Birmingham: A Changing City

Birmingham’s skyline has changed a lot over the last decade, but we have always lived in an ever changing city.  It was through researching some of the changing areas of the city centre, that we came across some great recent collections of pictures that help build up a tale of how Birmingham has changed in the last five centuries.

It’s worth visiting Birmingham Museum & Art gallery, and the Birmingham: its people, its history collection to get a sense of the 500 years of change. The following three landscapes are from 1604, 1706, and 1829.

Sources: Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery - Flickr

The previous picture show how the city had expanded, but we can start to see some familiar features including St. Phillips church.

Source: Library of Birmingham – Twitter 

This picture from 1886 shows the familiar Civic features of Birmingham, Council House, Townhall, Chamberlain Square and what was the newly built Birmingham School of Art (1885).

Source: Library of Birmingham – Benjamin Stone Collection 

Towards Colmore Row this picture from 1910 shows a familiar streetscape, looking out from St. Phillips churchyard and the area still looks the same today.

Source: John Ball

Though further along towards Snow Hill Station we can see a very different site, the station closed in 1969 and was demolished in 1977.  Although on Livery St there are still some signs of the previous station, including original entrances.

Source: Britain From Above

In 1921 we can see the Civic buildings seen before, but also the Birmingham Libary to the left of the Town Hall, and the Mason Science College behind it.  Both can be seen in the picture below.

Source: John Ball

This timelapse made up of images captured by Derek Fairbrother shows the transition between the old and new within our city.

Birmingham timelapse from 7inch cinema on Vimeo.

Source: Geoff Thompson Archive

The pictures from this archive show the grandness of the old library interior, and the aerial view shows the brutalist Birmingham Central Library which replaced it. The building in red was the old library prior to its demolition to clear the area for the rest of the Paradise Circus development.

Sources: Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery - Flickr

Whilst the library was knocked down, we still have the Hall of Memory (the round dome) which is captured above in 1929 when the land around it was not as built upon as it is now.

Source: John Ball

Around 1965-1969 the Birmingham & Midland Institute building was demolished, it stood on Paradise St and was also removed to make way for the new library and Paradise Circus complex.  In the background we can still see the top of hall of memory, and also Baskerville House.

Source: RIBA

The new buildings of the time were clad in concrete, and shone brightly compared to their surroundings.  Above is the REP Theatre which was built in 1971, to the left stands industrial buildings which get cleared to make way for the ICC.  Below is the view from the canal network before the ICC and Brindley Place development happened.


Sources: Building of Convention Centre by Guilbert53 

Above we can see that whilst most of the land was cleared, the two buildings on the left remain in the development (Ikon Gallery, and Flares) As well as the images above, it’s well worth taking a look at the following links which provide an insight into what Birmingham used to be like.

For those familiar with the city centre, the photo walk format from John Ball is a good guide to show you around the city.  The work of the Norton family to archive the pictures in their collection also provides a wider coverage which includes the Birmingham suburbs.

Birmingham has changed a lot, and whilst we still have areas which are as they were back in the 1870s, we also have the continual redevelopment in the city centre. It will be hard to know whether our changing city is keeping and preserving the right buildings. In 2015 we start to see the Paradise Circus redevelopment which sees us lose the ‘new’ Library building that replaced the ‘old’ one that was shown above.

It’s hard to imagine what the city will look like by 2050, but it is fair to say that it will look quite different to now.

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