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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Birmingham Part 4

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas OCTOBER. 02, 2021


I am now in Chamberlain Square home to the Chamberlain Memorial, the decorative spire type structure in the reflection below. It's reflected in it's new neighbour a brand new office block part of the replacement scheme for the old trashed 1974 library.


The memorial was not moved but survived years of chaos, demolition and rebuilding mostly behind protective hoardings. The dome is the roof of the city hall or as it is officially called the Council House. The frieze of statues adjoins the Council House and is the entrance of the Municipal Art Gallery. The glass tower looming up behind is new and replaces an earlier tower by John Madin who also designed the trashed library. It's not been a good decade for his works as they are coming down all over Birmingham, tip top tap, just like that.


The memorial has obviously had a spruce up too, looking shiny and clean.


The Chamberlain Memorial, also known as the Chamberlain Memorial Fountain, is a monument in Chamberlain Square, Birmingham, England, erected in 1880 to commemorate the public service of Joseph Chamberlain (1836–1914), Birmingham businessman, councillor, mayor, Member of Parliament, and statesman. An inauguration ceremony was held on 20 October 1880, when Chamberlain himself was present.


It was designed by the architect John Henry Chamberlain. It is 65 feet (20 m) tall and in neo-gothic style. It bears a 50 centimetres (20 in) portrait medallion of Chamberlain by Thomas Woolner on the south side. The carvings of the capitals and the crocketted spire were done by Samuel Barfield of Leicester, John Henry Chamberlain's favourite sculptor. Salviati Burke and Co. of Venice were commissioned to do the mosaics. It is Grade II listed.


Crocket - Crocket, in architecture, a small, independent, sharply projecting medieval ornament, usually occurring in rows, and decorated with foliage. Crockets are used especially on the inclined edges of spires, pinnacles, and gables and are also found on capitals and cornices.


These rather elegant lighting columns, below, are a massive improvement on those in Centenary Square featured in part three.


Argent LLP and Arup's vision for Chamberlain Square included three, highly complex, columns, requiring 240 light modules in total. Our engineers had to resolve the technical challenges in detail to deliver a final product. The design creates a landmark feature in the square, aiming to drive footfall both day and night. (Schreder.com)


Am I imagining it, or do these lamp posts make a visual reference to the crockets on the memorial?


Birmingham's Museum and Art Gallery occupies a prominent city centre site opposite the early nineteenth-century neoclassical Town Hall, which it echoes with its portico. Significantly, it serves as an extension of Thomason's Council House, officially opened in 1879 on the adjoining Victoria Square.


The missing library from 1974 was originally joined right here to the Victorian Art Gallery by an aerial walkway. Miraculously there is little trace of it left on the face of the gallery, other than some slight discolouration of the stone.


After doing this photo walk, I noticed so many changes that I plan to do a post of matching pairs of photos, before and after, to show the major changes in the area.


This guy below, photo bombed me so I left him in.


This innocuous looking road sign below, for a small pedestrian link leads to quite a lot of ancient history. Although Birmingham has only been a city for just over 100 years, records show a settlement here as far back as 1400 years ago. The Beormingas were a Saxon tribe and founded the settlement. Today Birmingham has over 8500 streets, but a record created on August the 20th, 1553 called The Survey of the Borough of Birmingham shows just 18 streets in existence. All 18 are known and still either exist or traces exist today.


One of them was Priors Conyngre Lane. An interesting article in the Birmingham Mail lists them all.


The middle word is usually written conygre and means a rabbit warren (coney or cony is an old rural word for a rabbit). It usually refers to an enclosed field where rabbits were kept and farmed for food and fur. The street would have run alongside this field and became known as Congreve Street. The only hint it existed is Congreve Passage, off Chamberlain Square.

This is another building below, that looked very nice before they decided to stick bits all over it. Luckily I had taken photos before this facelift so will feature it on my before and after post.


I suppose you could call it the Botox of architecture these days. The constant desire to escape the past with nips and tucks that leave the old creases gathered hideously at the edges, just like this. Give me an unadulterated face with character any day over this.

This view below reminds me of those 60's and 70's sci fi movies where people were trapped inside a city and could never leave. It's a sort of Logan's Run style of architecture. You were not allowed to get old and once you reached a certain age were processed into something more useful, like fertiliser. I think that one was actually Soylent Green, but the sentiment was similar. Utopian dystopia. A more recent version would be something like The Matrix.

This is the grand entrance to the art gallery below.


The pediment over the entrance is impressive. It is by the Surrey sculptor Francis John Williamson, and depicts the female figure of Birmingham holding a laurel wreath, as if to crown the efforts of the artists either side of her. On the right, a young man holds a completed statuette; on the left, a young woman observes her subject, perhaps the young man himself, while sketching. Two pairs of plump cherubs are busy (or busy watching) different kinds of modelling in the corners. (Victorianweb.org.)


Below, an effective and unusual statue of Thomas Attwood.


One of Birmingham’s most iconic and recognisable statues – of reformer and MP Thomas Attwood – returns to the heart of the city. Thomas Attwood was last seen reclining on the steps of Chamberlain Square in late 2015. Since then he has been in storage at Birmingham Museum Trust’s Collection Centre in Nechells while the Paradise Birmingham site was prepared for redevelopment. He is now returning to his position on the steps of Chamberlain Square following the square’s refurbishment as part of the completion of Phase One of Paradise.


That's right, Paradise, that's what they claim to be building, without any irony, in Birmingham. I did warn you about that utopian dystopia. Who knew Paradise was built in phases?


