a 25-storey mixed-use development in the centre of Birmingham, England. Designed by Ken Shuttleworth of Make Architects, it contains 135 flats, 111,500 square feet (10,359 m2) of offices, shops, a hotel and a 'skyline' restaurant. It is the final phase of The Mailbox development. Birmingham-born Ken Shuttleworth, who designed London's Gherkin building with Norman Foster, has stated that the design evokes the city's industrial heritage.

"The cladding for me tries to reflect the heavy industries of Birmingham which I remember as a kid, the metal plate works and the car plants - and the inside is very crystalline, all glass; that to me is like the jewellery side of Birmingham, the lightbulbs and delicate stuff - it tries to reflect the essence of Birmingham in the building itself."

Flats are apartments in case you were wondering.

Quayside Tower, below, is a modern commercial building in Birmingham, England. Originally built in 1965 to a design by John Madin, it was refurbished in 2003 to a design by Richard Johnson & Associates to give it a more fashionable appearance. A new reception area was constructed and the 240 space car park, above) was refurbished. Attached to the podium are a series of up to 20 abstract concrete reliefs by William Mitchell which were commissioned by John Madin in 1965.

Below is the Japanese Garden in Oozells Square. Currently dominated by reconstruction and Covid outside dining areas, encroaching on Astro Turf into the garden.

Oozells Square, receiving its name from Oozells Street that ran on the site before the development, features a channel of still water running diagonally which is lined by cherry trees. Paul de Monchaux designed the stone sculptured seats and the pergola which are located in the square. The main entrance to the Ikon Gallery overlooks the square.

The Ikon Gallery below.

Currently the exhibit is described as follows....

Leading Thai artist recent works multiple layers white-walled spaces kaleidoscope material colour. spans many forms unstretched rectangular canvases thick lines bold patches grids and blocks interlocking colours Scrolls transform format Eastern rollable sculptures. intensely physical deeply meditative. hands, fingers palette knife, dabs, slaps and pulls blending and intuitively. trance consciousness pure, reflexive making: eyes, senses: touch, smell, movement. entity. supported by Visual University. accompanied comprehensive monograph life Foundation.

I deleted all the words you don't need. It's a new format of describing art I am working on. Take the official explanation and delete all extraneous words to distil down to the essence of what you are looking at. I didn't even need to go and look at it, it's in the Ikon after all. It's not important that you go to the Ikon, it's just important for it to be there. Many art exhibits in the Ikon even demand that you just read the explanation rather than look at the art, so why bother going? Thinking about it further maybe my new format is in fact the art. My explanation of the explanation is the real point.

Brompton Bicycle is a British manufacturer of folding bicycles based in Greenford, London. The Brompton folding bicycle and accessories are the company's core product, noted for its self-supporting compact size when stored. All available models of the folding bicycle are based on the same hinged frame and 16-inch (35×349 mm) tyre size. The modular design has remained fundamentally unchanged since the original patent was filed by Andrew Ritchie in 1979, with small details being refined by continual improvement. Ritchie was awarded the 2009 Prince Philip Designers Prize for work on the bicycle.

Brompton is the largest volume bicycle manufacturer in Britain, producing approximately 50,000 bicycles each year. The company's bicycles are also available for hire.

"Riding a Brompton is about feeling connected to yourself and the environment around you, your only distraction being what you choose it to be. It's allowing yourself to be present in the moment and switching off from the daily routine as you glide through the streets." (

I'm not sure that after working out how to unfold one from that diagram above you would be relaxed enough to switch off from your daily routine and glide anywhere. I'd be too worried about how it folds back up again.

This trip to Birmingham was my first for two years. I used to work in Birmingham about eight years ago in an office. This photo walk took about three hours. I took the shot of this scene below in a random moment on my walk through the city.

A week later when I edited the photos I zoomed in to the centre of the image so I could adjust the noise in Affinity editor. When I zoomed in I realised that the man in the burgundy shirt crossing the bridge worked in the same office as me eight years ago and sat opposite me every day for three years.

What are the odds of this happening? I have probably only had three coincidences as weird as this in my whole life.

Black Sabbath were an English rock band formed in Birmingham in 1968 by guitarist Tony Iommi, drummer Bill Ward, bassist Geezer Butler and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne. They are often cited as pioneers of heavy metal music. Black Sabbath have sold over 70 million records worldwide as of 2013, making them one of the most commercially successful heavy metal bands. They were ranked by MTV as the "Greatest Metal Band" of all time, and placed second in VH1's "100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock" list. During their farewell tour, the band played their final concert in their home city of Birmingham on 4 February 2017.

I finish this post with an interesting view of Gas Street Basin. Behind the canal side café is Gas Street, so called as it was the first street in Birmingham to be gas lit.

John Gosling of London responded to a tender of 1816 from the Birmingham Street Commissioners for the provision of gas street lighting. Gosling built his first works on Gas Street in 1817-18, with plant installed by Samuel Clegg. The streets of Birmingham were lit by gas for the first time on 14 April 1819. The Birmingham Gas Light and Coke Company, formed by an Act of Parliament, obtained the business of Gosling in 1819. The Gas Retort House was constructed in 1822 where town gas was manufactured by heating coal in the absence of air. This operated until 1850. (Wikipedia)

This site had been chosen as the meeting point for the two canals, the Birmingham Canal and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Competition between the two companies meant a physical barrier, the Worcester Bar, divided the basin between the two areas of water.

In the photo below you will see some white railings marking a walkway between two quays, one for each canal. This is the Worcester bar. There was a practical reason why the two canals were not physically joined at this point and that was water availability. One canal had plenty of water and the other didn't. If there had been an open connection here, water would have been lost by one company to the other. Therefore, any goods not destined for this end point had to be manhandled across the bar from one boat to another for onward shipment. Where the zig zag brick bridge features at the end of the walkway stands a later lock.

The Birmingham Canal Navigations Company (BCN) insisted on a physical barrier to prevent the Worcester and Birmingham Canal from benefiting from their water. The Worcester Bar, a 7-foot-3-inch-wide (2.21 m) straight barrier 84 yards (77 m) long was built perpendicular to the run of the two canals.

The Worcester and Birmingham Canal opened between Birmingham and Selly Oak on 30 October 1795 but took until 1815 to complete to Worcester, at which time, after much lobbying by iron and coal masters and the Worcester and Birmingham Canal Company, an Act of Parliament was passed to open up the bar and the bar lock was built. There were toll offices either side of the bar lock and tolls were collected by each company from boats using the canals. The Worcester Bar still exists, with boats moored to both sides of it. It is connected to Gas Street via a footbridge reconstructed to a design by Horseley Ironworks of the 19th century.

The next part of my walk, Part 3, takes up the baton in Gas Street Basin and continues into Centenary Square and all the changes going on there recently.


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