After a leisurely breakfast we were ready for a morning of sightseeing in Birmingham’s city centre. Our first stop was to the Great Western Arcade, an elegant Victorian shopping arcade built in 1876 over the Great Western Railway line. The arcade has two entrances, one on Temple Row and the other on Colmore Row, the Temple Row end being very ornate. It’s now home to a selection of boutiques and small independent retailers and features a clock which strikes a set of five exposed bells on the quarter of each hour.
Leaving the arcade at its Colmore Row exit we strolled the short distance to St. Philip’s Cathedral which was constructed in a Baroque style in 1715 as the parish church of Birmingham, not becoming Birmingham’s cathedral until 1905. It is England’s third smallest cathedral which is surprising as Birmingham is actually England’s second city. What the cathedral lacks in size it certainly makes up for in elegance with its beautiful stained glass windows and oak panelled galleries. Volunteers were on hand to answer our questions and we very much enjoyed our short visit.
On leaving the cathedral we continued towards Victoria Square where Birmingham City Council House dominates the square. This is the home of the city council whilst next door lies the Town Hall which is used as a concert venue. In nearby Chamberlain Square we visited the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, a Victorian baroque masterpiece which was completed in 1885. The building was designed as a museum with the basement Water and Gas Halls being set aside for local people to come along and pay their utility bills. These halls retain their original names and are now used to host temporary exhibitions. The museum has free admittance and features numerous galleries on the history of Birmingham, taking visitors back in time from the city’s medieval beginnings to its more recent expansion. The galleries were all very interesting but the highlight for me was the industrial gallery with its examples of old machinery.
Moving on to Centenary Square we were interested to take a look inside the Library of Birmingham which opened in September 2013 at a cost of £188m and is now the largest public library in the U.K. Designed by the Dutch architect Francine Houben it is said to resemble a gift box.
The library features two outdoor terraces, the Discovery Terrace on the third floor includes beds of fruit, vegetables and herbs to help promote healthy eating and encourage gardening whilst the Secret Garden on the seventh floor terrace has landscaped flowerbeds with wooden patio seating to enjoy the far reaching views over the city.
On the top floor is the Shakespeare Memorial Room, which was interestingly designed for the first central library in 1882. After being dismantled in 1974 when the original building was demolished it was put into storage until it was refitted into its present location. The room has been restored to its former glory and contains Britain’s most important Shakespeare collection.
After a late lunch in Grand Central we decided to take a trip out to the University of Birmingham by train, the journey taking around ten minutes. Birmingham’s the only university in the U.K. to have its own railway station known as University Station. Local trains operated by London Midland run from Birmingham New Street at frequent intervals to the edge of the university campus.
The campus is attractively landscaped and at its centre stands the Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower, affectionately known as ‘Old Joe’. Overlooking Chancellor’s Court, it is one of the tallest free standing clock towers in the world standing 110 metres tall. Built in 1900 it was named after the university’s first chancellor.
One of the reasons we wished to visit the university campus was to take a look in the Lapworth Museum of Geology. This museum holds an extensive collection of fossils, minerals and rocks dating back to 1880 and is one of the oldest specialist geological museums in the U.K. The museum re-opened in 2016 after a complete refurbishment and in addition to rocks and fossils there are zoological specimens and galleries providing insights into how the Earth formed and changed through time. Admission is free and we found the galleries to be very interesting with exhibits catering for both adults and children.
Leaving the museum we continued our walk through the campus to the Vale village student accommodation overlooking an attractive lakeside setting. Returning to the station we strolled along the canal towpath of the Worcester and Birmingham canal where we noticed that the university even had its own landing stage.
Returning to the hotel for a short rest we then enjoyed fish and chips in the Dragon Inn and had planned a late evening stroll but it began raining heavily so instead we went back to our hotel for the night.