Tag Archives: Architecture

Hidden Spaces 2016

Hidden spaces

 

Here at the Iron Room we were very excited to discover the new Hidden Spaces events scheduled for June! We had great fun last year exploring some of the hidden places in Birmingham – some of which had never been seen before by the public.

This year they are opening up new spaces, including the Methodist Central Hall and the Moseley Road Baths. We can highly recommend it and event details can be found on the Hidden Spaces website.

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Birmingham’s ‘temples of relief’

This blog piece is a companion piece of sorts to the blog post written by one of our regular researchers about the ‘public nuisance’, i.e. public urination, on her own blog “Notes from 19th Century Birmingham: An Occasional History of the Mundane” entitled “‘Indecent Usages’: the nuisance of peeing in public” and also, to a lesser extent, the piece by fellow archivist, Michael Hunkin, on the Civic Centre.

The provision of toilets for public use is a perennial issue, and something to which the council have offered different solutions at different times.  You will find much that has been written about the ‘temples of relief’, the highly decorative ornate Gothic iron work of pissoirs in Birmingham.  You can still find a number of these knocking around the city centre (train stations are a good place to look with ones at Jewellery Quarter, Allison Street (under Birmingham Moor Street) and Snow Hill station.  And these have their own interesting stories.

There are plenty of photos of these Victorian toilets to be found on the internet: the Birmingham Mail’s “See the lost loos of Birmingham” is a particularly good one.  I would have gone and taken some photos myself but I didn’t fancy having to explain to curious onlookers why I was taking photos of toilets…

But the public toilets of the period just after the Second World War receive much less coverage.  Which brings me, circuitously to the crux of this piece: when cataloguing a collection of architectural plans deposited at Birmingham Archives, Heritage and Photography by the Council’s Planning Department (accession number: 2008/027) I discovered two tubes of plans of different post WWII public conveniences around the city.  The whole accession contains fascinating plans (including a number of plans for Civic Restaurants and the plans relating to the Civic Centre that fellow archivist Mike wrote about in his blog piece) but I was most interested to find the plans of the public conveniences.  In brief the accession contained the following plans relating to public conveniences:

(2008/027) Tube 3:

  • Stratford Road Fox Hollies public conveniences, 1953, 2 plans
  • Bartley Green public conveniences, 1947 – 1963, 3 plans
  • Colmore Row public conveniences, 1948, 4 plans
  • Gostar Green public conveniences, 1955, 1 plan
  • Kitts Green Road public conveniences, 1950, 3 plans
  • Quinton Estates, Faraday Avenue public conveniences, 1 plan
  • Spies Lane public conveniences, 1948 – 1958, 3 plans

(2008/027) Tube 6:

  • Bournbrook conveniences, 1955, 2 plans
  • Bartley Green conveniences, 1959 – 1960, 4 plans
  • Kingstanding Road conveniences, 1951, 3 plans
  • Navigation Street conveniences, 1952, 2 plans
  • Sandpitts on the corner of Summerhill Terrace, 1 plan
  • Hunters Road, 1951, 3 plans

While looking through the plans, I was particularly taken by the public conveniences planned for Colmore Row in 1948:

2008-027 Tube 3 Colmore Row 1

Part of the plan showing front elevation, plan and sections of the Colmore Row public convenience (ref: 2008/027 tube 3)

Colour front elevation showing the convenience

Colour front elevation showing the Colmore Row convenience (ref: 2008/027 tube 3)

Another front elevation showing the proposed building materials (ref 2008/027 tube 3)

Another front elevation showing the proposed building materials (ref: 2008/027 tube 3)

Location of the conveniences on Colmore Row, which was on the site of blitz damage to the Great Western Arcade.

Location of the conveniences on Colmore Row, which was on the site of blitz damage to the Great Western Arcade (ref: 2008/027 tube 3)

Whilst looking at the plans, a few things struck me about this particular public convenience:

  • For the 1940s/1950s and the rise of modernism, it is quite ornate, in an art deco kind of way. The other public conveniences in this accession, though attractive in their own way, are much plainer
  • Similarly to the Victorian pissoirs, it caters only for men
  • It is labelled on the plans as ‘temporary’ – it certainly isn’t there now but it does seem a lot of work for a convenience that was only planned to be there for 3 years, as the minutes in the Public Works Committee suggested.

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Urban Renewal – Vision and Reality: The Birmingham Civic Centre Scheme 1926-1965

The following drawings form part of a large deposit of rolled plans of public buildings and urban planning schemes. They were transferred to our archives from the Birmingham City Council Urban Design Department in 2008.

