As I said already, the jewels and gems of Birmingham don’t stop in the Jewellery Quarter …
There is also the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which houses one of the best collections of fine and decorative art, historical artefacts and archaeological treasures in Britain today; all displayed in an elegant Grade II* listed building. The collection is particularly strong in Pre-Raphaelite art. There is also a permanent display of items from the Staffordshire Hoard. [Adapted from Art Fund Guide]
Travelling Companions by Augustus Egg (1862) one of my favourite Victorian paintings is in the care of BMAG
On Sunday afternoon we were on the trail of the gold and gems of the Staffordshire Hoard. No photography allowed.
“Discovered in 2009 and acquired jointly with the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent with assistance from the Art Fund, this treasure trove of 7th century Anglo-Saxon art features 4,000 pieces of gold and silver displaying intricate filigree and cloisonné work. Since October 2014 a new permanent gallery interprets the story of the hoard and its context within Anglo-Saxon history. Beyond the richness of the materials and the exquisite decoration, the hoard is significant because of its strictly masculine nature. These are exclusively military items created for Mercia’s best fighters.” [Art Quarterly, winter 2014, p.31]
St Chad’s Cathedral or Traffic Circle
Birmingham has two cathedrals both gems of their type. The Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad is a little out of the immediate city centre but we could easily walk there. How many times did we remark to each – “Car is King in Birmingham”? Pedestrians must wait at lights, use underpasses and walkways and over-road links. The RC Cathedral appeared to be sited in the middle of the road. Access is not easy. However, we made it safely through its doors on Monday morning and into another world. A world of peace and calm and of glorious art. No photography was allowed but I had already taken this one before I saw the sign.
The Nave, St Chad’s Cathedral
A significant stopping-off point on Birmingham’s Pugin Trail the Cathedral was the first Roman Catholic Cathedral to built in the UK since the Reformation. The superb original internal decorations and fittings were made by skilled craftsmen re-introducing skills of the Medieval era. John Hardman plate and windows; Herbert Minton tiles; William Warrington chancel window. Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin also supplied original Medieval furnishings from his own collection including the stalls and pulpit. His rood screen was removed in 1967.
Only after dropping in to St Philip’s Cathedral on Sunday afternoon and deciding to stay for Evensong – more members of the choir than members of the congregation and followed by a brief organ recital – did I read this suggestion in my LV City Guide 2012 Birmingham, London, Dublin :
St Philip’s Cathedral [source]
“Sunday in Birmingham : Attend a service in 18th century Birmingham Cathedral which has a number of stained glass windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones. Colmore Row.”
Old Joint Stock Bar [source]
Opposite the Cathedral is the famous Birmingham pub The Old Joint Stock Pub and Theatre. Just a few paces from the Cathedral we decided to pay a visit. Unfortunately the theatre wasn’t open that evening but the island bar was impressive. Also from my LV Guide :
“Julius Alfred Chatwin was primarily a designer of Birmingham churches … But there were exceptions to his church work and the opulent interiors of the Old Joint Stock, opposite St Philip’s Cathedral (in which he had a hand), showed that he could be moved to great things in the temporal sphere as well. Completed in 1864, the building first belonged to the Birmingham Joint Stock Bank. It was converted into a pub in 1997. Under a glass domed ceiling, beside an island bar and with sumptuous interiors, this is one of the grandest pubs in the city. Upstairs is an 80-seat theatre, minimalist in decor, but the sort of facility few pubs can shout about.“
Tea Room Mural
On Monday we returned to The Art Gallery to the highly recommended Edwardian Tea Room for a light lunch before heading to our raison de visite The Library of Birmingham.
“Few other tea rooms in the world can boast a stellar gathering as was here under the ornate ceiling and glass canopy in May 1998. The G8 Summit was being held in the city and for a short time a group that included Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair (and their interpreters) sat around a table commissioned from David Linley for the occasion, surrounded by a pick of the museum’s Pre-Raphaelite paintings hung here especially for the event. Even without the table and the paintings, The Edwardian Tea Room is still a grand setting for tea, coffee, snacks and lunches.” [LV Guide]
The Library Building Decorated on the Exterior to Represent Rings and Birmingham’s Jewellery Heritage
The Giant Wedding Cake, as the library is affectionately known, offers pre-bookable guided tours to the building and its contents on Mondays at 2.15. The building was officially opened by Malala Yousafzai in September 2013.
We took the glass lift up to the 9th floor from where we had long-reaching views of the city and beyond from the Skyline Viewpoint. Also on the ninth floor is the Shakespeare Memorial Room.
Shakespeare in his Memorial Room
“This original feature from the city’s Victorian library was designed by John Henry Chamberlain in 1882. Since then
it has changed home twice, moving to Central Library when it was built in the early 1970s, and to the Library of Birmingham almost forty years later. It originally housed the Birmingham Shakespeare Library, which is still available at the Library of Birmingham. The Room is wood panelled with glass printed shelves inspired by the Elizabethan age with carvings, marquetry and metalwork representing birds, flowers and foliage. The woodwork is by noted woodcarver Mr Barfield, and the brass and metal work is most likely crafted by Hardmans. The Shakespeare Memorial Room has been painstakingly reconstructed by local craftsmen A. Edmonds & Co. Ltd and the Victorian Cornice Company whorestored the elaborate ceiling. The books and memorabilia you see on the shelves are interesting items from the Library’s general collections (the Shakespeare collection outgrew the room as early as 1906).” [source]
The old Central Library seen through the rings
We then descended floor by floor visiting two gardens on our way down including the Secret Garden and The Discovery Terrace.
The Secret Garden on the Seventh Floor
Looking down into the Library and the Book Rotunda
The Book Rotunda – Shades of The British Museum and Waterstones Book Shops
The Book Browse Fiction Library
Here is a Library buzzing with enthusiasm and offering its readers so much more than books (although I’d be happy with just the books). The What’s On programme that I picked up lists Exhibitions (we visited The Voices of War during our tour), Films, Music, Activities, Performances, Dance, Poetry and Workshops. Lucky Birmingham to have this facility in the heart of the city I hope the citizens make good use of it and what it offers.
Despite a packed two days and two half days we are sure that there are many more Birmingham gems still to be visited!