St Paul in the Square, Birmingham, monuments

The monuments in St Paul in the Square, Birmingham, our preoccupation here, are interesting for several reasons. Most importantly, we have the memorial to William Hollins, architect and sculptor of Birmingham, by his sculptor son Peter Hollins. The rest of the monuments, almost 40 of them, are wall panels or mural monuments, tending to the plain, with little ornament or significant sculpture. They are nevertheless interesting in several ways. Firstly, after the earliest memorial from 1788, we have a representation of each decade from the 1800s to the 1900s, bar the 1890s, so we can see a gradually changing picture of taste in memorial design. Secondly, a little over half the monuments have visible signatures, which is a high proportion. As well as seven more by Hollins (Peter and perhaps William), there is a representative collection of elegant tablets by several of the main monumental masons of Birmingham at that time: five tablets by M. Allen of St Paul’s, two by Matthew Seaborne of Bradford Street, two by Richard Badham Jr, two by W. Lodge, and one by John Richardson.

Before looking at the monuments, a brief note on the Church itself. It was built as a chapel of ease to the medieval St Martin’s Church in the centre of Birmingham, between 1776 and 1779, the architect being a Wolverhampton man, Roger Eykyn. The spire intended by Eykyn was not built, and only added in the 1820s to the design of the architect Frances Goodwin. Most of the furnishings are late 18th Century.

Aspects of St Paul in the Square, Birmingham.

Outside, the Church’s site in the centre of the Square allow it to be seen to advantage, and the 1820s spire can be seen from some distance, the best view being from along the road leading south east to the centre of Birmingham, which is Ludgate Hill. That spire is, in my opionion, the best external feature, with a t all octagonal base with Ionic pillars at the corners, a balustrade and then a smaller octagon above, and then a tall, sharp spire rising to a weathervane in the form of a cockerell. For the rest, the Church is a rectangular block of two storeys, in stone, with rustication round the windows and at the corners; a slate roof can be seen by the viewer standing at a little distance.

Inside the Church is tall, with square pillars rising to support the galleries, and then thinner pillars with Ionic capitals to the arches at the ceiling. The Church is fully pewed, and although the dark wood makes the interior less bright than it would otherwise be, the effect of pews and galleries is to give the Church a definite ambience it would otherwise lack.

St Paul in the Square interior, and details.

Monuments

We start with the memorial to the architect-sculptor William Hollins, d.1843, and wife Catherine, d.1831, the most important one in the Church, particularly from the point of view of these pages. The memorial consists of a portrait bust, inscription, window, carved panel to the side of the window not occupied by the bust, and a separate tablet. All the sculptural work is by William Hollins’ sculptor son, Peter Hollins. The bust of William Hollins is of interest both as a portrait of this architect and sculptor, the first significant home-grown sculptor of Birmingham, and as a demonstration of the skill of Peter Hollins in portraiture. We see a craggy-faced man in later middle age, with short cut wavy hair above and around a high forehead and strongly delineated brow. He wears Classical drapes, and this, together with the short hair and thick, powerful neck, the sternness about the mouth and the direct gaze, depict him as if a noble Roman patrician. The bust stands in front of one side of the window, and the corbel beneath – which bears a shield – is decorated with Acanthus leaves. Behind him, up the wall next to the window, are the finely carved branches of an olive tree – we shall see why in a moment.

William Hollins bust, window, and part of vine carving by Peter Hollins.

The other side of the window incorporates a panel in memory of the children of William and Catherine Hollins, is carved with a beautiful climbing vine winding its way from side to side, forming a thick surround to the areas of text, and hung with thickly clustered grapes. At the bottom is the Biblical explanation of the vine and olive tree: ‘Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table’, from one of the Psalms. Regardless of of the allegory, all this carving shows Peter Hollins to be of considerable talent, more than he usually gets the chance to express in his memorial panels. More on him on this page.

The other reference to Catherine Hollins is the window, showing her as a young woman reclining as if in her bed being carried towards heaven by four flying angels. Perfectly decent Victorian glass, but not exceptional, though we see the soles of one angel’s feet, which are rather nicely drawn.

The separate Hollins tablet, cut to a pediment shape above and with a blocky shelf below, lists 9 more of the family through to 1879, including a Thomas Hollins, d.1821, who was a portrait painter, and John Hollins, d.1855, Associate of the Royal Academy, who was a history painter of some considerable output. There is an external memorial to the whole Hollins family, see bottom of this page.

tablet to the Hollins family.

Rest of the monuments

We note the other monuments in date order:

Ketch and Sapcote monuments, and carved detail of latter.

Modern Brasses

Also in the Church

Churchyard (St Paul's Square)

Outside, several monuments are scattered around the grassy square that gives the Church its familiar name, and is itself named after the Church. The most interesting to us, of course, just outside the Church and only yards from the William Hollins window and memorial inside, is the obelisk to him and his wife Catherine. It is plain Aberdeen granite, without ornament, and lists various of the family on the rear side, including his sculptor son Peter Hollins.

There are a few other architectural monuments scattered around, including another fine obelisk enclosed by a railing, and a notable casket tomb, with corners of Acanthus leaves and a pot on top.

With many thanks to the authorities at St Paul's in the Square for kind permission to use pictures from inside the Church; see their website at http://www.saintpaulbrum.org/history.php.

Hollins Monument outside St Paul's in the Square.

Top of page

North-West to the Jewellery Quarter // South to Corporation and Victoria Square // or Colmore Row // East to St Chad's Cathedral // Birmingham pages

Introduction to church monuments // William Hollins // Peter Hollins

Sculpture in some towns in England

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