BCC-Acc-2008-087-plan5

Image 1: View of equestrian statue & adjacent hall of marriages & same from Civic Court. Aerial view toward cathedral overlooking Civic Court City Hall & Museum group relating to existing plan for Civic Centre layout, Broad Street (Ref: BCC Additional Accession 2008/087 Tube roll 1)

This particular sheet shows amended versions of the layout of grounds and buildings of the proposed new Civic Centre at Centenary Square. The plans were created by a number of individuals, this one bearing the signature of Herbert Manzoni, City Engineer and Surveyor. He was to play a leading role in planning the redevelopment of Birmingham after 1945 following the devastation unleashed on the city during the Blitz. The drawings capture perfectly the utopian dreams and aspirations of the architects and city planners charged not simply with reconstruction but also rethinking how urban development should be planned and how urban spaces should be utilised, creating new cities from the ruins of the old.

The Civic Centre scheme had been in the pipeline since 1926, when the Council organised a competition to obtain the best plans. The competition received an international response from architects and planners, and several grand schemes were proposed, which were rejected by the General Purposes Committee on the grounds of being too ambitious for an English provincial city. The City Engineer was authorised to prepare a more modest scheme in partnership with James Swan, another competitor, and S.N. Cooke, who had designed the Hall of Memory.

Various new proposals and modifications were submitted to and discussed by the Council throughout the inter-war and post-war periods by architects and planners including Manzoni, John Madin, William Haywood, and Alwyn Sheppard-Fiddler, later City Architect for Birmingham. Progress of the scheme was interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939, though it was fully intended to continue with the project when hostilities ended, assuming Britain pulled through.

BCC-Acc-2008-087-plan7

Image 2: Aerial view of proposed traffic gyratory system & fly-over one way traffic bridge (Ref: BCC Additional Accession 2008/087 Tube roll 1)

In partnership with various Council committee and departmental officials, the architect William Haywood was requested to prepare a new scheme. He had already designed the Baskerville House complex of municipal offices, which opened in 1940 (visible on Image 2, top left, just to the north of the Hall of Memory). This comprised the first phase of a much larger Civic Centre area. A formal report was prepared by the General Purposes Committee to Council on 8 February 1944. Plans, together with a large scale model, were also submitted.

The report proposed a new Civic Centre Gardens, including a huge central square laid out as a parade ground, envisaged to accommodate large public meetings and civic events, built over an underground car park that could house 1200 cars. Additional new civic buildings were originally to be built in a large block on the north west corner of the gardens divided into three parts, comprising a 3000 capacity City Hall, two smaller halls (500-700 capacity), with the remaining sections to be used as a new central library, museum and art gallery. A Planetarium and Hall of Memory was also intended to be built by the Hall of Memory, including a circular lecture hall (600-700 capacity), and covered by a great dome. Externally, the Planetarium would be enclosed by a colonnade, upon which would be recorded, in accordance with more patriarchal attitudes still prevalent at the time, the names of the ‘great men’ of the city, and its history. The committee also proposed that the scheme would include a decorative column at the centre of the gardens intended to symbolise the traditional energy and dynamism of the city. Some of the proposed buildings are shown in Image 1, above, and Image 3, below, namely the Hall of Marriages, City Hall and Museum buildings.

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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)

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22975

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Martin_in_the_Bull_Ring

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=329133

http://libraryofbirmingham.com/articles/collections/wpsintro

Guest Blogger: Birmingham Town Hall Book Launch

Birmingham Town Hall

The potential form of the street-front elevation of  Birmingham’s Town Hall – as envisaged by Mr C. Fiddian (Birmingham Independent, 1st December 1827)

Birmingham Town Hall – the focus of an engaging and handsome hardback to be launched on 16th September – by Anthony Peers:

Having started searching in the Library’s Archives and Heritage department way back in 1999 – my new book now brings to light a wealth of new facts about the Town Hall; its origins, design, and historic evolution. For instance the study of Joseph Moore’s papers (MS 1292/8/6) alerted me to this philanthropist’s lofty goal of securing for Birmingham a public concert hall equal to any in Europe. Further broader research has enabled me to establish the fact that at the time of the Town Hall’s construction (1832-34) there did exist a handful of public concert halls elsewhere in Britain. However, the largest of these had capacity for a maximum of only 800 concertgoers. Designed to seat 3,000 and capable of accommodating 10-12,000, the book confirms Birmingham Town Hall’s standing as the country’s first great purpose built concert hall.  

Town Hall Book Cover

In a discussion of the building’s origins the book looks at the factors and pressures which prompted the commissioning of the building and identifies the various places considered as potential sites for the Town Hall. One such was on the east side of the High Street on a plot which looked down New Street. The book features a copy of an illustration (see above) – published in the Birmingham Independent in 1827 – of the building envisaged for this plot. This design for the Town Hall is of interest not least because it was penned more than three years before the architectural competition was held to establish which architect would win the opportunity to see their designs for this prestigious commission realised.

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