Over the last 50 years there have been many threats to our Victorian and Edwardian architectural heritage and here we take the opportunity to showcase the buildings that the Birmingham Group have been instrumental in saving for future generations to enjoy.
It is hoped that this page will demonstrate the real architectural gems that have been saved for posterity. However, this is just a fraction of the buildings that have been lost and that really had ought not to have been. However, ignorance, greed and a complete lack of appreciation has seen many fine Victorian buildings demolished.
Former Central Post Office, Victoria Square
(Sir Henry Tanner, 1891, Grade II)
A picturesque essay in the French Renaissance style by the architect to the Board of Works.
It seems incredible now, but permission to demolish this building was granted in 1973 and whilst the case seemed hopeless (the nearby Birmingham & Midland Institute and Central Library had already fallen victim to the bulldozer) The Victorian Society campaigned for five years to prevent its demolition - and won!
Today it makes a powerful and graceful contribution to Victoria Square.
Former Bell Edison Telephone Exchange, 19 Newhall St
(Frederick Martin , 1896, Grade I)
This red brick and terracotta building was built as the new Central Telephone Exchange and offices for the National Telephone Company (NTC) and is popularly known as the Bell Edison Telephone Building.
The Central exchange had 5000 subscribers and was the largest of its type in the country. The ground floor was let out to shops. The NTC was taken over by the Postmaster General in 1912 and the ownership transferred to the GPO. Durind World war I it was the Midland headquarters of the air raid warning system.
The Central Telephone Exchange relocated down Newhall Street to new premises (Telephone House) in 1936.
Former Oozells Street School
(John Henry Chamberlain, 1877, Grade II)
Former Board School in a Ruskiman Gothic style and for some time furniture stores of City of Birmingham Education Department, before it was abandoned to arsonists and general derelictiont, having for sometime before lost its tower due to structural concerns.
Teetering on the brink of oblivion, The Victorian Society campaigned for its retention in the Brindley Place scheme and it was eventually converted into the Ikon Gallery following extensive fabric repairs and the installation of a facsimile tower built around a steel frame, designs for which were taken from original photographs.
The building was Listed on 23rd February 1981 and provides for the focus for Oozells Square in Brindley Place.
Spring Hill Library, Icknield Street
(Martin & Chamberlain, 1891, Grade II*)
Spring Hill Library was opened on 7th January 1893. It was designed by the Birmingham architects Martin and Chamberlain, who were responsible for a large number of public buildings in the city, including libraries, hospitals and all but one of the forty-four Board Schools then completed.
The site, on the corner of Spring Hill and Icknield Street, was a small one for the accommodation that was required. The exterior of the library reflects this fact with its very compact, tall, and steep appearance. It is constructed of red brick with much terracotta, with a red tiled roof and its tower projects upwards some 65 feet.
In the early 1970s the library was saved from demolition. Plans for the Middle Ring Road were re-routed at the last minute following a public outcry led by the Society and Ladywood Middleway was diverted to leave the building intact and for future generations to enjoy.
St Chad’s Cathedral (Rood Screen)
(Pugin, 1841, Grade II*)
The Cathedral was lucky to keep its great rood screen up until 1967, since these were under constant threat by church authorities and critics of this architectural style. The loss of the rood screen was as a result of the extensive re-ordering at that time.
Members of the Birmingham Group dismantled the rood screen and stored it in the Corporation Store and thereafter were able secure it by having it re-erected in the Anglican church of Holy Trinity in Reading. A great loss to Birmingham, but saved for the future nontheless.
The interior division between the nave and sanctuary was particularly important to Pugin, providing a window into the heavenly worship contained in the sanctuary. Niklaus Pevsner wrote “Without the screen, we totally lose Pugin’s intended drama of the nave space revealing the chancel as a giant reliquary, that is, for the relics of the 7th century Bishop of Mercia, St. Chad….housed in the gilt feretory above the High Altar reredos”
Curzon Street Station, New Canal Street
(Philip Hardwick, 1838, Grade I)
Whilst the Society tried vainly to save the Euston Arch in London, campaigns to keep Curzon Street Station met with greater success, although the threat of demolition has returned many times.
Designed by Philip Hardwick in 1838 this original gateway of the Birmingham to London Railway now stands forlorn, awaiting a new use near the Millenium Point Complex.
This was the main railway terminus into Birmingham before New Street Station was built. Completed in 1839 it is the oldest surviving railway terminus in the world.
The Grand Hotel, Colmore Row
(Thomas Plevins, 1875, Grade II*)
The building has been poorly maintained for a number of years and the owners, Hortons’ Estate, were looking to re-develop in the early part of the 21st century.
The former hotel has a fantastic Banqueting Hall, the Grosvenor Room and is a fine example of a Victorian commercial travellers’ hotel.
The Society applied for listing and was delighted that it was listed as Grade II*.
Following some initial concerns after the listing, we were delighted that the owners embarked upon a restoration of the facade and a commitment to bring the hotel back into use. The facade restoration was finished in 2015 and won the Birmingham & West Midlands Group’s inaugural Conservation Award for 2015. To see pictures of the progress as at July 2013, click here: Grand Hotel Progress Photos
Former Queen’s College Chambers, Paradise Street
(Mansell & Mansell, 1904, Grade II)
Originally a large Gothic Revival building by Drury & Bateman (1843-5). The building had large lecture theatre, laboratories, anatomical rooms, a dining hall and apartments for seventy students.
The building was given a new buff-coloured terracotta and brick front in 1904.
A scheme to demolish was vehemently opposed by the Society and after a campaign between 1971 - 1973 we were able to secure the facade, whilst the building was demolished to make way for an office and residential block which incorporated the Grade II-listed facade.
New Guild House, 43-45 Great Charles Street
(Arthur Dixon, 1898, Grade II*)
This building was the pioneer building of Arts & Crafts radicalism in Birmingham situated on the corner of Great Charles Street and New Market Street.
The corner block is a small cross-gabled tower possibly inspired by the High Building at Daneway House in Gloucestershire repaired by Ernest Barnsley in 1896.
Edgbaston Water Tower
(John Henry Chamberlain, 1862, Grade II)
A seemingly ornate, Florentine tower, which is in fact a chimney. Mid-Victorian Edgbaston residents might have fulminated at the erection of a chimney in their neighbourhood, but not when it is disguised as a romantic tower.
When it became redundant in the early 1970s, the tower was threatened with demolition, until the Society came along to champion its merits
Watch a TV news item from 1974 here where we make the case for its retention.