Attwood founded the Birmingham Joint Stock Bank in the 1820s, which eventually became part of Lloyds Bank. In 1832 Attwood became Birmingham’s very first Member of Parliament following his successful campaign to introduce the Great Reform Act. The act brought democratic representation to the newly industrialised towns of the North of England and Midlands for the first time.


Maybe he believed in Paradise too.


Paradise - a : the garden where according to the Bible Adam and Eve first lived : Eden - b : an intermediate place or state where the souls of the righteous await resurrection and the final judgment c : the dwelling place of God and of the blessed dead : Heaven d: a place or state of bliss, felicity, or delight.


You can take your pick from all of the above, but I'm going with Logan's Run in this case.


A wider shot of the art gallery below, and behind me a further phase of Paradise is going up on the site of the old Conservatoire of Music. There is a lunch break in Paradise as a secret gate opened right next to me and these very orange men appeared. It seems Paradise requires a lot of safety gear.


You may have noticed one of my signatures is architectural contrast and you don't get much more contrast than this one below.



More Logan's Run architecture below. Those temporary splashes of red and green are where the builders of Paradise hang out. Is it the "intermediate place where the souls of the righteous await resurrection and the final judgment"? Possibly.


Talking of Paradise, here is something of an expert on the subject below, and he's not afraid to tell us about it either. This man had a very haunting Scottish lilt and he echoed around Victoria Square, which is where I am now. It is right next door to Chamberlain square.


I am not sure he is very impressed with Birmingham's Paradise or with all of us sinners, but I do like his uncompromising signs juxtaposed with all the safety signs of the renovations taking place behind him. Is "Choose Safe" one of his or one of theirs?


"James R Hamilton was a member of Bethel Evangelical Free Church, in Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire. He was recognised and separated for the work of the gospel by the Church at Bethel in 1987. James is a Protestant Reformed & Confessional Christian. He now works as a freelance, itinerant missionary.


I suspect that he couldn't resist the chance to come to Paradise early, to test the waters.


Joining in with the echoes around the square is this man below who suddenly appeared from nowhere to play an Andean rendition of the theme from Titanic in a very dramatic manner.


"Near, far, wherever you are, I believe that the heart does go on."


Is it just me or does that "does" always seem a bit obvious as a fill in for an extra note they needed to keep in? I think "Hear...art goes on" with the heart spread over the two notes sounds much better. Try it and see what you think?


This would be melismatic rather than syllabic.


Melisma - is the singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession.


I didn't know that, I just looked it up, but if you are into quizzing, remember it.

I've reached the new tower the one replacing the John Madin tower, another before and after needed for this one. It will be Birmingham's tallest office building. It is certainly plain almost to the point of boring. I can't help thinking that if cherubs come back into fashion in about ten years we may be seeing a face lift here too.


On the lower floors it is set back which is great news for the homeless, I can see an encampment appearing pretty soon after it opens. It would be Paradise. At the moment it is still roped off and not officially open so I suppose it counts as Birmingham's newest building.

"103 Colmore Row offers an exciting and inspired contemporary design. The reception provides the perfect environment for agile working through a series of breakout areas and the wifi enabled business lounge."


I have no idea what that means, so I am probably not the target customer.


Agile - "able to move quickly and easily."


Breakout - "a forcible escape, especially from prison."


So I am thinking something like the Shawshank Redemption, where the inmates do lots of exercise ready for their break for freedom? I have heard that in some workplaces now you have to stand at your desk, no sitting. Maybe here you have to exercise at your desk too. Maybe they have large hamster wheels instead of chairs so that you can keep moving.


"103 will offer an arrival experience like nothing else in the city."


Mugshots and strip searches? Removing all sharp objects and shoe laces?




It's a very shy building hiding behind reflections of clouds, in fact at one point I thought it had vanished.


But, no, after squinting a bit I realised it was still there. The National Provincial Bank was certainly not shy, neither were all the other buildings I picked out in this former financial district.



The Old Joint Stock, below.


The present day theatre and pub is housed in a grade II listed building built as a library by architect J. A. Chatwin in 1864. The building was quickly acquired by the Birmingham Joint Stock Bank.


This was the bank founded by the bronze guy lying around on the steps in Chamberlain Square. You think all of this comes together by accident, don't you? As a matter of fact it did, this was just a lucky accident.


The Birmingham Joint Stock Bank had four branches within the city and the oldest one here in Temple Row had been established in 1861. The Joint Stock Company amalgamated with Lloyds Bank in 1889. The building was then used by Lloyds Bank. It was converted into a pub in 1997. The theatre opened in 2006 with the £350,000 cost being provided by the owners Fuller, Smith and Turner.

The Midland Bank below ended up as part of HSBC whose headquarters in Centenary Square featured in part three with the lions.

Grosvenor House, below, is a commercial office building with shops and a bank on the ground floor, situated on the corner of Bennett’s Hill and New Street in the centre of Birmingham. It was built in 1953-5. It is Grade 2 listed. It is a latecomer to the Art Deco party, but none the worse for that.


EXTERIOR: the building has a strongly rhythmic facade to New Street, elements of which are repeated on the Bennett's Hill facade. At the corner the building has a curved 'prow', with small balconies, decorated with coloured mosaic underneath, and each protected by decorative, thin, curved steel balustrades to French windows, overall displaying characteristics of the 1951 Festival of Britain. The elevation on Bennett's Hill has seven angled bays giving a zig-zag rhythm, ending in another curve, all with pivoted steel windows. Triangular sills form an alternating pattern to the otherwise flat Bennett's Hill elevation.


At the end of this part of the walk I am now headed for New Street Station in the distance, below, which will feature in Part 5.


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