Centenary Square - A Birmingham Gem!

Centenary Square is located in a prime central position in Birmingham. It is host to many of the City's civic and cultural attractions. It first opened in 1991 and reopened in 2019.


Centenary Square was named in 1989 to commemorate the centenary of Birmingham achieving City Status. 

Centenary Square

Symphony Hall, The ICC and The REP in Centenary Square (April 2009). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

It opened in 1991 to a carpet brick design by the artist Tess Jaray. It looked like a Persian rug. This was changed from 2010 to 2013 when the Library of Birmingham was built, but still had a grassed area.

Centenary Square

Centenary Square from the Secret Garden at the Library of Birmingham (September 2013) Photography by Elliott Brown

 

But the Council had a bright idea to rip this all up and it was redeveloped between 2017 and 2019. This included a reflective pool with fountains / water jets.

Centenary Square

Centenary Square from the Hyatt (August 2019). Photography by Simon Felton

 

Buildings include: Symphony Hall and The ICC (opened in 1991), The REP (opened in 1971), the Library of Birmingham (opened in 2013), Baskerville House (opened in 1940) and the Hall of Memory (opened in 1925).

 

Symphony Hall and The ICC Birmingham

These buildings opened in 1991, built from 1986 to 1991. Opened by the Queen in June 1991. Host venue of the G8 in 1998. The foyer of Symphony Hall was rebuilt during 2020.

Symphony Hall The ICC

Symphony Hall and The ICC in Centenary Square (April 2009). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

The REP

The Birmingham Reperatory Theatre moved to what is now called Centenary Square in 1971. Closed during the building of the Library of Birmingham from 2010 to 2013, they reopened at the same time as the Library. Founded by Barry Jackson at what is now called The Old REP on Station Street in 1913.

The REP

The REP in Centenary Square (September 2020). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham was built from 2010 to 2013, between The REP and Baskerville House. It opened in September 2013. There is nine levels above ground, plus a couple of basement floors (Children's Library). Only Level 0, MG, 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 9 are accessible to the public. Levels 5, 6 and 8 are staff only. Discovery Terrace on Level 3, Secret Garden on Level 7 and the Shakespeare Memorial Room on Level 9. Brasshouse Language's moved onto Level 1 in September 2016.

Library of Birmingham

Library of Birmingham in Centenary Square (September 2019). Photography by Daniel Sturley

 

Baskerville House

This was previously called the Civic Centre, it was the only building built for the proposed Civic Centre from 1938. WW2 halted construction, but after the war, Roman Imperial imagery went out of fashion, and the other proposed buildings were not built. The building was renovated from 2003 to 2007. Baskerville House was built on the site where the home of John Baskerville used to be.

Baskerville House

Baskerville House from Centenary Way (April 2013). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

Hall of Memory

This war memorial building was built from 1922 to 1925 and designed by S. N. Cooke and W. N. Twist. It commemorates the citizens of Birmingham who died during WW1. Made of Portland stone. There is four bronze statues outside dedicated to the Air Force, Army, Navy and Women's Services. It was promoted to Grade I listed status in 2014 (from the previous Grade II). There used to be a Colonnade outside of the Hall of Memory, and a fountain as part of the Broad Street Garden of Remembrance (also opened in 1925). But the Colonnade was moved in 1990, to what is now called the Peace Garden to the grounds of St Thomas's Church which was destroyed in the Birmingham Blitz of 1940.

Hall of Memory Centenary Square

Hall of Memory in Centenary Square (April 2020). Photography by Daniel Sturley

 

