A glimpse of the past

The church of St Martin in the Bull Ring is one of Birmingham’s most enduring landmarks having served the people of Birmingham for at least the last 750 years and represents the spiritual and commercial heart of the city.  A church is first recorded in 1263 although archaeological investigations at the time of the church’s restoration in the nineteenth century revealed a church which was probably earlier than this.

North west end of St Martin's church, Bull Ring, Birmingham

St Martin’s Parish Church, Bull Ring, Birmingham (WK-B11-771)

This photograph was taken around the turn of the twentieth century by the photographer Thomas Lewis.  He was one of the first commercial photographers in the country, specialising in architectural compositions such as this one.  The photograph forms part of the library’s Warwickshire Photographic Survey which contains nearly 30,000 images of Birmingham and the surrounding area, some of which can been seen on the library’s website.  This captures the St Martin’s we are familiar with today following an extensive restoration programme in 1853-5 and again in 1872-5 leaving very little of the original structure. If we want to see further back into the past we have to reach beyond the limits of photographic records and we are lucky enough to have a drawing of St Martin’s church from the turn of the nineteenth century.

St Martin's Parish Church, Birmingham

St Martin’s Parish Church, Bull Ring, Birmingham (Aylesford Collection: Warwickshire Churches Vol 1 p. 50)

This drawing comes from the Aylesford Collection – notice the marked differences in the church building from the later photograph.  The Aylesford Collection of drawings of churches, castles, country houses and people collected together and bound into five large volumes.  The collection was commissioned by a collective of Coventry businessmen and antiquarians in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century and was designed to illustrate William Dugdale’s “Antiquities of Warwickshire” (1695).  However the edition was never published and the drawings have remained available largely only in their original form in the collections in Birmingham Archives and Heritage.  The collection as a whole is of outstanding importance to the history of architecture, recording many buildings – like St Martin’s – which have been demolished or radically rebuilt since that time.

Rachel MacGregor

Further reading:

Birmingham (Pevsner Architectural Guides) – Andy Foster (2005)

St. Martin’s uncovered : investigations in the churchyard of St. Martin’s-in-the-Bull Ring – Megan Brickley (2001)






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