Birmingham Historical Buildings Tour (Self Guided), Birmingham

Although existent as a settlement since the early 7th century AD, Birmingham, UK is a relatively young city that has grown rapidly, as a result of the Industrial Revolution, from the 18th century onward. Thus, the local architecture is overwhelmingly a product of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, with little survived from the earlier days.

Traces of the ancient settlement, dating back to 1166, were found when the church of St. Martin in the Bull Ring was built on the site of its 13th-century predecessor in 1873. Another evidence from the medieval period of Birmingham, still intact, is The Old Crown in Deritend, famously the oldest pub in the city, built in 1368 or rather between 1450 and 1500.

The financial benefits of the Industrial Revolution provided the city with an extensive construction program manifested in the elaborate buildings and the use of Neoclassical style. The most prominent example of this style is Birmingham Town Hall, proudly in place since 1834. Another architectural monument of the Victorian era is the Council House, completed in 1879.

As Birmingham continued to expand, the increased population demanded more places of worship, which subsequently led to the construction of St. Philip's Cathedral, first built as a parish church in 1715 and converted to a cathedral in 1905.

Along with the expansion, Birmingham acquired a variety of new architectural styles, including the use of red brick and terracotta. 17 & 19 Newhall Street, popularly known as The Exchange, is a red brick and architectural terracotta edifice from that period. Victoria Law Courts, completed in 1891, also feature extensive use of terracotta on the exterior.

If you wish to learn more about these and other wonderful historic buildings in Birmingham and to hear their stories, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Birmingham Historical Buildings Tour Map

Guide Name: Birmingham Historical Buildings Tour
Guide Location: England » Birmingham (See other walking tours in Birmingham)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: VictoriaP
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Birmingham Town Hall
  • Council House
  • St. Philip's Cathedral
  • 17 & 19 Newhall Street
  • St. Chad's Cathedral
  • Methodist Central Hall
  • Victoria Law Courts
  • St. Martin's Church
  • The Old Crown
1
Birmingham Town Hall

1) Birmingham Town Hall

The Birmingham Town Hall, opened in 1834, looks very like the Temple of Castor and Pollux. The Temple once stood in the center of the ancient Forum. The look-alike Town Hall also stands in the center of things, on Paradise Street at Victoria Square.

It rests on a podium of rusticated stone. The columns are finished on top with carved Acanthus leaves below a simple architrave and dentil cornices. The Great Hall has high windows with eared architraves. At the south end of the podium there is an arcade as the main entrance.

The Town Hall was built as a venue for concerts and popular assemblies. It offers more events of jazz, folk, rock, pop and classical music, recitals, dance and educational performances. Not content with that, it goes on to general meetings, product launches, dinners, fashion shows and graduations.

Two construction workers, John Heap and William Badger were killed on the site by a falling crane in January 1833. They were buried in St. Philip's churchyard. Their memorial was a pillar base originally made for the Town Hall.

In 1853 Charles Dickens gave his first reading in the Hall. The visit of David Lloyd George triggered a riot. Mendelssohn's Elija received its premiere. It was the home of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra until it moved in 1991.

Popular headline acts made their appearance. There has been Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Queen (!), Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, The rolling Stones and naturally, Bob Dylan (perpetually touring).
2
Council House

2) Council House

Birmingham City Council House is the seat of local government for Birmingham, UK, and is a listed historic building.

The land on which it stands today, together with the adjacent Museum and Art Gallery, was previously occupied by several properties, including the clothes shop called "Cabinet of Curiosities". Curiously, the last tenants of that building were the Suffield family, ancestors of J. R. R. Tolkien, author of the acclaimed high fantasy works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

The plot was earmarked for development and purchased in 1853, however, constant financial difficulties put the development on hold until 1871 when the council finally agreed to give it a go. Construction commenced in 1874 when the first stone was laid by the then mayor Joseph Chamberlain (father of the future British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, 1937-1940).

Design for the project was by Yeoville Thomason. The side of the building, which faces Chamberlain Square, is the entrance and façade of the Museum and Art Gallery which is partly housed within the same building. During construction, amendments to the Art Gallery entrance and clock tower, known locally as "Big Brum", had to be made. Above the main entrance, which faces Victoria Square, is a mosaic of Venice by Salviati Burke & Co.

