Joseph Chamberlain. Portrait medallion by Thomas Woolner (1825-1892) on the south face of the Chamberlain Memorial Fountain in Chamberlain Square, Birmingham. 1880. Stone, set amid lacy stonework inset with gilded tesserae, and with mosaic leaf and berry patterns at either side above arches, on one of the four gables of this highly decorative, thoroughly Gothic tower. Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914), who made his fortune in the manufacture of screws, was Birmingham's biggest contribution to the political scene of the time. A Unitarian, he rose to prominence first as town councillor, then as Mayor, then as influential Liberal MP, propelling Birmingham into first place among the provincial cities, overtaking Manchester in the later part of the reign (see Foster 13). Interestingly, he is not shown here with his trademark monocle, nor does an orchid (which he liked to wear in his buttonhole) feature in the mosaics. But here he is in profile, sharp-featured, keen-eyed, clean-shaven, and still energetically youthful-looking — as President of the Board of Trade under Gladstone (1880-85) and later Secretary of State for the Colonies (1895-1903), he was "the first industrialist to reach the highest tier of leadership in British politics" (Marsh).

By coincidence, it was another important Chamberlain — the leading Ruskinian Gothic architect J(ohn) H(enry) Chamberlain (1831-1883), who designed the fountain. The two Chamberlains were not related to each other.

Photograph, text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee, Associate Editor, the Victorian Web. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the image for a larger picture.]


Foster, Andy. Birmingham. Pevsner Architectural Guides. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005. Print.

"Joseph Chamberlain Memorial, Birmingham." British Listed Buildings. 12 August 2012.

Marsh., Peter. "Chamberlain, Joseph [Joe] (1836-1914)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 12 August 2012.

Last modified 12 August 2012