Council House, Birmingham

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Birmingham Council House
Council House, Birmingham (2).jpg
Birmingham Council House, Victoria Square
General information
TypeMunicipal headquarters
Architectural styleClassical
Listed Building – Grade II*
Designated25 April 1952
Reference no.1210333
LocationVictoria Square, Birmingham, England
Coordinates52°28′48″N 1°54′10″W / 52.48000°N 1.90278°W / 52.48000; -1.90278Coordinates: 52°28′48″N 1°54′10″W / 52.48000°N 1.90278°W / 52.48000; -1.90278
Construction started17 June 1874
Completed30 October 1879
Height29m (Top of Dome)
Design and construction
ArchitectYeoville Thomason
Balcony on the Council House
Details on the Council House

Birmingham City Council House in Birmingham, England, is the home of Birmingham City Council, and thus the seat of local government for the city. It provides office accommodation for both employed council officers, including the Chief Executive, and elected council members, plus the council chamber, Lord Mayor's Suite, committee rooms and a large and ornate banqueting suite, complete with minstrel's gallery. The first-floor's exterior balcony is used by visiting dignitaries and victorious sports teams, to address crowds assembled below. The Council House, which has its own postcode, B1 1BB, is located in Victoria Square in the city centre and is a Grade II* listed building.[1]

The side of the building that faces Chamberlain Square is the entrance and façade of the Museum and Art Gallery, which is partly housed within the same building.



The land on which the Council House and adjacent Museum and Art Gallery are located was purchased in 1853. This land consisted of Ann Street which was home to properties such as the "Cabinet of Curiosities", a clothes shop advertised as "An exhibition for the curious observer of natural phenomena". The building had a clock tower topped with a flagpole. The top was castellated and the walls were whitewashed and adorned in advertisements and messages. The last tenants of the building were the Suffield family, ancestors of J. R. R. Tolkien.[2]

The land was earmarked for development, however constant financial difficulties put all development on hold until 1871 when the council finally agreed to build offices on the site. A design competition was established and the council received 29 entries, which was disappointing in comparison to the 179 entries Sheffield and Birmingham received. However a decision was delayed by further financial difficulties. The council was then split over the Gothic entry by Martin & Chamberlain and the classical entry by Yeoville Thomason.[2]

Construction and extensions[edit]

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery & the clock tower, Big Brum

Thomason's design was chosen; his design featured a central section with a huge hexastyle Corinthian order porte-cochere carrying a balcony with an arch and tympanum high up above flanked by flanked by piers and columns which it turn carry a large carved pediment.[1] However amendments to the art gallery entrance and clock tower were made. The clock and tower are known locally as "Big Brum".[3] Construction commenced on the building in 1874 when the first stone was laid by the then mayor Joseph Chamberlain. The building was completed in 1879 and cost £163,000 (equivalent to £16,700,000 in 2019).[4] A debate was held to decide the name of the building: the options were The Municipal Hall, Council House and Guildhall.[2]

The Council House was extended almost immediately, in 1881–85. The architect was again Yeoville Thomason. This was a combined art gallery, museum, and the home of the corporation's Gas Department, whose budget subsidised the building, as legislation limited the expenditure of ratepayers' taxes on the arts.[5]

The link bridge between the original Art Gallery and the Art Gallery Extension of 1911–19.

Above the main entrance, which faces Victoria Square, the tympanum contains a mosaic by Salviati Burke and Co. of Venice.[6] Above that, the pediment shows Britannia receiving the manufacturers of Birmingham.[7] Victoria Square itself was once occupied by Christ Church, a building which was demolished in 1899.[8]

On 9 August 1902, The Council House, along with the Town Hall, was illuminated in celebration of the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.[9]

The Council House was extended a second time in 1911–19 (by architects Ashley & Newman) with a new block to the north and connected to the original building by an intricately designed archway (internally a corridor). The archway or bridge slightly resembles The Bridge of Sighs in Venice. The extension contains the Feeney Art Galleries.[5]


Many memorials are housed within the Council House. Most are not available for viewing by the public except upon request. Memorials within the Council House are:[10]

  • To the citizens of Birmingham from the Belgian exiles during World War I.
  • To the staff of the Board of Guardians who served and died in World War I.
  • To Captain Ronald Wilkinson who died trying to defuse an IRA bomb in Edgbaston on 17 September 1973.
  • To the staff of the City Treasurers who served in World War I and to the City Treasurers who served in World War II.
  • To the staff of the Electric Supply Department who died during World War I.
  • To the staff of the Public Works & Town Planning Department Memorial who died in both world wars.
  • To the staff of the Veterinary Department who died during World War I.
  • To John Skirrow Wright, who died in the building.
  • A Blue Plaque commemorating the five consecutive generations of the Martineau family who served as (Lord) Mayors

Use in films[edit]

The foyer featured in the Cliff Richard film Take Me High, made to appear as a hotel lobby.[11] The glass corridor, banqueting suite and other parts also doubled as a hotel in Stephen Poliakoff's Dancing on the Edge.[12]


  1. ^ a b Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1210333)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 19 May 2006.
  2. ^ a b c "A look back at the history of Birmingham Council House". Birmingham Mail. 7 May 2015. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  3. ^ "Discovery Day and Sportsfest". BBC Birmingham. Retrieved 31 May 2008.
  4. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
  5. ^ a b Cannon-Brookes, P. (1 December 1993). "The rebirth of the Gas Hall, Birmingham". Museum Management and Curatorship. 12 (4): 409–411. doi:10.1016/0964-7775(93)90040-P.
  6. ^ Public Sculpture of Birmingham: Including Sutton Coldfield, George Thomas Noszlopy, 1998, Liverpool University Press (ISBN 0853236925)
  7. ^ "Pediments and Mosaic at the Council House". Vanderkrogt. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  8. ^ Dent, Robert Kirkup (1894). The Making of Birmingham: Being a History of the Rise and Growth of the Midland Metropolis. David. p. 278+. Retrieved 31 December 2013.
  9. ^ Reekes, Andrew Edward (1 March 2014). "Birmingham Exceptionalism: Joseph Chamberlain and the 1906 General Election" (PDF). University of Birmingham. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  10. ^ "List of war memorials in Birmingham". Birmingham City Council. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  11. ^ "Incredible then and now pictures from 'forgotten' Cliff Richard movie - filmed on location Birmingham". Birmingham Mail. 22 April 2019. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  12. ^ "Birmingham bids to become film and TV destination". BBC. 25 January 2012. Retrieved 4 April 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Davies, Stuart (1985), By the Gains of Industry - Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery 1885-1985, Birmingham City Council, ISBN 0-7093-0131-6
  • Holyoak, Joe (1989), All About Victoria Square, The Victorian Society Birmingham Group, ISBN 0-901657-14-X

External links[edit]