It makes regular appearances on social meeejah, but is seen far, far less in person. No, it's not Rishi Sunak, (bit of politics there!) it's this extraordinary aerial view of Birmingham by illustrator Henry William Brewer.
"People are just transfixed by it," says Claire Riley of the Jewellery Quarter's Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA), where the work is on display until February 11. "They'll come in and stare at it for an age, just spotting places that still exist and places that are lost to time."
Claire's not wrong. I'd seen Brewer's piece, digitally, countless times but when I stopped by to see it up close, I was blown away. There's so much more to it.
When was it drawn?
It was illustrated in 1886 and featured in The Graphic magazine. The influence of The Graphic within the art world was immense, its many admirers included Vincent van Gogh, and Hubert von Herkomer. The copy on display is an original print that would have been in one of the copies of the mag. It was found in a shop in Edinburgh and donated to the RBSA. At the time Birmingham was seen as the epitome of the modern city — still boody is, thank you very much. It perfectly reflected the “civic gospel” advanced by the radical reformer George Dawson and enacted by Big Joe Chamberlain as mayor of the city between 1873 and 1876. It placed education, public health and access to the arts at the heart of local government policy. The ambitious development of the civic infrastructure was accompanied by a massive programme of slum clearance and the purchase and centralisation of gas and water amenities by the city council. It led to the visiting American journalist, Julian Ralph, describing Birmingham as “The best governed city in the world” in 1890. That might not be true these days.
Who drew it?
The artist and architect H.W. Brewer contributed regularly to the magazine for 25 years, until his death in 1903. HWB was famous for his highly detailed city panoramas — he did loads including this one. His obituary in The Norfolk News (where he was from) read: "Mr. Brewer was one of the most simple-minded and unassuming of men: more interested in his art for its own sake than for any advantage he could make for himself out of it. From years of outdoor sketching in all weathers, [he] had the weather-beaten appearance suggesting the life of a sailor rather than of an artist. He was one who, both for his character and his talents, commanded the respect of all who knew him, and whose loss to us is one of the greatest which this journal could have sustained.” So there we have it. Don't die or someone might slag off your face.
Brewer was also a favourite Royal Painter, and undertook a number of commissions for the Royal Family. Most significant among these was a commission from Queen Victoria in 1869, for whom he executed number of water colour paintings of her Royal Mausoleum, in Frogmore, her final resting place. The Queen used to like watching Brewer at work. Sounds all a bit "paint me like one of your French girls, Jack", doesn't it?
What can you see on it?
Oh maaate. Tons of stuff, much of it cruelly gone. I've spliced the key together (above) but by the nature of this portrait-shaped email I can't do it justice at all — even more reason to go and see it for real. The print shows the newly built Municipal School of Art on Margaret Street, the first of its kind in Britain. It's number 9 on the key above and you can see it more clearly in the image below, left of centre. It was designed by Joseph Chamberlain of the RBSA and the Head of the School was the potter and educationalist Edward Taylor — also of the RBSA — one of the leading figures in the British Arts and Crafts movement. Next to it stands the brand new City Art Gallery opened in 1885 (now BMAG) connected to the Council House. The first solo exhibition in the Gallery was devoted to the Birmingham born painter Walter Langley, RBSA. You get the theme here. The RBSA is ace and has bags of history.
The detail is extraordinary. Below you can see the long shed roof of Great Western Station (now Snow Hill Station) running from the centre of the image to the left. You can also make out the glass roof of the Great Western Arcade running right on a slight diagonal, parallel to St Philip's and pigeon park, a dome in the middle. Where the two meet (roughly) you can see the recently reopened Grand Hotel. The twin-towered cathedral, pictured, is of course St Chad's.
The sprawling size of New Street Station can be seen below. It was built by the London and North Western Railway between 1846 and 1854, on the site of several streets in a marshy area known as "The Froggery"; it replaced several earlier rail termini on the outskirts of town, most notably Curzon Street. The LNWR originally shared the station with the Midland Railway; however, in 1885 — a year before the picture was drawn — the Midland Railway opened its own extension alongside the original station for the exclusive use of its trains, effectively creating two stations side by side, as you can see. You can make out St Martin's in the Bull Ring above the station's roofs and the long gone Christ Church on Victoria Square, left of centre. You can also make out The Exchange (on the lengthy New Street) mainly from its prominent 110ft central tower, topped by a turret. It was demolished in 1965, exactly a century after it was built. I know, I know...
