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DateLecture
17 June 2019Birmingham Town Hall: The Pride of Birmingham and an Ornament to England
15 July 2019Two Great Collectors and a Dastardly Disperser: Kings Charles I & II and Oliver Cromwell

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Birmingham Town Hall: The Pride of Birmingham and an Ornament to England Anthony Peers Monday 17 June 2019

Birmingham Town Hall was built (in 1832-4) to serve both as an emblem for the town and as a venue in which to hold its great public events. Constructed with funds raised by a public rate, from the outset the people of Birmingham regarded this ‘built by the people for the people’ building as their own. As it occupies a central place in Birmingham and its story, study of this focal landmark provides ample opportunity for extrapolative consideration of the broader history of this the ‘city of a thousand trades’. The Town Hall’s design was selected by the town commissioners by means of an architectural competition: Based on the design of the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Forum, Rome, the presence of this grand edifice at the heart of the town would, they hoped, encourage inhabitants and visitors alike to think of ancient Rome - the great centre of classical civilisation – and reflect on the comparative achievements of modern day Birmingham. Regarded as Britain’s first truly civic building, Birmingham Town Hall was also the country’s first great purpose built concert hall. Over the course of its history it has played host to many noteworthy events. For instance it was here, in 1846, that Mendelssohn conducted the premier performance of The Elijah. In addition to discussing the building’s architectural form and matters such as pre-Victorian concert hall design and civic pride (as reflected in this and other historic buildings in Birmingham), the lecture also engages with the colourful story of the Town Hall’s construction: With challenges at the stone quarries in Anglesey, strikes by the labour force, a fatal accident on site and delay upon delay, this was a far from straight forward building project: Indeed the architects as well as the contractors eventually succumbed to bankruptcy. When it was finally completed the Town Hall was lauded as being both ‘by far the cheapest building of its magnitude perhaps ever erected’ as well as ‘the pride of Birmingham and an ornament to England’. The narrative will be rounded off with an account of the £35 Million scheme to repair and revitalise the Town Hall, including an explanation of several intriguing discoveries made by the lecturer on site. 

Anthony Peers is a freelance historic buildings' consultant, educated as an Architectural Historian at Manchester University and trained in building conservation at the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies, York. After two years with SAVE Britain's Heritage, where he wrote Deserted Bastions, he worked with the English Heritage Listing Division on the review of military buildings. In the mid 1990s he was employed by the DTI in Bombay, India, setting up and running an innovative project to repair George Gilbert Scott's university buildings and training local architects and craftsmen in conservation techniques and philosophy. From 1998 until 2010, he worked as Rodney Melville & Partners' historian, involved with research, analysis, assessment and conservation planning at such sites as The Workhouse, Southwell; Aston Hall, Birmingham; The Royal Institution, London and Cliveden. He published a book on the History of Birmingham Town Hall in 2012, to critical acclaim. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and Deputy Chairman of the Ancient Monuments Society.