Sunday, 13 March 2016

Birmingham II Buildings

The cathedral sits on Colmore Row, and in and around that street are a number of exuberant Victorian and Edwardian buildings - mainly banks and other institutions.  The majority are classical. The one exception in the my selection is quite strange and enigmatic 'Eagle Insurance Buildings' , 1899-1900, by the extreme Arts & Crafts practitioner William Lethaby (1857-1931).  It has gilded bronze doors and is fenced about with an obscure, almost occult symbolism.
It shouldn't be forgotten that Birmingham was one of the centres of Art & Crafts production and patronage in Britain with its own traditions, producing architects like the brilliant W H Bidlake, and painters such as Henry Payne and Joseph Southall as well as numerous artist/artisans in the applied arts.  Of the buildings I photographer the only other one I have been able to identify and accredit a designer with any certainty is The Joint Stock Bank in Temple Row West by J A Chatwin.  A slightly odd design, which on the ground floor seems to have been influenced by C R Cockerell's design for the Old Schools Quadrangle in Cambridge.  It was originally was intended to be a library; it is now a pub.
The twentieth century was not kind to cities like Birmingham - the best description of that long painful process is, paradoxically, in 'Scottish Architecture' by Miles Glendinning and Aonghus MacKechnie (Thames & Hudson, 2004). What they say about Scottish cities can readily be applied to cities in England and Wales.  The havoc wrought in Birmingham was very great, and this area is probably the best place to get a feeling of what the centre of the city looked like in late nineteenth century when Birmingham was at its zenith as a manufacturing centre - and claimed, like Glasgow and Dublin, to be the Second City of the Empire.
Finally a brief word on one of those things that makes Birmingham unique - the very beautiful Victorian street signage you can find in the older parts of the city.  Cast iron I suspect.

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