Birmingham – Hall of Memory

On Saturday 19 October I was allowed an escape day. I started with my flu jab, then caught the train from Duffield to Derby and on (on a packed Cross Country train) to Birmingham. I eventually managed to escape from New Street (how could they make such a mess of a station rebuild?) and walked to the Library of Birmingham. Why does Birmingham have a stunning library when in Derby they closed a beautiful Victorian library and handed everything else over to community control?

The Library is hosting an exhibition called “Watt in the World, the life and legacy of James Watt 2019.” I did a little bit of research on him many years ago while looking at ‘Finding God in technology’ for a St Edmundsbury Lent Address, and one of the sadnesses of 2019 is that I haven’t had opportunity to do more Watt stuff – there’s been quite a lot at Soho House, Handsworth, and elsewhere in the Midlands (and in Glasgow). There was some fascinating material in this exhibition, but I was most intrigued by a print entitled “Engraving of the Liverpool to Birmingham Railway in 1825” (ie dated several years before the line opened). Never seen it before, can’t find it on the web, and there’s no decent (affordable) exhibition catalogue to tell me more about it. Here’s part of it.

Outside is a building site for the Birmingham Westside Metro extension. It will be wireless, interesting to see how battery power works. I had a wander and then realised there was what looked to be a fascinating building open.

The Hall of Memory was built to commemorate the 12,320 Birmingham citizens who died and the 35,000 who were wounded in the First World War. The foundation stone was laid on 12 June 1923 by The Prince of Wales. He said that the building would stand to “symbolise to generations to come that Birmingham stood for, during  period of great national crisis – work of every kind unflinchingly given, compassion to the sick and wounded, courage and resource in adversity, and, above all, self-sacrifice in the face of death.” It was opened two years later by HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught, is built of Portland Stone, and cost £60,000, and was constructed mainly by Birmingham craftsmen. It was designed by S.N. Cooke and W. Norman Twist, built by James Barnsley and Sons, and John Bowen and Sons. Website at

In the centre of the Hall is a sarcophagus-shaped dais of Siena marble, and in the display case are two books, one for each of the World Wars. There is a third book, as Wars never end.

Having been to the Island of Barra, I wondered why they sent a wreath – it’s the Birmingham Air Raids Remembrance Association – It is good that they remember something that could so easily be forgotten.

Looking up, the glass is rather lovely. The main one was designed by R.J. Stubington. He studied, and then taught, at Birmingham School of Art.

There are four Art Deco Bas-relief plaques depicting scenes from the First World War. Here are two of them. 35,000 came home disabled – that might be something to think about this Remembrance Sunday. How Society looks after the people who need looking after – I can see that annoying a few!

These seats do not look the most comfortable to sit and meditate on. It was a shame that there wasn’t anywhere you felt welcome to sit and think. The one chap on duty sat in a side office on the phone, not making eye contact with any visitors. There was just an A4 sheet with information, and nothing to help people remember. It would be a fascinating project to see what you could produce in such a multi-racial City.

Outside there are four bronze statues by Albert Toft, another local man – They represent Air Force, Army, Navy, and the Women’s Services. Rather stunning.

I wandered back to New Street and travelled home via Rugeley Trent Valley and Tamworth (the way one does). I was home at 3, having had a good day out. Today (1 November) I have got my blog totally up to date (which it hasn’t been for a while). I now need another day out!

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