How did he get up there?
It's a good question. It's believed Brewer drew the piece from the rooftop of Mason Science College and most likely exaggerated the height and angle of the perspective for dramatic effect. This photograph shows that Mason Science College was a significantly taller building than any of its neighbours. Two students of the college, Neville Chamberlain and Stanley Baldwin, went on to become Prime Ministers. After the Second World War, the style of architecture was not as appreciated as it is now. Paul Cadbury referred to it in 1952 as a neo-gothic monstrosity. Yeah, stick to chocolate pal. In the event, it was demolished in 1964, along with the original Central Public Library and the Birmingham and Midland Institute, as part of the redevelopment within the inner ring road. The former Central Library stood on the site of the old college, where this was drawn, until its demolition in 2016. The new building is home to Dishoom, Albert's Schloss and PWC. I mean, I like Dishoom but pffff... Bit of a gut-punch.
Henry William Brewer's print is part of the Recent Acquisitions exhibition at the RBSA on Brook St, just off St Paul's Square. It's free to attend (please donate if you can) and runs until February 11. Prints of Brewer's piece can be bought from the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery website for £27.80.
Brumbox, the unofficial fashion line for the city of Birmingham, has released a few new numbers, with Americana as inspiration.
The first is a varsity style hoody and tee with Stirchley at its core, as modelled by Caneat's Dom Clarke, above. "Brummies love to represent the areas they're from, the areas they live in, or the areas they hold dearest," says Brumbox's Matt Nation. "We're starting our collegiate line with Stirchley. We've wanted to make a Stirchley top for a while, but we're not stopping there. There are tons of amazing neighbourhoods that we've got lined up for the Brumbox treatment.
"This mid-Century US uni look has become something of a global wardrobe staple, but why should it only apply to University's that nobody can afford to go to?" He says with a chuckle. "We're making sure you can represent your neighbourhood, without taking out a 20-year loan."
Brumbox have also launched a sweatshirt and t-shirt with their, by now, trademark BHX branding but designed to mimic many a US baseball team badge. "I can't help but draw parallels between Birmingham and cities of the US," adds Matt. "Be it Chicago or Detroit or even New York, there's a common trait in hard work and graft that these cities share. They're places you can go to make things happen, albeit Brum does so with slightly less fanfare. That's what makes Birmingham Birmingham." Shop
KISS GOODBYE TO DRY JAN IN STYLE
Two of the greatest words in the culinary dictionary, 'wagyu' and 'dumplings' combine to form just a small part of Tattu's stellar looking Chinese Lunar Brunch menu, this weekend.
Taking place Saturday (February 4) between 12pm and 4pm, the food menu will set you back £45 per person which includes luxy bao buns or seven-spiced seared tuna to start, black pepper honeyed ribs or wok fired angry bird mains, plus year of the rabbit mooncakes for pud.
There are upgrades though and they are extremely appealing given an £8 supplement unlocks the aforementioned wagyu dumplings and a £15 add-on allows for "that" Shanghai black cod. If you're marking the end of dry January, too, then do it in style with additional free flowing cocktails and/or Laurent-Perrier Champagne plus a limited edition Dragonboat Firecracker sharing cocktail served, safely, with its very own firework.
Whatever route you go down there will be DJs on decks, blossom trees in deep red, traditional lion dancers and immersive visual projections. Book
That roar of the 60,000 plus crowd. It's a right goosebumper. The Cheltenham Festival returns March 14 to 17 which means we are squarely in 'book now' territory for Brum's adopted racing event of the year.
Expect top class Jump racing action and live entertainment throughout the week but with Gold Cup Day general admission now sold out (hospitality remains available) it might be wise to look to the opening three days for a slice of the action.
In my opinion it's Day One, Champion Day, that's the pick of the bunch. Brummies jumping on trains in their finest, but still managing to find seats for the journey (unlike the Friday, if I'm honest!) with the sport culminating in the Unibet Championship Hurdle at 3.30pm.