History of the Civic Centre

There had been many plans in the 20th Century for a new Civic Centre, going back as far as 1918. One such scheme was by William Haywood  who made a model in 1941 of the proposed Civic Centre, but only the Hall of Memory and Baskerville House ended up getting built. The model represents a variety of public buildings including a Planetarium, Natural History Museum, and City Hall, as well as extensive gardens and car parks. At the centre would have been a 'Municipal Tower'. It would have had a nude male statue representing the Spirit of Birmingham. The Council approved the scheme in 1944 (for the City Council offices), and William Bloye made a maquette of the statue in 1948. But the project was abandoned in 1949 for being too expensive. Formal gardens were proposed for the site that is now the Library of Birmingham, while the wings of the Council offices behind (that never got built), later became City Centre Gardens, and the Civic Centre Estate with the 1960s tower blocks of Cambridge Tower, Crescent Tower, Norton Tower and Galton Tower. Crescent Wharf blocks north of Cambridge Street. They were by the City Architect, Alan Maudsley in 1968. Baskerville House was the only part of this scheme to be built, along with the Hall of Memory. Before the Library of Birmingham was built between 2010 to 2013, the site was used as a car park. Everything to the left of the Hall of Memory and Baskerville House was never built, due to the War, or for being too expensive. There was another proposal in 1958 by A.G. Sheppard Fidler, with a less formal layout, with water features with municpal office podium on the north side, but that too didn't get built.

Civic Centre model

Civic Centre model at the Birmingham Museum Collection Centre (May 2012). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

Statues and Public Art past and present

There has been many statues and sculptures in Centenary Square since it opened in 1991. Some have gone into storage as the square was rebuilt.

 

Spirit of Enterprise

Tom Lomax created The Spirit of Enterprise in 1991 and made of bronze. It was a fountain in front of the car park site where the Library of Birmingham is today. It went into permenant storage around 2010 (when the library was built), and is still at the Birmingham Museum Collection Centre.

Spirit of Enterprise Centenary Square

Spirit of Enterprise in Centenary Square (April 2009). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

Industry and Genius

Outside of Baskerville House is Industry and Genius designed by David Patten, made in 1990. It spells out Virgil back-to-front in the Baskerville typeface. It was moved into storage during 2017 for the renovation works in Centenary Square, and returned in 2019.

Industry and Genius Centenary Square

Industry and Genius in Centenary Square (November 2009). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

Forward

There used to be a fibreglass statue in Centenary Sqauare called Forward. This was made by Raymond Mason in 1991. Sadly it was destroyed by arson in April 2003. A maquette survives to this day at the Birmingham Museum Collection Centre.

Forward

Forward statue in Centenary Square (July 1991). Photography by Richard Postill

 

Statue of Edward VII

The statue of King Edward VII was made of Carraba marble by the sculptor Albert Toft and was originally located in Victoria Square from 1913 until 1951. It was moved to Highgate Park where it remained until 2009. By then it was badly vandalised and missing parts. So the Victorian Society successfully campaigned for Birmingham City Council to restore it. It was moved to Centenary Square in November 2010. A new orb and three bronzes were made to replace the lost originals (these were installed by December 2010). The statue was officially unveiled in 2011. It remained in place as Centenary Square was rebuilt during 2017 to 2019.

Edward VII Centenary Square

Statue of Edward VII in Centenary Square (July 2011). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

A Real Birmingham Family

A Real Birmingham Family statue was installed in Centenary Square in 2014 outside of the Library of Birmingham. Made of bronze by Gillian Wearing. It represents the Jones sisters - Roma and Emma, and their sons Kyan and Shaye. With baby bump. It was moved into storage during the rebuilding of Centenary Square in 2017, and returned in 2019.

Real Birmingham Family

A Real Birmingham Family in Centenary Square (April 2020). Photography by Daniel Sturley

 

Boulton, Watt & Murdoch

The statue of Boulton, Watt & Murdoch was sculpted by William Bloye and unveiled on Broad Street in 1956. Originally bronze, it was gilded in gold in 2006. Represents Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdoch. It used to be on Broad Street in front of the former Register Office (latterly the House of Sport until it was demolished in 2015), but has been in storage since 2017 (due to the building of the Westside Metro extension outside of Arena Central). It is due to be relocated in Centenary Square outside of Symphony Hall on a plinth.

Boulton Watt & Murdoch

Boulton, Watt & Murdoch outside of the House of Sport on Broad Street (June 2009). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

Library Tram Stop

This was opened in December 2019 as the first stage of the Westside Metro extension from Grand Central to Centenary Square. It is the current terminus until the next extension to Hagley Road beyond Five Ways opens at the end of 2021. This section of road was formerly part of Broad Street, but is now classed as Centenary Square.

