Back in the days when I was a young banker, I knew the names of thoroughfares in cities across the country purely on the basis that a bank had a branch there and I’d seen the name on a cheque even though I’d never been to the place in question. Bank Plain in Norwich, The Headrow in Leeds, Paragon Square in Hull. Place names that were different enough to stimulate the imagination.
One such street name was Temple Row in Birmingham. Row as in a series, or an argument, or access by boat? What sort of temple? Or temples?
Working in Birmingham recently I set out to explore the area and perhaps to answer some of these questions having found nothing on Google that provided sufficient explanation. The most obvious explanation would be the present of Birmingham’s Anglican Cathedral here, and the building is certainly worthy of a more detailed piece that I’ll post at a later date, but temple? With its ballustrading it looks more like a palace than a place of ritual.
Walk a little further and it seems you have your answer. The fluted columns lead the eye upwards to the tympanum where no Latin inscription awaits. Instead you discover the building was erected for the Midland Bank (now HSBC). What about the structure beyond it with the impressive statuary above the entrance? This time it’s National Provincial Bank (later Natwest and eventually part of RBS). There seems to be a theme emerging.
Not to worry there are more columns ahead. Perhaps my answer lies there in the white masonry of this Parthenon lookalike? Not a temple though. This is Birmingham Town Hall, a Victorian concert hall designed to resemble the crowning glory of the Acropolis (and the less obvious remnants of the Temple to Castor & Pollux in Rome). Perhaps we’re getting closer to the solution.
The Town Hall may hold a Grade I listing, but it is completely overshadowed by its Grade II neighbour. This is another piece of Classical Style, but with lots of Victorian extravagance that contrasts strongly with the purity of the Town Hall, though they have a shared owner. This is the Council House, Birmingham’s council offices. Drawn a blank again in my search.
Elsewhere there are more banks, as well as pubs and cafés all housed in some degree of grandeur or other. There are in fact over 70 listed buildings within a few minutes walk of the Cathedral. None provides the answer to my question.
The nearest I have come to solving my riddle are a couple of suggestions on a discussion board which state that there was once round building here (that was a dovecot rather than an actual temple) or that there was once a Temple of the Minoress in the 15/16th century in the vicinity (which seems more likely). Hmmm. Minoress? Wonder what that’s all about…