Birmingham Hall of Memory

From Victoria Square, the visitor naturally turns northward and eastward towards the commercial centre of town. However, a brief diversion can be made west to see one important building with sculpture, the Hall of Memory, which is on Broad Street/Centenary Square, across the misnamed Paradise Circus.

Detail of Queens College frontage.

Leading in to Paradise Circus is Paradise Street, where stands Queens College, which is worth a pause. The frontage is a work of Doultons of about 1890, over an original building of some 50 years earlier (architects Drury and Bateman). Above the door is a small but showy ceramic Queen Victoria, surrounded by piled up robes, and seated within a shrinelike throne. To left and right, a heraldic lion and unicorn. Above, somewhat obscurely, a roundel showing a woman in converse with a coiled snake. And around the arch of the large windows, charming, rather whimsical little monsters, including a bat.

The Hall of Memory.

Across the circus, then, brings us to Broad Street and Centenary Square, where may be found the Hall of Memory. It is a symmetrical white stone building with four porticoes giving it a cross-shaped plan, and a little dome on top. The whole is an ideal example of a classical building on a modest scale built in the 20th century the date is in fact as late as 1923/4, and the architects were called Cooke and Twist. Each of the truncated corners of the building has a free-standing bronze statue by Albert Toft. They are Navigation, Astronomy, Flight, and the only female one, Peace (a very similar figure by Toft in Cardiff is shown on this page). The males are muscular and handsome in a rugged, 20th C film star way, the girl much more turn of the century. Note also the stone helmeted head above one portico, a rather sad expression on an unusual version of an ideal face, surrounded by decoration foreshadowing art deco designs. (Other statues representing Navigation are shown on this page.)

The four statues by Toft.

Close by to the Hall of Memory, another Toft statue can be seen: the Edward VII Memorial, returned to central Birmingham from its long exile in Highgate Park in 2013. And a couple of minutes away is the Boulton, Watt and Murdoch group of a generation later, by the sculptor William Bloye.

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