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Birmingham Town Hall
The Pride of Brum

By Carl Chinn

The Town Hall was the pride of Birmingham and it belonged to the people.
Sited on that ridge which runs above the northern banks of the River Rea, it drew all eyes to it.
Folk were inspired not only by it great size and imposing position but also by its powerful look
As if it were a classical temple, it called out to the times of ancient Rome and asserted that Brum, too, was now a city state of stature.
There were factories, which visitors came to see, such as the famed Soho Works of Matthew Boulton and Edward Thomason's ‘celebrated establishment' in Church Street where beautiful medals and fine metallic Objects were made.
The Town Hall in the mid-1800's

View from Easy Row in the late 19th century.


There were churches, which gained attention, like the superb Saint Philips designed for Thomas Archer in the Italianate form. There were public buildings like the Market Hall. And then there was the odd grand house which caused some interest as with that of John Baskerville on Easy Hill. But that was about it. Brum was a place renowned for the style and cunning of its wares not for the designed cleverness of its buildings - that is, until the Town Hall rose up in glory.
Indeed, it was a strange situation. In 1831 Brum had a population of almost 160,000       and was acknowledged as one of the leading towns of the nation - yet it had neither a council nor a major public building. By the end of that decade it had both.
The idea of the Town Hall arose because of the Triennial Music Festivals. Held since 1788 to raise money for the General Hospital, then in Summer Lane, many of the concerts took place in the Theatre Royal and Saint Philip's. However, by the 1820s the crowds which were attending the concerts made it obvious that a more suitable venue should be built.
Town Hall in the early 20th century
King George VI Pressurised by the Festival Committee and the ratepayers the idea of a Town Hall took hold amongst the Street Commissioners - the body of unelected men which served as Birmingham's only form of local government.
Eventually, a location was chosen on Paradise Street, at the top of Hill Street and Hansom and Welch were taken on as the architects. Work started in 1832 and the Town Hall was opened on September 19, 1834 although it was not finished properly until 1849 and the later stages of its construction were carried out under the direction of the architect, Charles Edge.
The Town Hall was a stunning building which dominated the skyline of Brum and it was praised As 'a remarkable attempt to apply to modern purposes a style of structure which belonged essentially to the 'Greek temples.' It had a rusticated basement lined with doorways and upon which were 'a splendid series of Corinthian columns. 'Made with brick dug up from the earth of Selly Oak, the whole structure was faced with Anglesey marble.

The Mander Organ
The Organ originally built in by William Hill

 

Town Hall accident memorial at Temple Row

Sadly 'two of the workmen on the construction were killed when the hook of a pulley, block broke. They were buried in St Philip’s and in their memory" was put up a monument made of the base of a pillar which had been wrought by one of the men.

The memorial reads as 
John Heap who was killed by accident on January 26th 1838 aged 33 years while assisting the building of Birmingham Town Hall.
Also William Badger who was killed by the same accident aged 26 years

So soon as it was opened the Town Hall grabbed the affections of all Brummies because it drew in all kinds of Brummie. It opened its doors not only for renowned classical composers such as Mendelssohn and Elgar but also for leading jazz musicians and pop groups. It was a place where school speech days were held and in which you could listen to politicians and famous writers of the stature of Charles Dickens.

The Town Hall in August 2001

Town Hall Floodlight. September 2000 by Colin Hickman

The most democratic and egalitarian of buildings in its uses, the Town Hall was the great public meeting place of Birmingham. It will be again.

By kind permission of Dr Carl Chinn
Brummagem Magazine issue 3
additional Digital Photos by Virtual-Brum

 

 

 

 


 

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