Birmingham - Powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution


15th October 2013

On a pleasant autumn morning, the recent rains having finally stopped, Probus members and guests boarded a coach outside the Dolphin Hotel in St Ives and headed west – a different direction from outings in recent years – for a rendezvous with our Guide from City & Village Tours in the centre of Birmingham.  Far from being a grim and industrial concrete jungle, the new Birmingham is a much improved city of beautiful squares, greenery and public art.  We began with a short visit to the magnificent, newly opened City Library, followed by morning refreshments in the Malthouse pub on the contrasting old canal quayside and a coach tour of the city centre and renowned jewellery quarter.  After a fish & chip lunch in the Malthouse, we spent the afternoon in the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, world famous for its collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings, finally ending the day with refreshments in the Gallery's Edwardian Tearooms before heading for home.
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First stop was the new City Library in Centenary Square, designed by architect Francine Houben and opened on 3rd September 2013,
where our party discussed the unusual exterior before viewing the even more remarkable interior design. 
This impressive escalator is the main access from the entrance hall to the first floor gallery.
The first floor gallery.  The £189m library houses a collection of one million books 
and has more than 200 public access computers, theatres, an exhibition gallery and music rooms.
Higher galleries illuminated by a mixture of daylight and artificial light. 
The library's most valuable books are copies of Shakespeare's First Folio and John James Audubon's 'Birds of America'
worth between £6m and £7m each.
The first floor roof terrace.  The library's futuristic exterior of interlacing rings aims to reflect the city's canals and tunnels.
View of Birmingham Centenary Square from the first floor roof terrace.
View towards the circular Hall of Memory First World War memorial, built in 1925 and the old Central Library (far left) built in the 1970s
and once described by Prince Charles as looking like a place where books would be incinerated rather than read.
Contrasting old and new in this canal backwater.
New buildings along the old canal.
The canal quayside outside the Malthouse pub.
The Malthouse Pub where morning refreshments and lunch were served.
Serving God in the Jewellery Quarter.
St Pauls Church set in a timeless Georgian square, with rolling lawns and tree-lined walks, was built under an Act of Parliament of 1772. 
It was designed by Roger Eykyn, a surveyor from Wolverhampton, with Samuel Wyatt, a distinguished local architect, acting as an advisor.
The land was donated by Charles Colmore, a well known local landowner at the time.
Our Probus group inside St Paul's Church.
The large East Window is most unusual, and is Francis Eginton's best and most renowned work. 
It is a copy of Benjamin West’s picture of The Conversion of St Paul, painted on glass.
The original panting is hung in the Dallas Museum of Art although a further copy is in Smith’s College, Massachusetts.
Benjamin West was once court painter of historical subjects to King George III.  He was a founder member of the Royal Academy
and became its President in 1792. 
A plan of Birmingham surveyed by Thomas Hanson in 1778 on display in St Paul's Church.
The Millennium Window in St Paul's Church.

This Millennium Window was sponsored by the Birmingham Assay Office.  The design was selected from a competition, the Stevens Competition, run by the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Glass Painters for young artists.  The theme for the window was:

- the celebration of the manufacture of jewellery; 

- the contribution of the Assay Office in maintaining standards; 

- the role of Matthew Boulton as an innovative industrialist, a leading citizen of the town and Founder of the Assay Office and the Lunar Society; 

- all within the scriptural theme of Job 28!

The Assay Office and the Church together chose “the Angel’s Crucible” by Rachel Thomas.

The angels are carefully pouring white hot metal from the crucible into the streets of the Jewellery Quarter below.  The heat of the metal is reflected in the bodies of the angels.  The design of the haloes is based on a detail on a silver basket, dated 1778, manufactured by Boulton and Fothergill.  The patterns and trim on the clothing of the angels are based on the details of other items by Boulton.

In the crucible are the hallmarks for gold – the crown, for silver – the lion, and for platinum – the orb, together with for Birmingham – the anchor and the special Assay Office mark for the millennium, the distributed 2000.

At the top, stars shine in the night sky, which, with the moon, reminds us of the Lunar Society, where some of the most distinguished men in the latter part of the 18th century met to discuss the developments and issues of the day.

From Job 28, Rachel selected verse 28 for the words round the rim: “Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”

Rachel saw the pouring of the molten metal as a metaphor that reflects the area’s rich industrial history and diversity of skills, and as a cultural melting pot where ideas became reality.  She also saw the crucible as a positive image, as though a portal towards a bright future and a new Millennium.

(Text taken from a display card next to the window.)



Birmingham Town Hall, a Grade I listed concert hall and venue for popular assemblies, is famous for its concert pipe organ.
Built in brick from 1832-1834 and faced with Penmon Anglesey Marble, the hall is modelled on the Temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome. 
Some limestone was used in its construction and fossils of plants and animals are visible. 
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery opposite the Town Hall the clock tower is known locally as 'Big Brum'.
The Art Gallery is most noted for its extensive collections of paintings ranging from the 14th to the 21st century,
including works by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the largest collection of works by Edward Burne-Jones in the world.