On 9 August 1902, The Council House, along with the Town Hall, was illuminated in celebration of the coronation of King Edward VII.
Sight description based on wikipedia
3
St. Philip's Cathedral

3) St. Philip's Cathedral

The Cathedral Church of Saint Philip is the Church of England temple and the seat of the Bishop of Birmingham. This Baroque-style edifice was created by Thomas Archer and constructed between 1711 and 1715. That same year it was consecrated as a parish church.

Prior to engaging in this project, Archer had visited Rome and his design is influenced by the churches of Borromini, being rather more Italianate than churches by Christopher Wren. St Philip's tower was completed by 1725, and the urns on the parapet were added in 1756.

In 1905, St Philip's became the cathedral of the newly formed Diocese of Birmingham; in large part this was due to the actions of Joseph Chamberlain, the ex-mayor of Birmingham.

During the Second World War, the cathedral was bombed and gutted on the 7 November 1940. Its most significant treasures, however, including several windows by Edward Burne-Jones, had been removed in the early stages of the war. They were replaced, unharmed, when the building was restored in 1948.

Today, the cathedral is a listed historic building. Six of the monuments inside have heritage listings too, including one commemorating two men who died during the construction of Birmingham Town Hall and a memorial to the victims of 1974's Birmingham pub bombings.
Sight description based on wikipedia
4
17 & 19 Newhall Street

4) 17 & 19 Newhall Street

Although the official name of this red brick and terracotta edifice is 17 & 19 Newhall Street, it is popularly known as The Exchange. Commissioned in 1887, the structure was designed by Frederick Martin of the Martin & Chamberlain architectural firm, and was built to accommodate the then new Central Telephone Exchange and offices for the National Telephone Company (NTC).

Originally having the postal address of 19 Newhall Street, it was colloquially referred to as "Telephone Buildings" within the NTC organisation, but outside it went by the name "Bell Edison Telephone Building" – the NTC logo behind the wrought iron gates to the main entrance bears the names of Bell and Edison.

In 1912, the NTC was taken over by the Postmaster General and ownership of the building transferred to the GPO. During World War I, it was used as the Midland headquarters of the air raid warning system.

In 1936, the Central Telephone Exchange vacated the address and relocated to new premises (Telephone House) further down Newhall Street. Today, 17 & 19 Newhall Street is a listed historic property.
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
St. Chad's Cathedral

5) St. Chad's Cathedral

The Metropolitan Cathedral Church and Basilica of Saint Chad is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Birmingham. This is one of the first four Catholic churches built in the country after the English Reformation initiated by King Henry VIII in 1534. Designed by Augustus Welby Pugin, one of England's most renowned Gothic Revival architects, who lavished much care on this particular building, it was substantially complete by 1841 and raised to cathedral status in 1852.

Situated in the Gunmakers Quarter of Birmingham, St Chad's was seriously endangered during World War II. An incendiary bomb fell through the roof of the south aisle on 22 November 1940 and bounced from the floor into some central heating pipes, which then burst. Luckily, the water from the damaged central heating pipes extinguished the fire. A thanksgiving tablet appears in the diapered design of the transept ceiling, reading Deo Gratias 22 Nov 1940 ('Thanks be to God').

In 1941 St Chad's was declared a Minor Basilica by Pope Pius XII as a church of important historical connections – currently there are only four such basilicas in England. The cathedral's patron is Saint Chad, a 7th-century Bishop of Mercia. Some of his long bones have been enshrined in the canopy above the altar, as relics.

In 1932 St. Chad's was extended by the addition of St Edward's Chapel, designed by Pugin's grandson, Sebastian Pugin Powell. Sadly, in the 1960s a number of Pugin's fittings were removed and the interior repainted, to the detriment of the original design. Hence, the cathedral's current appearance features only some of Pugin's surviving work.

The green public space near Birmingham Snow Hill station, in which the cathedral is located, is now called St. Chad's Queensway after the cathedral.
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Methodist Central Hall

6) Methodist Central Hall

The Methodist Central Hall is a three-storey red brick and terracotta Grade II* listed building with a distinctive tower at the northern end of Corporation Street. The design complements the Victoria Law Courts opposite, also in terracotta, and includes eclectic details such as the corner turrets resembling Indian chattris. It is located within the Steelhouse Conservation Area.

