Friday, June 03, 2011

England Trip - First Stop at Birmingham

The Midlands were something new to me and the city of Birmingham much bigger than I expected, somehow I still thought it is only 20 shillings' worth (its price in 1086 when it was first mentioned). Luckily we spent only two days here, so one could reap all the good things and be gone before any negative side effects busy cities bring with it. Since our appartement was near the so-called Bull Ring, our first stop was of course this site. Nowadays it is a huge shopping area, but in medieval times it was the market place that changed Birmingham from a smallish village around the castle of Peter de Birmingham to a market town. This beautiful statue in front of the shopping centre shows very clearly what was mainly traded at the ancient market place:

Today it is also marked for its modern architecture. The departmentstore Selfridges built the landmark building, designed by Future Systems, a London based design practice.

St. Martin in the Bull Ring was built on the site of the former Parish church from the 13th century. Today's church, however, was completely rebuilt in 1873. This beautiful window survived WWII; designed by Sir Edward Burn-Jones and made by William Morris:

For 400 years Birmingham belonged to the lords of de Birmingham. John de Birmingham was buried in St. Martin around 1380. Look at his beautiful sarcophagus, there were even traced of the original colour on his belt:

We refuelled at the Warehouse Café, Birminghams oldest vegetarian restaurant. I loved their approach to make everything special, be it the horseradish scented potato mash or the minty gravy. For sweet teeth I recommend their cheesecake of the week. I finished off their vegan apple-and-cinnamon cheesecake :)

Thus invigorated we braced ourselves for more churches. Next was St. Philip's Cathedral; the former parish church from the early 18th century became a cathedral when Birmingham became the Diocese of the West Midlands in 1905.


Sir Edward Burn-Jones was baptized in this church and therefore donated several windows.

We then went to the Birimingham Museum  Art Gallery to see more pre-Raphaelite art (well, some of us did). Detail from the wax crayon panel 'The Last Judgment" (1874-1880), template for a stained glass window (obviously sexy men had to go naked, whereas women were all clad, as chastity demanded it):

'The Keepsake' is the work of a female pre-raphaelite artist, Kate Elizabeth Bunce. It is based on a poem of Rossetti:

'Then stepped a damsel to her side,
And spoke and needs must weep:
'For his sake, lady, if he died,
He prayed of thee to keep
This staff and scrip'.

And one last object :)

that is before we come to the archaeology section ;)
The Staffordshire hoard was detected in 2009 near Birmingham and is the largest Anglo-Saxon hoard of gold. Most of it is at the British Museum in London for conservation work, but some pieces were on display in Birmingham:

In 1954 an Anglo-Saxon cemetery with 24 graves was found during gravel digging at Beckford. Four years later a second cemetery nearby was detected. This one contained 106 burials. According to the grave goods people were buried here from AD 475 to 550. These are the brooches and beeds from grave A11:

They also had a small collection of Egyptian artefacts; here some Tell-el-Yahudiyeh ware:

and not to forget the Latin American section, displaying this oracle bone from ca. AD 1300 to 1520:

In case you are exhausted with all the churches and museum's stuff, you may relax, because tomorrow we will look at a more laid-back day in Stratford-upon-Avon.


  1. Ah the stranger returneth.
    Looks like you had a splendid time, even if you did eat all the Apple Cinnamon Cheesecake.

    I used to go to Brummie land quite a lot when I was small as my parents would often visit Small Heath (South Asian shops), and would often drop me and my brothers at the Bullring, this was before it was modernised.

    I visited B'ham again for work related reasons, but did not get to explore its new city changes. I did visit Birmingham Museum specifically for the Making Connections exhibiiton: exploring hidden 'Black History'.

    Should I find myself there again, I will def. check out the Warehouse Cafe. But saying that, it seems familiar to me, as I may have already been there. Did you notice if the Friends for Earth people or other charities had offices there?

  2. Oh I should have known about Small Heath earlier! We were searching all London (well, East Ham that is) for Indian dance acessories, maybe we could have savved a lot of time :(
    Unfortunately can't say whether there are charity offices there :( sorry. But try out (or go again) when in Birmingham. It was really nice.