This Web Page is Birmingham Pictorial, updated, 10th December 2013

All photos © Robert Darlaston






Birmingham  Pictorial


The Birmingham I knew as a child in the 1940s and 1950s was a rather grubby, smoky, dowdy city,

suffering from much damage and neglect during the war years.  

There were corners which were pleasant enough, but no one would have called the city attractive, colourful or vibrant.


That was the place we left in the early 1970s.  

Today, when we go back to see old friends we are struck by the changes since those days.  

These photographs were all taken on such ‘tourist’ visits and show that the once boring old industrial city in the Midlands

is now, in fact, a place of considerable interest and style.







DSC02105 Left:  Queen Victoria’s statue in Victoria Square, with the Town Hall beyond.






Central Birmingham:



Panorama of Victoria Square: the former GPO building is at the extreme left, then the Town Hall designed by Joseph Hansom and based on the Temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome.   To the right is the Council House, built in 1874.


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Left:  The Council House;   right:  looking across Victoria Square towards Waterloo Street.



Chamberlain Square with the Art Gallery entrance at the left and the rear of the Town Hall to the right.

The Art Gallery displays a wide range of art and has a particularly fine collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings.   The Town Hall was host to the first performances of Mendelssohn’s Elijah (1846), Dvorak’s Requiem Mass (1891) and Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius (1900).   The statue is of Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) who was a member of the Lunar Society which met at Soho House (see below) and who discovered oxygen.


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Two more views with the Town Hall:  left, towards the Art Gallery entrance (beneath the clock tower) and, right, across what was once Ratcliff Place, where now Queensway emerges from a tunnel beneath the 1960s Library.


ColmoreRow  GWArcade

Left:  Summer in Colmore Row, looking towards Snow Hill station, with the Cathedral Precinct to the right.

Right:  Christmas in the Great Western Arcade, built over the cutting taking the Great Western Railway company’s line into Snow Hill station.


CorporationSt  WaterlooSt

Left:  Looking up Corporation Street from the entrance to New Street station.   At the left is the former Midland Bank building which has since become a remarkably palatial branch of Waterstone’s bookshop.

Right:   Waterloo Street, built at the time of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon.   In the centre is the Regency style Apsley House (named after Wellington’s London home) and to its right is Waterloo Court with decoration based on the Temple of the Winds in Athens.




St Philip’s Cathedral, dedicated in 1715 and designed by Thomas Archer, is based on the baroque churches of Bernini and Borromini in Rome.   It was built on the highest point of central Birmingham in order to be visible from afar.   It became a cathedral in 1905 and is the smallest cathedral in England.   It contains some especially fine stained glass by Burne-Jones who was born nearby in Bennett’s Hill.


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Two more views of the Cathedral


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The Bull Ring:

Nelson looks down on the Bull Ring, as he has since his statue was erected in 1809.   But now he stands before the futuristic Selfridges’ department store, which looks exotic by day and even more so by night.

The Bull Ring gained its name from bull-baiting which took place there about 700 years ago.



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Until the early 1960s the street market was held in a traditional wide open space in front of St Martin’s Church, at the foot of a long slope down from New Street.   In 1964 that space was destroyed when a partly elevated dual carriageway road was put across the market area, driving pedestrians below street level.   This arrangement lasted little more than thirty years, before the road was removed and surface level pedestrian access restored.   The left hand picture shows the current approach to St Martin’s with Christmas shoppers;  the smaller photo shows the view from the same location ten years earlier.   It’s a great improvement, but a shame the trees by the church have gone!   St Martin’s Church dates back to the 13th century but was substantially rebuilt in the 19th century, although much of the tower and spire are of earlier date.




Selfridges’ store by night.



The Rotunda:  Birmingham’s iconic building of the 1960s.

It was originally used as offices, but has now been upgraded and converted to residential use.



Close to the Bull Ring;  Moor Street station concourse.   The steam locomotive is preserved for display purposes.

This is central Birmingham’s only surviving station in near-original condition and was opened by the Great Western Railway in 1909 for suburban trains to Stratford-upon-Avon.   New Street station was rebuilt in the 1960s to an inadequate standard and another rebuilding is planned.   Snow Hill station, built to a very spacious design in 1912, was closed and demolished in the 1970s, only to re-open with a much inferior building in 1987.  


