85 Digbeth High Street

25 10 2007

85 DigbethDigbeth is full of wonderful buildings, but there is a common idea that you have to go into the backstreets and hidden alleyways to really discover them. The truth is, you’ve just got to look hard. There are relatively few buildings on Digbeth High Street that really stand out as you drive past them; the Custard Factory is the main one. However, look closely at the roof line of the street and this building stands out. It’s only a small building. In fact, it’s tiny. Only two floors in height and probably only 12 feet wide. This could not have been an operational building.

The site had changed a lot before this was built. It was home to a William Lomax who was an inventor of farming equipment. It was also the site of a coach building company. 85 Digbeth High Street was built around 1860 and no one knows who designed it. However, whoever did design it, was quite clever. This tower broke the monotony of the facades using the least valuable space possible. This was an entrance tower, as seen by the large entrance arch at the base. It was built by Bonser & Co, a firm of iron merchants. This firm obviously wanted to stand out on the street.

The tower comprises of a variety of interesting curved elements. On the ground floor is a semi-circular arch above the entrance. One the first floor is a segmental arch above a split window area, although it is unknown whether glass was ever used here. There is also a slight upward curve on the steeply pitched roof which terminates in a set of short iron railings. The tower has a Gothic appeal mixed with a Classical touch which is seen in the pillar in the window space and the detailing in the ground floor arch. Set between the window pillar and the segmental arch on the top floor is an engraving of a crown. The writing in the bands across the tower has slowly been eroded away through human intervention and the weather. Above the segmental arch it did originally say ‘IRON & STEEL’ although this has been completely lost.

All in all, this building is special in it’s own small form. It needs a clean and I would like to see the lettering added back onto it. The panels that are blocking the window area on the first floor should also be removed. However, this building would not have any real use in the modern society. It is just a monument. It is too small to be an office or residential properties. I understand that recently, this and the building next door were turned into a vintage clothing store. I also understand that some of the details on the ground floor were painted bright yellow. This might now fit into the area but it reflect’s the architects idea of making the tower stand out when it was built and as Digbeth and the Irish Quarter witness their greatest construction renaissance for over 100 years, this tower should keep on making itself known.





Belmont Row Blues

7 05 2007

Belmont BeforeBelmont Row was and is not the most popular of streets in Birmingham. It holds very little importance to its name. But it does have history – a history rarely told and little known.

Belmont Row is in the industrial backwaters of city centre Birmingham. Warehouses and workshops are dotted around the place offering little value socially, morally, economically and architecturally. But there is one building that always makes its presence known whether you are travelling to or from Birmingham New Street station towards Curzon Junction on the railway. Just look north and you’ll see an unusual tower poking above the conglomerate of corrugated metal roofed warehouses. Red brick with a strange dark top. That tower is the candle of the building which this posts directs its subject.

The usage of this tower is unknown but it most likely was a ventilation shaft or chimney stack for the building it is attached to. The Belmont Row warehouse is a locally listed council owned building that contrasts itself to the other buildings on the street. With arched windows and detailed arched entrance, it does hold some form of architectural beauty though it just looks out of place.

I, myself, know very little of the building. But I do know that it was built with the sole purpose of being the furniture factory for the Co-op (more recently renamed in a modernising scheme to The Co-operative). It was obviously a factory building, though the Victorian elaboracy does not indicate such, as a result of the engravings and extrusions decorating the entrance archway “Work people and Goods Entrance”.

I can’t find any information on the architect or the year/ date it was built but I suppose it doesn’t matter when you just admire the grandeur of the gables and arched windows.

Belmont AfterWell, maybe I should have changed everything I have just written to present tense because disaster has struck – not once, but twice. The first blow came on January 11th, 2007 when, in a suspected arson attack, 75% of the building was damaged or destroyed by fire. The loss resulted in seven arched windows and one of the two precious gables. The roof collapsed beginning in the area where the workers and goods entrance is. The weather did no favours too and it struck with another blow. Just one week later on January 18th, 2007, high winds which had battered the country for a short while caused the front fa├žade to collapse in on itself due to the lack of structural support the building received soon after the fire was extinguished.

And now, as the building’s site is being cleared to prevent any more damage, it seems it’s life is over. It may seem all too convenient that the building has been destroyed when a major regeneration scheme dubbed as the next Brindleyplace is set to begin this year. Clearance of many buildings has begun and we will see the entire road layout changed. So, we won’t just witness the loss of one building, but an entire roadmap.