Birmingham Civic Society
The Birmingham Civic Society was founded at an inaugural meeting on 10 June 1918 in The Council House, Birmingham, England and is registered with The Civic Trust. The first President of the Society, the Earl of Plymouth, addressed the assembled Aldermen, Councillors, Architects and other city worthies at the first meeting of the newly formed Civic Society. His Lordship stated the aims of the Society, which were:
to bring public interest to bear upon all proposals put forward by public bodies and private owners for building, upon the laying out of open spaces and parks, and generally upon all matters concerned with the outward amenities of the city and district. It will insist that taste is a thing that matters, and if any offence against taste is challenged at the outset, great good will be done, and converting of mean and unlovely parts of the City will gradually follow.
Sir Gilbert Barling Bt CB CBE was the Society's first Chairman and William Haywood was the first Secretary. Its principal objectives were the stimulation of historical interest in the city, the preservation of buildings and monuments of historic worth, the prevention of vandalism and the promotion of a sense of beauty and civic pride in the lives of citizens.
Immediately upon its foundation the Society received from an anonymous trust the sum of £15,000 (around £540,000 in today's terms) to buy land for open spaces, the land later to be vested in the Birmingham Corporation. As a result several areas of land were purchased, transformed into parks and handed over to the City authorities. In most cases the Civic Society has retained until the present the right to be consulted about the management of these parks. Two notable parks in this gift were Kings Norton Park (25½ acres in October 1920) and Highbury Park (42 acres in 1923).
From its earliest days the Society has taken a prominent role in advising on and lobbying for improvements to the physical development of the city. This has progressed from 1919 when it lobbied for improvements to the (then) village of Northfield right up to the present when it is playing a leading role in the debate about the replacement of the Birmingham Central Library. Often, the Society has commissioned its own plans for developments either at the request of the City Council or on its own initiative. In some cases, such as the refurbishment of the Chamberlain Memorial Fountain in 1978 and the creation of formal gardens in some city parks, it has provided the funding needed to bring about the developments in question.
The Society has also taken a number of publishing initiatives. The first of these in 1919 was an illustrated pamphlet on the right use of the City-owned portion of the Lickey Hills, followed by a Guide to Sutton Park, containing a selection of articles and a picture map of the whole park. The Society’s most recent publication is its Heritage Buildings Guide, published in 2003 with a distribution of over 500,000 to date.
The cultural life of the city has also benefitted from the Society's attentions. On its recommendation, the City Council set up an Advisory Art Committee in 1922; it played a critical role in saving the Repertory Theatre from closure in 1924, and again in 1934–35. The link with the Repertory Theatre continues through ex officio membership of the Sir Barry Jackson Trust which holds the shares of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Ltd. The Centenary Concert for the Town Hall in 1934 was organised in the manner and form suggested by the Society jointly with the City of Birmingham Orchestra.
During the Second World War the Society played a pivotal role in saving the stained glass windows of Birmingham Cathedral from exposure to bomb damage. Designed by Edward Burne-Jones, the Society had them removed and later reinstalled, whilst during the interim, most of the other windows were blown out by heavy bombing. It has worked successfully with the City Council in organising major events; in the 1920s it organised the city's Armistice Day commemorations and more recently this involved being the Council’s principal partner in celebrating the Trafalgar bi-centenary and the 80th Birthday of Her Majesty The Queen.
In the matter of our sculpted heritage, the Society has played a leading role in preserving the city's statues, especially in the 1950s when many were in danger of being scrapped. Subjects that have been preserved in total or in part (the head being cast as a bust) by the action of the Society are Queen Victoria's statue, which was cast in bronze and placed upon a new plinth paid for by the Society for the Festival of Britain in 1951; the busts of Josiah Mason; George Dawson and John Skirrow Wright. More recently the Society has been involved in raising half of the £30,000 needed for the restoration of the Joseph Sturge statue at Five Ways and initiated the process for the relocation and restoration of the Edward VII statue, which is now in Centenary Square .
Within the wider community, the Society has taken a number of significant initiatives. It played a key role in establishing the Consultative Committee (later the Birmingham Council for Community Associations), to foster the development of local community associations and the building of Community Halls. Currently, it runs two programmes aimed at promoting active citizenship among young people, noting in particular the growing ethnic diversity of the population. The first rewards children who have contributed directly to the improvement of their own local environments. The second this year involves 1000 children aged 11 to 14 projecting their lives forward by 20 years, and proposing plans for developments they consider most important for their lives and for those of their children.
In 2005 the Society adopted a new constitution retaining the spirit of its original objectives, but reflecting the current needs and aspirations of the City and in 2008 the Society became the first Civic Society in the United Kingdom to receive a Grant of Arms which included a Coat of Arms and Crest for the sole use of the Society and its Officers and a badge to be worn by Members.
The Society makes a number of awards each year in recognition of contributions to the city. These are:
- The Forward Prize is awarded annually in recognition of the most important development project
- Gold Medal is awarded occasionally to an individual who has made an outstanding personal contribution to some aspect of the life and development of the city. Previous recipients are:
1921 Appleby Matthews 1922 Sir Barry Jackson 1923 W H Bidlake MA FRIBA 1925 Alderman George Cadbury, Jr 1926 James Richardson Holliday MA 1928 Councillor G E Macdonald 1929 The Rt Hon Neville Chamberlain MP 1930 The Hon Lady Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe 1931 Mr And Mrs Barrow Cadbury 1934 Sir Granville Bantock MA DMus FRCM 1935 Sir Gilbert Barling Bt CB CBE 1936 Sir Harry Vincent 1947 William Haywood FRIBA MTP 1948 Alderman W Byng Kendrick 1949 George Drysdale FRIBA 1951 Alderman Sir Albert Bradbeer JP 1953 J Leslie Wright 1957 Sir Wilfred Martineau MC TD MA 1958 Florence Barrow 1961 Derek Salberg CBE JP 1963 Sir Herbert Manzoni CBE MICE 1965 Paul Cadbury CBE 1968 Alderman Stephen Lloyd 1970 Sir Robert Aitken 1972 Beryl Foyle 1974 Harold Gray 1976 Dr Norman Wright Bertenshaw 1979 Sir Joseph Albert Pope 1981 John English, OBE, MA 1984 Michael Cadbury 1986 George Jonas LLB 1988 Professor Edward Marsland 1990 Sir Simon Rattle 1992 Anne Kenrick 1996 Reverend David Collyer 1998 Dr Llewellyn Lloyd 2000 Les Milner 2011 Andrew Jowett OBE 2012 Mick Hipkiss
- Silver Medal acknowledges long and dedicated service to the Society by its members
- The Renaissance Award to restoration projects of outstanding merit
- "The Work of The Birmingham Civic Society 1918-34", William Haywood, Published by Kynoch Press 1934
- "The Work of The Birmingham Civic Society 1918-46", William Haywood, Published by Kynoch Press 1946
- "A Birmingham Treasure Chest", Tudor Edwards, Published by The Birmingham Civic Society 1955