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Finest of the city’s railway stations was Curzon Street, opened in 1838 and terminus of the London & Birmingham Railway.

(Right) A close-up of the arms of the L&BR over the main entrance.

The building survives out of use, but is no longer owned by the railway.   Regular passenger trains ceased to use the station when New Street was opened in 1854, but the building continued in use as railway goods offices until 1968.


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Left:  The Victoria Law Courts in Corporation Street;  a remarkable building of ornate terracotta, opened in 1891.   Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone in her Jubilee year, 1887.     Right:  “Back-to-back” houses in Hurst Street which have been preserved by the National Trust and are open to the public.   Once relatively common, most back-to-backs were demolished in the 1950s and 1960s.



Centenary Square, looking towards Symphony Hall, which was completed in 1991 and opened by H.M. the Queen.   The Repertory Theatre is at the extreme right.


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Left:  the interior of Symphony Hall, widely recognised as having one of the finest acoustics in the world.

Right:  the statue in Broad Street, opposite Centenary Square, of the three eighteenth-century men who were behind Great Britain’s early industrialisation, Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdock.  


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Also in Centenary Square is the new Library of Birmingham, opened in August 2013.  

This remarkable building, with its reconstructed Victorian Shakespeare Room and its two roof gardens (one is pictured right), replaced

the inverted concrete ziggurat built in the 1960s and reviled by the Prince of Wales, which in turn had replaced the much loved Victorian Library.


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Broad Street, just beyond Symphony Hall, and (a hundred yards up to the right) Oozells Street with the ornate Ikon Gallery just discernible through the Cherry Trees




Birmingham Canals

Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice!


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The view from Gas Street basin to the Hyatt Hotel, and an unchanged area by the Worcester Bar


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Left:  Pleasure boats on the canal behind Symphony Hall (at the left) with Broad Street crossing the bridge in the background.

Right:  Surviving older buildings alongside the canal, with the National Indoor Arena in the distance.


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The canal behind Symphony Hall on a winter’s afternoon and a Spring evening.



The Birmingham and Worcester canal:  a barge heads out of the city centre towards Edgbaston




Edgbaston and

The University of Birmingham




Pleasure boats on the Birmingham and Worcester canal as it passes through Edgbaston


Edgbaston  Winterbourne1

Edgbaston is a spacious and leafy suburb little more than a mile from the city centre.   Birmingham is quite fortunate in having attractive residential areas conveniently located to the city centre.    One reason is that the city had little heavy industry, so that unlike their opposite numbers in northern industrial cities, Birmingham’s 19th century bosses and professional men had no reason to move far away to escape the smoke, noise and squalor of factories 


The right hand picture shows part of the University of Birmingham’s seven acre Botanical Garden at Winterbourne, an Arts and Crafts style private house acquired by the university in 1944.  (These university gardens should not be confused with the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, a much larger site little more than a mile away!)



The University of Birmingham:


Chancellor’s Court   The buildings were designed by Sir Aston Webb, best known for designing the façade of Buckingham Palace.



The statue of George I, by Jan Van Nost, dating from 1722, outside the Barber Institute of Fine Art near the University entrance.

The Barber Institute is regarded as one of the finest small art galleries in Europe and has an exceptionally wide ranging collection of paintings.



The entrance to the Great Hall, completed in 1909.  

The photograph explains the origin of the once derogatory phrase “Redbrick”, used by Oxbridge men about “lesser, provincial” universities.   In the early years of the war Birmingham University was at the forefront in the development of radar.   But perhaps its major contribution was in the development of nuclear fission.   Two German-Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution, Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls, arrived in Birmingham in the late 1930s, where Peierls became Professor of Mathematical Physics.   Together, they were to develop the processes which led to the atom bomb (as well as to other potential beneficial uses of nuclear energy).   In September 1944  the British Government arranged with the Americans that the men should go to the USA, where they joined the American team already working at Los Alamos.


University6  University5

Left:  “Old Joe”, the university clock tower, named after Joseph Chamberlain who was the driving force to establish the university and who was its first Chancellor.   The tower is 325 feet high and modelled on the Torre di Mangia in Sienna.

