In transcribing the following passage from the online version I have expanded abbreviations and added paragraphing, subtitles, links, and illustrations. — George P. Landow

One of the most important improvements in the appearance of this neighbourhood was effected, however, in the erection of the long talkcd-of Municipal Offices, on the land which had been purchased in 1853. The ground had been partially cleared in the course of the reconstruction of Colmore Row and Ann Street, and when this was completed, in 1873, the improvement which had been effected in those thoroughfares became for the first time fully manifest. The setting back of the street line, at the point which had been one of the most awkward and dangerous corners in the town, rendered the Town Hall visible along the entire length of Colmore Row, and the open space thus gained served to set off that building to the best advantage.

The Council House and Colmore row.

When the Corporation finally resolved to erect suitable buildings for the various municipal offices, competitive designs were obtained from a large number of architects, and were exhibited in the Town Hall. The designs accepted were those of Mr H. R. Yeoville Thomason, but at the request of the Council the elevation originally sent in by that gentleman was considerably altered and improved, and he was thereupon appointed architect of the proposed building. It was intended to devote only the front portion of the site to the municipal offices, and to leave the rear portion to form the site of the assize courts which it was anticipated would be needed at no very distant period; tenders were therefore obtained for the front portion only, and the tender of Messrs. Barnsley (amounting to £84,000) was accepted for this part of the work.

The Council House and Art Gallery. (From a photograph by Whitlock, New Street)

For some time after the completion of the building the people were in doubt what to call it. The Estates Committee, who had charge of the building, proposed to call it the Municipal Hall; others, remembering that Birmingham had practically been governed by a gild in the sixteenth century, were in favour of reviving the old name of Gildhall; while a section of the Council preferred to go to Germany for a name, and to call it the Council House. After several ineffective attempts at a settlement of the question, the Council, by a majority of thirty-four votes against twenty-six, resolved that in future the corporate buildings should be designated “the Council House.”

The Reception Room in The Council House, looking east. (From a photograph by Whitlock, New Street)

The second portion of the building was not commenced until 1881. A new site had in the meantime been found for the proposed Assize Courts, it being decided to utilize the rear portion of the Council House site for an Art Gallery, with offices for the gas department on the ground floor. We shall have more to say in reference to this matter when we come to deal with the history of the Art Gallery.

The Reception Room in The Council House, looking west.

The year 1870 marked a new era in the history of the Corporation, in the accession of a number of capable men to its ranks. For a long time the few able men who had stood firmly by their posts had been outnumbered by the men of narrow views and low aims who had been sent to the Council by the so-called economist party; but at the election of 1870 a successful effort was made to bring into the Council men of a higher calibre and of larger views. “Birmingham,” says Mr. Bunce, “was becoming too important, and public opinion too well instructed, not to desire a higher method of conducting municipal business.”

Links to Related material


Dent, Robert K. The Making of Birmingham: Being a History of the Rise & Growth of the Midland Metropolis. Birmingham: J. L. Allday, 1894. Birmingham: Hall and English, 1886. 398-403. HathiTrust online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 4 October 2022.

Last modified 14 October 2022