Library Tram Stop Centenary Square

West Midlands Metro tram 18 at Library Tram Stop in Centenary Square (August 2020). Photography by Elliott Brown

 


Events over the years in Centenary Square

There has been many events that have taken place over the years in Centenary Square, including Ice Skate Birmingham and the International Dance Festival Birmingham. The Birmingham City Centre Floral Trail has had pieces in the square, plus The Big Hoot in 2015. During the period 2017 to 2019 there wasn't any events until the Birmingham 2022 event in the summer of 2019. The Big Sleuth only got as far as Paradise Birmingham or at the canalside of The ICC in 2017.

 

Ice Skate Birmingham

This has taken place in Centenary Square until 2016, and then again in 2019, usually the same time as the Christmas Craft Market and Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market (although the Paradise Birmingham works meant some years the Christmas Market couldn't take place in Centenary Square especially as the square was being rebuilt). It had the name of Winter Skate Birmingham in 2013 to 2014. Usually included a big ferris wheel, sometimes called the Birmingham Big Wheel, and other rides (changes over the years).

Winter Skate Birmingham

Winter Skate Birmingham in Centenary Square (November 2013). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

Ice Skate Birmingham Centenary Square

Ice Skate Birmingham in Centenary Square (November 2019). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

Birmingham City Centre Floral Trail

There has always been nice floral trails in Centenary Square during the summer. The Floral Trail pieces were in the square until 2016 (none during the redevelopment of 2017 to 2019). Some of the features were winners at the Chelsea Flower Show and Gardeners World Live before going on display around the City Centre.

 

The Plight of the Gorilla won Silver at the Chelsea Flower Show and Gold at Gardeners World Live in 2011. It was in Centenary Square from July to September 2011 outside the Library of Birmingham construction site.

Floral Trail Centenary Square

The Plight of the Gorilla in Centenary Square (July 2011). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

This was one half of a display called The Best of Birmingham, that won Gold at both Chelsea Flower Show and Gold and Best of Show at Gardeners World Live in 2012. It features a Mini, a silver spoon and the Town Hall. It was in Centenary Square from July to September 2012. The other half of this display was in St Martin's Square (with Selfridges, the Bullring Bull and the City canals).

Floral Trail Centenary Square

The Best of Birmingham part 1 in Centenary Square (August 2012). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

The Big Hoot Birmingham 2015

A trail of painted bears around Birmingham in the summer of 2015 for around 10 weeks before being sold at auction for the Birmingham Children's Hospital Charity. There was 5 big owls around Centenary Square, and several small ones inside of the Library of Birmingham.

Jack by the artist Martin Band. The sponsor was JLT Specialty Limited. It was outside of the Hall of Memory. Resembles the Union Jack flag.

Big Hoot Centenary Square

Jack (by artist Martin Band) in Centenary Square (July 2015) . Photography by Elliott Brown

 

Wise Old Owl by the artists Kieron Reilly and Lynsey Brecknell. The sponsor was Gateley Plc. Located outside of the Library of Birmingham and was designed to look like it.

Big Hoot Centenary Square

Wise Old Owl (by artists Kieron Reilly and Lynsey Brecknell) in Centenary Square (July 2015). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

International Dance Festival Birmingham

The IDFB has taken place in Birmingham a few times over the years. It was last held in Centenary Square during May 2016. Other years it's been in Victoria Square.

Big Hoot Centenary Square

International Dance Festival Birmingham in Centenary Square (May 2016). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

Be Festival

The Be Festival was held in Centenary Square during June 2016. There was street art on the ground by An Wei. With drummers called Bloco Louco, plus a market around the art installation.

Big Hoot Centenary Square

Be Festival in Centenary Square (June 2016). Photography by Elliott Brown

 

Birmingham 2022 - 3 Years to go!

This event celebrating Birmingham 2022, took place in July 2019 in Centenary Square. Was the first event to be held here since the square re-opened. Celebrating that (at the time) it was 3 years to go to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Big Hoot Centenary Square

Birmingham 2022 - 3 Years to go in Centenary Square (July 2019). Photography by Elliott Brown

Project dates

20 Apr 2019 - On-going

Passions

Civic pride, Art; Culture & creativity, Modern Architecture
Squares and public spaces, Classic Architecture

Contact

(for further information)

Jonathan Bostock

0121 410 5520
jonathan.bostock@ freetimepays.com