Day Two, Festival Wednesday, delivers sensational racing too, with the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase offering a real speed test. Run over a distance of two miles, it requires a perfect blend of pace and an ability to be inch-perfect when negotiating the 13 fences.
Any Irish winner during The Festival is greeted with electric-charged roars but it feels as if those who triumph on St. Patrick's Thursday are given an extra cheer as they make their way back past the grandstands. It's also on this day that Cheltenham hosts the Prestbury Cup – the annual competition between British and Irish-trained runners. Along with the atmosphere, Thursday’s card is special in that it is the only one across the four days to feature two ‘Championship’ races – the Ryanair Chase and the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle – with the Grade One contests held back to back.
It's Helena Bonham Carter strutting past Brum's own Rackhams, in new ITVX drama Nolly. Alas, it wasn't filmed in Brum, as writer and creator Russell T Davies (Queer As Folk, It's a Sin, Doctor Who) revealed at MAC's premiere, last week. "Most of it was filmed in Manchester" said Davies, who's based in the Northwest, with a wry smile. "If you wanted it filmed in Birmingham you should have had the idea for Nolly!" Harsh but fair. The three-parter focuses on the life of Noele Gordon (Bonham Carter — brilliant) who played Meg Mortimer in Brum-based soap Crossroads. Then, in 1981, at the height of the show’s success and the peak of Nolly’s fame, she was axed without ceremony, without warning and with no explanation. With the boss’s words “all good things must come to an end” ringing in her ears, Noele Gordon found herself thrown out of the show that was her life for over 18 years. Nolly is a bold exploration of how the establishment turned on a woman who refused to play by the rules. It's a sharp, affectionate and heart-breaking portrait of a forgotten icon, with moments of wonderful wit and warm nods to Brum. You can stream all three episodes from 9am (Feb 2) on ITVX.
VALENTINE’S UNDER THE STARS (BUT WARM)
If sitting in a restaurant surrounded by other couples sitting in a restaurant is your idea of a Valentine’s no-no, Thinktank is rolling the dice on something very, very different this year. On arrival you and your partner will both slurp on tall glasses of Champagne — none of the Prosecco nonsense here — all served with amuse-bouche. So far, so predictable. Next, though, you’ll head through into Thinktank’s spectacular Planetarium. Tilted back and gazing up you’ll then be treated to a special themed show under the stars — exploring Venus and our local galaxies. There’s opportunity for cheesy lolz, too, as you’ll get to have a personalised message to the one you love appear amongst the stars on the Planetarium's cinematic dome. Maybe “You are the centre of my universe” might work well or something braver like: “Just as with the moon, you have a very very dark side and can be extremely cold.” I’m just sort of throwing ideas out there, it's totally your call. Following your Planetarium experience you will be treated to a three course menu in the Futures Gallery which includes a bottle of wine and onlooking robots. What could go wrong? Book here at £50 per person.
Shibuya Underground in the Great Western Arcade are doing a night of Japanese octopus balls (the shape, not the gland) on Saturday (Feb 4). Details —
Origins of Middle-Earth: J.R.R. Tolkien and Sarehole Mill guided walks recommence this weekend (Feb 5) and run on selected Sundays of the year until May. £10 —
The splendid Arch 13 in the JQ is hosting an evening of sparkling wine tasting on Saturday, February 11 at £30 per person. More —
You can watch 13 of the Oscar nominated movies at MAC Cinema. Details —
Excellent independent burger bar, Burger Me Up, are adding to their Selly Oak spot with a residency at Digbeth's Zumhof. To celebrate it's 50% off all food from Feb 9 to 11. —
Birmingham City University Product and Furniture Design students will be showcasing their work at the Minima showroom, in Hockley, on February 9, 5.30pm to 7.30pm. Details
WORDS: Tom Cullen
We will never share your email address. Ads and commercial offers are clearly marked. We sometimes run paid for Partnership Emails with selected affiliates. These will be marked as Partnership Emails at the top of the email.
"But they really did adore her. She wasn’t the monster people thought she was. One floor manager’s parents died in a car crash and she had to go back to work on Crossroads shortly after. On her wedding day she had no one to take her, so Nolly drove her in her Rolls-Royce."