Founding of the Group in 1967

Birmingham & West Midlands Chairmen 1967-2017.

The Group was founded on 19th January 1967 and celebrated its semicentenary in 2017.

Below is a list of Chairmen who have served over the first 50 years of the Birmingham & West Midlands Group, followed by a brief narrative on the background to the creation of our Group:

Rachel Waterhouse (1967 – 1971)
Remo Granelli (1971 – 1975)
Richard Tomlinson (1975 – 1978)
Alan Crawford (1978 -1980)
Joe Holyoak (1980 – 1987)
Stephen Wildman (1987 – 1990)
David Low (1990 – 1996)
Joe Holyoak (1996 – 2000)
Barbara Shackley (2000 – 2009)
Stephen Hartland (2009 – )

Formation of the Birmingham & West Midlands Group

In 1958, Rachel Waterhouse joined the The Victorian Society in London becoming a founder member. Lord Esher, the first chairman, pointed out that “at present no one listens to what we say, and “Oh it’s only Victorian”, means that it can be ruthlessly destroyed. “I think”, he said “to be just in time to save what will be admired tomorrow”. Rachel Waterhouse offered to start a new group in Birmingham but was told by Ian Grant, secretary, that although the offer was much appreciated, the matter needed further looking into at the present time.

Dame Rachel Waterhouse recounted: “1960 was probably the nadir and the turning point of the Society’s fortunes. Attacked by plans for the Inner Ring road and the falling-in of Corporation Street leases, general indifference to Victorian architecture, and sometimes even a positive antipathy to what were thought to be Victorian values;splendid Victorian buildings continued to disappear. In 1963, Kenneth Garlick and I made strenuous efforts, which failed, to prevent the demolition of The Grove, at Harborne, a loss mitigated by the preservation of the J.H. Chamberlain, parquetry room at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Mason’s College in Edmund Street by Jethro Cossins went in 1964. A year later the nearby Liberal Club, also by Cossins, and J.A. Chatwin’s Lloyd’s Bank in Colmore Row were demolished. By 1966, the Birmingham & Midland Institute, on Ratcliff Place & Paradise Street, was scheduled for demolition in order to widen Paradise Street for rerouted traffic; and it would be followed in due course by E.H.Barry’s and Martin & Chamberlain’s Reference Library”.


By this time the The Victorian Society had two branches in the provinces, Liverpool was founded in 1965 and Manchester followed in 1966. The stimulus to form a Birmingham branch came now from London, when Nicholas Cooper of the National Monuments Board and Nicholas Taylor of the Architectural Review, mounted a photographic exhibition of Nineteenth Century Architecture of Birmingham, at the Art Gallery, from 10th December 1966 to 9th January 1967. On 8th January 1966, Nicholas Taylor invited local members to a meeting to discuss the possibility of establishing an architectural archive in the city. This meeting decided to pursue the idea of a Birmingham Group. Although there were 1,100 members nationally, there were only 20 members in Birmingham and the city authorities seemed less co-operative than those in Manchester and Liverpool and a very large number of Victorian buildings in the city had already gone. However, local determination was enough to persuade people to go ahead.

Richard Temple Cox undertook to act as convenor for a steering committee to plan an inaugural meeting. This was held at the Medical Institute on 28th June 1966. The Lord Mayor agreed to attend and Professor Pevsner accepted an invitation to give a lecture.

An inaugural meeting was held on the 19th January 1967 in Birmingham Art Gallery, with the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Alderman Harold Tyler, in the chair. The meeting was attended by over 400 people, 43 joining the society and many promising to do so. Mr Nicholas Taylor spoke on the aims and objects of the society and Rachel Waterhouse spoke about the groups own programme. The Society’s chairman, Professor Pevsner, gave a lecture on Victorian Mansions and afterwards a buffet was served.

The Group’s committee arranged a programme for 1967 with a list of urgent cases and it was proposed that a list of important Victorian buildings in the West Midlands should be carried out. The committee was made up of Rachel Waterhouse, Chairman; Richard Temple Cox, architect; Eric Robinson, Secretary (also a senior lecturer at the College of Art, Wolverhampton); W. Curt, Assistant Secretary (also Professor of Economic History, Birmingham University); Kenneth Garlick, senior lecturer of fine art, Barber Institute; Francis Greenacre, assistant keeper of Department of Art, Art Gallery, Birmingham; Dr. R. Hetherington, physician and student of Birmingham History; Douglas Hickman, architect; and Elizabeth Kenrick, (who had a degree in architecture). Lady Mander, the Earl of Harrowby and C. Routh were elected Vice Presidents of the Group.


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