Right:  The Vale, part of the university’s extensive campus.   This land formed the grounds of private residential property until acquired by the university after the war.




Continuing south-westwards down the Bristol Road:


A little further down the Bristol Road from the University:  Selly Manor in Bournville.  Parts of the building date back to 1327.

The suburb of Bournville was developed in the 1890s by the Quaker Cadbury family as a “model village” for employees of their chocolate factory.   The houses, built in the Arts and Crafts style, remain much sought-after, particularly by university staff.


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The Lickey Hills on Birmingham’s south western fringe, just over ten miles from the city centre.  The highest point is 956 feet above sea level.  

The hills, once property of the Earls of Plymouth, were acquired by the city between 1888 and 1920.  To the left enthusists fly kites with a view over the city beyond.   The other photograph faces in the opposite direction, with views across Worcestershire, over Bromsgrove and the Severn Valley to the Malvern Hills.   The hills were a popular destination for city residents at weekends, and long queues formed for the number 70 tram from Navigation Street to Rednal – and even longer queues back again in the late evening!






Birmingham Industry

and the

Jewellery Quarter


Soho1  StPaulsSq3

Left:  Where world industrialisation first began – Soho House, the home of Matthew Boulton from 1766 to 1809.   

Right:  St Paul’s Church, consecrated in 1779.  Watt, Boulton and Washington Irving at one time rented pews in St Pauls.


Boulton, William Murdock, Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestley, Josiah Wedgwood, William Withering and James Watt were the architects of the Industrial Revolution.   They called themselves the Lunar Society and met at Soho House to discuss scientific projects and the development of modern means of manufacture.   The society was so named because, in the days before street lights, they met at full moon to take advantage of the moonlight when walking to and from Soho House.  

Soho Manufactury was built nearby and supplied fine ware to many of the Courts of Europe.   Birmingham was not traditionally associated with heavy industry, but with smaller-scale, skilled work, including silver, jewellery, ormolu,  buttons and, of course, firearms.   Consequently much of the work was done by family businesses in sheds in the back yard of their houses.




The Chamberlain Clock, erected in 1903 at the junction of Warstone Lane, Vyse Street and Frederick Street.   Joseph Chamberlain was at one time M.P. for the district.



St Paul’s Square:  these Georgian properties were erected as private residences, but the occupiers used their back yards as workplaces.   Eventually, the occupiers moved away to other residential areas and the houses became lock-up workshops.   But in the last thirty years “gentrification” has taken place and the buildings have been restored and are used as professional offices or wine bars.   Similar buildings survived in the heart of the city centre until the 1960s when they were sadly torn down to make way for modern high-rise buildings.


Jewellery3  Jewellery2

Caroline Street:  a Georgian building with an elegant portico, still in use as a workshop.

Attractive brickwork on the façade of this jewellery works in Vittoria Street.


Jewellery5  Jewellery6

The permanently open (i.e. “welcoming”) gates of the Jewellery Business Centre, commissioned by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales in the 1990s and sculpted in steel and brass with glass ‘jewels’.   The initials of the Centre can be seen within the doorway, set out in hallmark style, with the customary Birmingham anchor symbol below. 

Right:  A traditional Birmingham street sign in the Jewellery Quarter.



Vyse Street, with various local jewellery ‘outlets’ to tempt the buying public and, at the right, the recently opened Jewellery Quarter railway station, largely obscured by the 19th century gentlemen’s urinal, made in Glasgow from cast iron.







The Stately Homes of




AstonHall1  AstonHall2  

A couple of miles from the city centre takes one to Aston Hall, built in 1634 for Sir Thomas Holte.   It was acquired in 1818 by James Watt jnr but was bought by Birmingham Corporation as a museum in the 1850s.   The interior contains a particularly impressive Long Gallery (right).



On the eastern fringes of the city is Castle Bromwich Hall, a Jacobean mansion completed in 1585, and once a seat of the Earls of Bradford.  The hall is privately owned and not open, but the gardens include the last surviving baroque garden, to which the public is admitted.


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My memories of childhood in Birmingham in the 1940s can be read at MemoryLane.




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