A new station for Birmingham: New Street Station, 1854

As Birmingham welcomes the stunning make-over of New Street Station, I thought it might be nice to take a look at how the original station was welcomed when it was very first opened on June 1st, 1854.  Using the British Newspaper Archives online, I found the following article from the London Daily News of June 2nd, 1854. Some of the descriptions are a bit long winded, but they certainly give a feel of the sheer scale of the roof and the immense work involved in putting it all together. The article reassures that there were no accidents during the construction of the building, and it seems that this was as a result of using a specially designed moveable platform. Towards the end of the article is a description of purpose built coffee room – clearly coffee has always been a vital part of travelling by train!


Opening of the Central Station of the London and North-Western
Company at Birmingham

The central station of the London and North-Western Railway Company, for the accommodation of the traffic poured from all the narrow gauge lines into this town was opened for public use this morning. The act of parliament authorising the erection of this station was obtained six or seven years since, but so many difficulties presented themselves at the outset in planning the structure, and in obtaining so large an area of space in so large a town, that it was not until about three years since that the work was really begun. 

The most remarkable thing to notice in connexion with this work is the semi-circular roof which covers the station. It is constructed entirely of glass and iron, a quarter of a mile in length, 80 feet in height, and 212 feet in width. This enormous web-work of iron, light, elegant and singularly beautiful in appearance, is entirely unsupported, except by forty-five massive cast-iron pillars on either side, is the greatest span in the world, and must be regarded one of the greatest achievements of science in our time. 

The principals or arches of iron, with the covering, consumed twelve hundred tons of that metal, the columns and girders 212 tons and no less than 115 tons of glass has been used. And as an extension of the monster fabric is already in progress, there will be a still further consumption of crystal. The length of glass on each side of the roof averages fifty feet; each pane is six feet in length and fifteen inches in width. For the purposes of ventilation, a crystal lantern crests and runs nearly the entire length of the roof. 

The above will convey a general idea only of this remarkable roof, but it merits a more particular description. As now seen, it consists of thirty-six principals, or arches of iron, each weighing twenty-five tons: the largest principal has a span of  192 feet. The upper bar, or rib, is curved in the segment of a circle, each end resting upon a pillar; between the rib and the pillar an ingenious system of rollers is introduced, so as to allow of either expansion or contraction by atmospheric causes. From each rib depend at regular intervals twelve “struts” which are laced together by diagonal bars; the lower end of the struts are attached together by a bar of iron, called the tie-rod, which corresponds in curvature with the rib; and one peculiarity of the roof, besides its immense span, is the great rise in the curve of the tie-bar, it being equal in the centre to half the height if the roof be measured from the springing line of the arches. The principals are placed at a distance of 24 feet apart; each rib is composed of five distinct pieces riveted together. These ponderous metal bars were raised by means of a travelling stage, not a single accident occurring during the whole time the work was in course of construction.  But it was in executing this part of the fabric that the chief difficulty arose, for, in consequence of the varying breadths of the piece of ground to be covered, every one of the 36 ribs contracts in dimensions, there being a difference of more than 20 feet between the largest and the smallest. 

The pillars upon which rests this immense piece of roofing are each 33 feet in height from the level of the rails and weigh five tons each. The entire space covered in comprises ten lines of rails, intersected by four platforms and bounded on the off-side by a broad carriageway. An elegant iron bridge crosses the station at its centre from which flights of winding steps enable the passengers to reach the various platforms. Both ends of the station are screened off with glass, so that it presents the appearance of a huge glasshouse; and large as the place is, it has been reared within 20 months by Messrs. Fox, Henderson & Co. under the superintendence of Mr. Phillips, C. E., the glass being of course manufactured by Messrs. Chance at Spon Lane. 

The station and hotel, built in the Italian style from designs by Mr. Levick of London, fronts New-Street. It is a handsome building, 312 feet in length, consisting of a centre with right and left wings. The centre, which projects about twenty feet from the wings, is 120 feet long and four storeys high. The lower storey is composed of an arcade, divided by Doric pilasters into ten arches, and deriving richness of effect from each pilaster being by piers of rusticated masonry. Altogether, it is a very handsome building; the hotel alone contains nearly a hundred apartments, including a coffee room fifty-two feet long by forty broad. The portion of structure fronting the rails is 504 feet long and 92 feet high. Messrs. Branson and Gwyther were the contractors for this part of the work. 

Now that the old station is closed, travellers to Birmingham will no longer find themselves put down in the dark regions to which they have for many years been so accustomed, but in the centre of the town, and within a few minutes walk of the broad gauge lines. 


Happy Birthday School of Jewellery



Birmingham Daily Post, September 19th 1890

News of the Day

The new branch school which has just been established in Vittoria Street by the Birmingham Municipal School of Art, was formally opened yesterday by the Mayor (Alderman Clayton). Not only will art instruction be given, but a suite of rooms has been fitted up the by Birmingham Jewellers’ and Silversmiths’ Association for the purpose of giving technical instruction in those trades. At the opening ceremony several addresses were delivered and a resolution by Alderman Kenrick M.P. expressed satisfaction at the completion of the school. In the evening the second-grade prizes were distributed to the students attending the Municipal School of Art by Alderman Kenrick M.P. The Mayor presided and the Head Master delivered the address.

Information on how Birmingham City University will be celebrating the 125th anniversary of the School of Jewellery along with a brief history can be found here:


Birmingham’s nineteenth-century newspapers are archived at the Library of Birmingham, Local Studies Centre free of charge (though appointment may be advised as can get busy)

Long to reign over us: coronation celebrations 1838

George Hayter National Portrait Gallery

George Hayter National Portrait Gallery

As Queen Elizabeth celebrates a remarkable attainment, as Britain’s longest reigning monarch, I thought it might be interesting to have find out how Birmingham celebrated the previous record holder’s reign. I found an article in Aris’s, July 2nd, 1838 that reported on local celebrations for Victoria’s coronation and of course, ‘the Coronation was observed in this town in a manner suitable to the occasion’.

On the day of the coronation, Thursday June 28th, ‘the Churches of the Establishment were opened for the performance of divine worship, and appropriate sermons were preached’. Sunday school children from different congregations were treated to a free lunch of ‘good English fare’ after which they all joined together in singing the National Anthem. They then joined with children from the Wesleyan Methodist chapels, around 4,000 all together, and formed a procession to Holloway Head (then an open patch of waste ground) where they were ‘addressed by their Ministers’. The children then ‘to the delight of all surrounders, sung a hymn and God Save the Queen in a very effective manner’.  The children from other Nonconformist chapels appear to have had separate celebrations: ‘The children of Carr’s Lane, Ebenezer and other Dissenting congregations were assembled, addressed and regaled; and the children of the Old and New Meeting congregations were addressed , and afterwards proceeded to a field at Highgate where they had refreshments’. 

The celebrations were not reserved only for the pious and the young. At 1 o’clock ‘the doors of the Market Hall were thrown open and an interesting sight presented itself of tables most judiciously arranged and abundantly provided for dining four thousand of the industrious classes of both sexes, who were admitted by the tickets of subscribers to the fund raised for the purpose.’ It was a feast indeed, and those industrious men and women must have felt a great cordiality towards the Queen for the food given in her honour! ‘The fare consisted of roast beef and plum pudding, with a quart of ale to each guest. The Hall was most tastefully decorated, and too much commendation cannot be bestowed on the zeal and judgement manifested in the arrangements made by the gentlemen of the committee’. As well as the feast, the guests were treated to a band of musicians who played ‘in the intervals of the festive scene’. The Rev. William Marsh said ‘grace’ and at the end of the meal the High Bailiff raised the toast ‘the Queen, God bless her’ at which all in the hall rose and ‘responded most joyously’. Another toast was raised by Mr. Scholefield ‘though a foreigner by birth, she is in heart and feeling an Englishwoman’  and a final toast was given to ‘the Town and Trade of Birmingham’.

There were other feasts provided for the workers of Birmingham: 1500 sat down to dinner at Bindley’s Horse Repository, and ‘various parties of workmen were provided for by their masters’. Food was also distributed to households not partaking in the organised celebrations, while ‘the inmates of the Workhouse and Asylum were suitably entertained’.

At 3pm the public procession began, leading off from the still new Town Hall, and Aris’s reveals the order of that very grand sounding march of local dignitaries:

coronation procession Ariss

British Newspaper Archives

The procession moved through Ann St., Colmore Row, Bull St., High St., Digbeth, Smithfield, Bromsgrove St., the Horsefair, Smallbrook St., Worcester St., New St. and back to the Town Hall – which I think would certainly have walked those big dinners off!

In the evening there was a ‘thinly attended’ ball at the Town Hall  and an ‘Illumination’, I’m afraid I have no clue what this was (would be very grateful of answers though), but which was described as ‘not general, but very good and such as gave life to the town until a late hour’. Other evening events seem to have been largely private affairs, with lots of hotel dinners.

Children and feasting for all appear to have been central to the celebrations – and perhaps we see already here, right at the beginning of the period, what would become a copule of the defining features of the Victorian age, the family and philanthropy. The report on Birmingham’s celebrations ends,

Beyond comparison, however, the most gratifying of all the scenes were those in which, within the limits of the borough, nearly fifteen thousand Children connected with the schools were enabled to partake of the joys of the day, and to unite their voices in imploring blessings on a reign in which their happiness is so especially involved.



I searched Aris’s Gazette using the British Newspaper Archives subscription service. Birmingham newspapers are also archived and can be viewed free of charge at the Local Studies Centre, 4th floor, Library of Birmingham. Our local archives are currently under threat because of financial cuts and many staff have already been lost. Please support our local archives, without them we have no history! 

Sarah Cox, a young thief sentenced to the reformatory

Tuesday September 9th 1884

Birmingham Police Court

Before Messrs. Kynnersley (stipendiary), Harris, Goodman, Payton and Goodrick

A young thief._ Sarah Cox (aged 12), living with her parents in Adam Street, was charged on remand with stealing 1s 6d from the till of Sarah Watkins, shopkeeper, Great Lister Street._ The prosecutrix stated that on the 1st September she went into the shop and saw the prisoner drawing her hand away from the till. She asked the girl what she wanted, and the latter replied that she wanted a pennyworth of tobacco. Prosecutrix went to the till, and missed 1s 6d. She caught hold of the prisoner, and a shilling fell out of her sleeve to the floor. She was given into custody and charged with the offence, when she replied that she would give the prosecutrix a penny if she would let her go._ Prisoner, who had twice been previously convicted, was sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment and five years in a reformatory

At this same hearing, directly after young Sarah had been sentenced, the ‘incorrigible’ serial inebriate William, ‘Billy’ Poole also made his 116th appearance before the magistrates – this time being fined 20 shillings for being drunk whilst in charge of a horse in the Bull Ring two days earlier.

This report was found in Birmingham Daily Post, September 10th 1884. This paper can be viewed by subscription to the British Newspaper Archives  and all of Birmingham’s 19th century newspapers can viewed free of charge at the Local Studies Centre, Library of Birmingham. 


A local treasure: Birmingham School of Jewellery

This year marks the 125th anniversary of Birmingham’s world renowned School of Jewellery. Originally opened as a branch of the Municipal School of Art, the SoJ still stands in pride of place on Vittoria Street in the Jewellery Quarter and is now part of Birmingham City University. You can find information on the plans to celebrate the anniversary here:


And more information on its history at the university site here:


I thought it would be fitting to post a newspaper report on the SoJ, and found this account of the building just prior to its opening in 1890. The report is taken from Birmingham Daily Post, September 5th, 1890.  The architects mentioned, Messrs. Martin & Chamberlain were responsible for many of Birmingham’s finest Victorian architecture, perhaps their finest being the School of Art on Margaret Street, but they also designed all of the city’s board schools (the redbrick variety, such as that on Dudley Road).



The Vittoria Street Branch School of Art

The work of preparing for its special purposes the building in Vittoria Street which, under the sanction of the Council, the School of Art Committee has leased as the future home of a branch School of Art in the jewellery quarter, is almost completed,  and the premises will be clear of workmen and ready in all respects for immediate occupation when they are formally open on the 18th inst. They will constitute a very admirable suite of class-rooms. Few structural changes have been made, and the work has consisted chiefly in cleaning and fitting the interior. One of the entrances has been built up, with a view to the better supervision of the students. The porch gives access to a lobby, which leads past a smaller number of smaller rooms in the front of the block, down a small staircase to a large and excellent classroom. This, the principle apartment, is 65ft by 43ft in floor measurement and is roofed in three longitudinal bays, which light it from the north down its entire length. One of the long walls has been fitted with a continuous blackboard, and the room is liberally supplied with picture and curtain rods, so that spaces may be cut off for model drawing, and the fall of the light regulated. The artificial lights are Mr. Sidney Barratt’s circular burners, of the type which give so clear a light in the Art Gallery; and they are provided with adjustable hoods, by means of which their strength can be focussed upon the models.  The rooms on each side of the lobby referred to include, on the left, two class-rooms, and on the right the headmaster’s room,  a room for the use of assistant masters a curator’s office and a strong room. The two class-rooms measure 25ft by 13ft and 28ft by 16ft. One of them contains accommodation for a small library. The large apartment is flanked on the south side by a long and narrow gallery, which has lent itself very well  to the purposes of a modelling room for working in clay. There is also on this floor, in connection with each class-room, provision for the storage of drawing-boards &c. in numbered recesses.  From the principal apartment a staircase gives access to the first floor, which extends over the front block only. The chief room on this floor has been let to the Jewellers’ and Silversmiths’ Association for the purposes of technical instruction in these trades, and of this instruction the association will have sole charge and responsibility, it being however provided that only students in the School of Art shall be admitted for technical teaching in the association room. The new floors throughout the building are of concrete, laid with wood blocks, herring-bone fashion; and together with the staircases, are as nearly noiseless as may be. The building is warmed by Messrs. Hadens’ hot water system in low pressure pipes, heated in the basement, where also there is a cloak-room and lavatory accommodation. The alterations have been carried out by  Messrs. Sapcote and Son, from the plans of Messrs. Martin and Chamberlain

I sourced this article via the British Newspaper Archive, which is available by subscription only. Birmingham’s newspapers are also available to view free of charge in the Local Studies Centre, Library of Birmingham.  Birmingham libraries and archive are currently under threat as a result of government and local authority cut backs. Please support our libraries and archives! When they’re gone, they’re gone forever.