West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
Birmingham Town Hall
– The First Truly Civic Building
of the lecture given by Anthony Peers
on October 26th 2016
“The pride of Birmingham and an ornament to England” – Preston
Chronicle, October 1834
Anthony Peers is a
freelance building historian with
background including having worked on the “SAVE Britain’s Heritage”
campaign, with the English Heritage Listing Division, worked in Mumbai
India, setting up and running an innovative project to repair George
Gilbert Scott's university buildings and finally as Rodney Melville
& Partners' historian.
He is incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about Birmingham Town
Hall, so much so that in 2012 he published a book on its history, which
is where today’s lecture leads us to.
In 1999, Birmingham’s Town Hall had been closed for 5 years, the
Lottery Heritage Plan had refused to award them with any funding to get
it back up and running; they did however give them advice on what to do
next. That’s when Anthony was brought in to produce a
and he worked tirelessly through the archives trying to find
information which could save this monumental building.
A Conservation Plan was submitted
and planning was granted. They also received £13.5m towards the
of the repair. Anthony was then employed by Birmingham Town Hall
“Project Historian” during the restoration period.
Context: Birmingham in the 1830’s
The town hall was built between 1832
and 1834 through money raised by the public. Built on a hill but
near to a river, everything had to be brought in and out of the town by
horse and cart. Birmingham is famous for its small items
buttons, needles, fish hooks and pistols.
Canals were eventually built which rapidly transformed the city,
increased its population and saw factories flourish.
Why was it built?
The Town Hall was built to house political meetings and these meetings
were held on a regular basis. Birmingham Music Festival also
new venue. The best concert halls were apparently of a certain
Birmingham needed to conform to this! It was designed to hold
Design & construction
It took a year to work out where the town hall would go and they then
held an architectural competition and 70 architects bid for the
job. Hanson and Welch won first prize and had a budget of £35,000
complete the Town Hall.
Having procured the stone from the Penmon Quarry in Anglesea, there
were delays in getting the stone to site due to labour strikes.
once the stone was on site, they were worried that the weight of the
ceiling would be too much for the trusses to deal with and in fact it
was a rope that snapped under the weight of the stone which tragically
killed John Heap and William Badger. This was the last straw for
project and the build came to a halt.
The interior of Birmingham Town Hall,
pictured in ca. 1845
The Town Hall in
use & the
alterations made to it
An organ had been installed but then they decided to move it so a 9ft
deep niche was built and the organ was dismantled and moved. In
the north and west extensions were added and in 1850 another extension
During WW1 it was used for recruiting purposes and was in a dire state
after the war. The interior was renovated after the war but they
a mess of it” and ruined the acoustics.
The Town Hall has always been used for royal occasions and has
continued to be a hub for political meetings.
Symphony Hall Birmingham was opened in 1991 and within 5 years the Town
Hall had closed.
Now transferred from Birmingham City Council to the Performing Arts
Birmingham and used for graduations, concerts, comedy and performances
to name a few.
|Birmingham Town Hall from Chamberlain Square in
2009 (Photo: Very
An insightful lecture on the history of a building that before now, I
knew nothing about. It has certainly made me want to go and visit
Birmingham Town Hall armed with the knowledge I now have of this
building steeped in history.
Related Links (open in new windows):
Birmingham Town Hall website
Town Hall - Wikipedia article