Hidden Spaces (Birmingham Heritage Week)

I’m a little behind with writing some posts. I went to this event last Saturday and I am only getting round to writing about it!

I am a history fanatic and it is safe to say that the study of the past takes up a lot of my time. I am very fortunate to be a Co-organiser of the Birmingham History Network (BHN). The BHN is a meetup group which is designed to bring like minded people together and organise events. Hidden Spaces was my second organised tour for the BHN and it formed part of Birmingham Heritage Week 2015. There was so many events to pick from over the week, and it was very difficult to filter through and pick something to do. In my opinion there was too much choice. Although if I run this event next year I think from experience I will be able to plan and organise the event a little better. I decided to pick a selection of venues that are normally closed to public viewing (which the exception of a few days each year). Often I walk past their buildings and always wonder what lies behind the closed door.

Birmingham Municipal Bank
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First up with the old Municipal Bank, which was first suggestion by Neville Chamberlain (who is perhaps more famous for being Prime Minster during the Outbreak of World War Two) in 1915. The idea of the Bank was to courage workers to deposit their savings which would generate a 3.5% interest which would be used by the Government, predominately to help the war effort. The Bank was created by Act of Parliament in 1916. After the war the Bank survived and it moved to it’s current position in 1933. This building located on Broad Street was the headquarters of the Bank.

This is a big and very beautiful building. There are many safes behind this bank, and the building has a spooky element of being a ghost shell. I am not sure when the bank stopped being operational, but it closed because it was too big and too costly to maintain. I was fortunate enough to meet a woman who used to work here in the 1960s and she talked about the beautiful cashier’s desk that used to be in the main room as soon as you walk in…alas it has now gone and the building is just an empty shell. Another lovely bonus was that someone else in the group knew one of the people in charge of the Heritage Open Day and he very kindly gave us a tour around the other safes. The big empty vaults hold a silent history of what was once a very busy bank.

I think it’s an absolute shame that this building is not in use today. I can understand why it is too costly for a bank, but I was thinking that it is right next to the Registry Office. I think this building would be fantastic to be reused as a wedding venue…it has beautiful charm and room to be able to have a wedding and a catering/dance facility within it. Some of the former managerial offices could also be turned into Hotel rooms. Although there would be a problem with toilet and washroom facilities which are at present would be limiting. Nevertheless I think it would work really well as a wedding venue.

Curzon Street Station

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I am quite clearly not a photographer, so my photos are appalling. Curzon Street Station was opened in 1838…but what is interesting is that this building was only partially built. There were meant to be two wings to the building, which appear in drawing plans but were never built. That’s why this building has the appearance that something is not quite right…almost missing. People often think that something has been removed from the building, in fact, the opposite was true – it was never added.

I was a little more disappointed with Curzon Street Station – it was lovely to see round the building…but there was no one really giving tours around and as we did not have someone in the group who knew someone to give a private tour, nor someone who worked here there wasn’t much more to do than walk around. There were a few informative boards on one wall – but it was mostly empty. I thought it would have been better to see if there were any photographs of Curzon Street within the archive and perhaps of used one of these empty rooms to display that. I loved a collection of old keys that had been left in one of the rooms, it was like it had been left there on Friday night ready for Monday morning and it never opened that Monday, the cobwebs in the place gave it a fantastic touch. There was talk that this building was going to become a Museum, but I overheard someone discussing with someone else that it would have cost millions to comply with health and safety and they just couldn’t afford to make it a museum.

Birmingham Hippodrome

20150912_12233220150912_125323I thought the Birmingham Hippodrome did a fantastic job for Heritage Week. I loved the two women in traditional Victorian dress singing traditional turn of the last century songs, including ‘My Old Man’, although there is a photo of me singing this song somewhere (I am praying it doesn’t end up in the Birmingham Mail or something like that…), they were brilliant and great fun. I’m sad I did not get a picture of them. There was also a lovely guide who talked a bit about the posters which you can see on the left and briefly about the origins of the Hippodrome. He suggested that often Hippodromes were created to make a loss, and I know that often venues today make a lost. I thought they would have been more popular prior to the onset of Cinemas, Radios and Tvs; but apparently even back then they were build by wealthy people as a status symbol, but not designed to be a money spinner. Another great thing about the Hippodrome was the Historical Talk, one of the guides gave, which was an hour long sit down presentation about the History of the Hippodrome. I really enjoyed it and it was very informative.

Museum Collections

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20150912_145703This was around about 2 O’Clock and having started at 10 O’Clock, a large part of the group decided to call it a day. A few hard corers stayed on a braced themselves for a 30 minute walk across town to go to the Museum Collections building. The Museum Collections building is like a big warehouse that houses the artefacts the museum has
which are currently not on, or never go on display. It was like an Aladdin’s Cave of Historical Goodies. It also answered a 20150912_152715question I have often wondered. I look around and see some beautiful sculptures and busts of people and sometimes during refurbishments these disappear and never come back. I often wondered where they go and if they are destroyed. Turns out a lot of them are stored in the Museum Collections and they have a fantastic collection of random things. It was great looking through them. Although it was nearing the end of the event and the building was getting ready to close, so it was rather a rushed look through.

 

 

An expected bonus

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By this point it had been a long and tiring day, the group had done a lot of walking and exploring and it was safe to say we were looking forward to going home. The prospects of a long walk back into town was not appealing, however as luck would have it a man stopped me and said there were two vintage buses which were talking people back into Town. We decided to leave on the second to last bus and travelled on the London Red Bus. We were speaking to the ‘Conductor’ who was organising the stops, he said we’d turn right and stop outside Snow Hill Station, unfortunately we didn’t and the Conductor had no way of talking to the Driver, as unlike modern buses the Driver was completely isolated from the passengers on the bus. We ended up going back to Museum collections and we were about to go and get the train, when the Conductor said he was making one final trip into town and would not be coming back to Museum Collections. So we got a second trip round on the bus…which was fantastic and a perfect end to a very historical day.

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