The terracotta was manufactured by the renowned firm of Gibbs and Canning Limited of Tamworth, which also produced decorative works for 179-203 Corporation Street and the interior of the Victoria Law Courts in Birmingham and the Natural History Museum in London. It was built 1903–04 by architects Ewan Harper & James A. Harper. The main hall seated 2,000 and it had more than 30 other rooms, including three school halls. It cost £96,165.

The street level has twelve bays of shops (four with their original fronts). The building also runs along Ryder Street and has more original shop fronts.

In 1991, the Methodist Church was converted into a nightclub; however, since its closure in 2002, the building fell empty and was poorly maintained. Currently it is only partially in use and its deteriorating condition has led to it being listed on Historic England's Heritage at Risk Register. The building has been the subject of various proposals for conversion to apartments and offices. In 2018 Birmingham City Council approved plans to restore and renovate the building including a 147-bed hotel.
Sight description based on wikipedia
7
Victoria Law Courts

7) Victoria Law Courts

The Victoria Law Courts on Corporation Street is a home to Birmingham Magistrates' Court.

This red brick and terracotta edifice was designed by Aston Webb & Ingress Bell of London in 1886, following an open competition sought to provide the first assize courts in the rapidly growing town of Birmingham. Built by local firm John Bowen & Sons, the building is faced entirely in deep red terracotta and covered in intricate terracotta ornamentation.

Similarly, the interior, including the Great Hall, also features sandy-yellow terracotta and intricate ornamentation. The chandeliers in the Great Hall resemble Queen Victoria’s coronation crown and were the first outside London to be powered by electricity. A statue of Queen Victoria by Harry Bates surmounts the main entrance.

The Queen herself laid the foundation stone on 23 March 1887 in her Golden Jubilee year. The courts were opened on 21 July 1891 by the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Further additions included a projecting bow window on the left in 1891–94 and extensions along Newton Street in 1914. Standing at the northern end of the shopping street, the building is complemented by the similarly coloured Methodist Central Hall, which stands opposite.
Sight description based on wikipedia
8
St. Martin's Church

8) St. Martin's Church

St.Martin's is the original parish church of Birmingham. It stands by the Bull Ring Shopping Centre and the markets. The church is a Victorian neo-Gothic building. It has a high nave and chancel and a spire. The spire was rebuilt many times and thrice struck by lightning.

The church was demolished and rebuilt in 1873 by the architect J. A. Chatwin. The exterior is of Grinshill stone. The inside is of sandstone. Victorian floor tiles by Minton show the arms of the de Bermingham family.

The Blitz of World War II destroyed all the stained glass windows except the near irreplaceable Burne-Jones window. The other windows were replaced by 1954.

The church is provided with 16 bells. This is unusual. Other than St.Martin's, only three rings of sixteen bells exist in the world.

The pipe organ in use today is by Harrison & Harrison. It dates from 1906. Since 2004 the church has stopped using the organ for the 11am service but it is still played at the 9.30am communion and at the 6pm Choral Service.
9
The Old Crown

9) The Old Crown

The Old Crown pub in Deritend is one of the oldest extant secular buildings in Birmingham, UK. Reportedly, this listed historic structure has been in place since 1368, retaining its "black and white" timber frame, although nearly all of its present self is believed to date back between 1450 and 1500, with some evidence dating to 1492.

It is thought to have been originally built as the Guildhall and School of St. John, Deritend. Described as a tenement and garden, running alongside Heath Mill Lane, the building was purchased in 1589 by John Dyckson, alias Bayleys and remained in the Dixon alias Baylis (later Dixon) family for the next hundred years.

The earliest documentary evidence of its use as an Inn is from 1626; and it being "called by the sign of the Crowne", from 1666. The property was converted into two houses in 1684 and then split into three in 1693. It remained three houses until the 19th century. That same century, the Old Crown was saved from demolition three times: in 1851, 1856, and 1862.

When built, the original structure had a central hall and a courtyard in the back, with a well. The latter was 26 feet (8 m) deep and surrounded by large stones. The well was cleaned up in 1863 and an iron gate was added to the top of it to preserve it while keeping it accessible.

In 1991 a local pub company bought the Old Crown and eventually had it restored to its former glory and reopened.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles