Not So Much A Temple

I said in my last post that Temple Row does not take it’s name from Birmingham’s Anglican Cathedral, though since the building’s churchyard adjoins the thoroughfare it would be a simple enough assumption to make.

_PW_1049That said this is no typical cathedral.  Like Bradford Cathedral it was originally a parish church and remained so for a couple of centuries until it achieved promotion early in the 20th Century, becoming St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham and the seat of the city’s bishop.

It’s unusual in that it is built in the Baroque style, something rarely seen in English Churches aside from those of Wren and Hawksmoor.  The style is more likely to be encountered in grand stately homes such as Vanbrugh’s Seaton Delaval Hall or Castle Howard.  All three of the architects worked on the Royal Naval College at Greenwich.

The only church I can think of that is vaguely similar to St Philip’s is the iconic Normanton Church on Rutland Water, a building that I’ve never visited but long to photograph, although that iconic status means it will be difficult to produce an original image!  It too shares the balustrade around the roofline that seems more appropriate to a sweeping external staircase or a courtyard boundary.

I wonder how many of those passers-by ever detour from their journeys to venture inside?  They certainly should for that is where the real beauty of the church can be appreciated, not so much in the architecture, which is flamboyant in its faux marbling and gilt details, but in the windows.

Each end of the structure features works by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones that were installed as the building was extended and refurbished prior to its elevation to cathedral status.  Burne-Jones designed The Adoration of the Magi, a tapestry produced by Morris & Co that became the most commercially successful of those produced by the company.  I was regularly exposed to it in my youth for one of the 10 copies produced hangs above the altar in St Andrew’s Roker where I was a chorister singing morning and evening every Sunday.  The amount of detail sustained my interest through many a long sermon!

Here in St Philip’s he turned his creativity to the design of stained glass, a medium that you might think had its limits in terms of artistry, and that might be true had his approach been to compose purely using blocks of colour, but no, a closer look reveals details on clothing that have been hand painted to resemble printed fabrics (maybe from the Morris & Co catalogue?).

Those passers-by in the bustling city outside don’t know what they’re missing.





Temple Teaser

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.

_PW_1115_6_7Walk 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._PW_1121_2

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…





Tonight I find myself in England’s second city; Birmingham, and in particular in its commercial heart._PW_5328_29_30

I still recall from my youth, the TV show Candid Camera, which was I suppose a forerunner of reality TV in that it relied upon the reaction of ordinary people to a variety of spoofs and setups.  One that has always stuck with me was of a man dressed as a matador stopping people in the city to ask for directions to the Bull Ring, the joke being that although there is such a location in Birmingham, it is not used for bull fighting.  (The name does refer to a hoop of iron in the market where bulls were tied for baiting though, so neither nation has the moral high ground when it comes to animal welfare).

_PW_5271_2_3Nowadays it is a very different type of market, its name concatenated now to Bullring, it is a shopping centre overlooked by an apartment block that continues the circular theme.  The Rotunda was built as an office block in the 1960’s but was redeveloped at the same time as the present retail centre was constructed.  Opening in 2003 the present day Bullring became Britain’s busiest shopping centre the following year.

The Selfridges store, which is one of the main attractions of the centre, won architectural awards for it’s sheath of aluminium discs, which was apparently inspired by the sequins of a Paco Rabanne dress.  It seems to me that a more appropriate simile would be coinage.

Which hints at another market.  Standing nearby as a sort of mascot to the centre, and the city itself is a large bull, which is rather reminiscent of that which stands outside the New York Stock Exchange.  Ironic since I spent the evening watching the Oscar-nominated film The Big Short, which tells the story of the role of the banks in the global economic crisis.  _PW_5362

I enjoyed the film enormously, but couldn’t help but feel some unease afterwards.  Aside from all the glitzy retail units I felt like there were more homeless people on Birmingham’s streets than I’ve seen in some time, and mostly within a few yards of shops were small fortunes are paid for designer labels

And there was another reason for my unease.  The work that brought me here.  I’m delivering training in a bank._PW_5313.jpg



Nominally British?

The British journalist Sangita Myska recently produced a programme about British attitudes to “foreign” names, based on her own experiences and those of other prominent Brits who can trace their roots to other cultures.

The inability of many of us to cope with these less common names can make even the most straight forward of tasks a challenge, and in the programme there are recordings of attempts she makes to book a table at different restaurants.  “Did you say Francesca?” being one response to her name.  Whilst it is understandable that anyone may have difficulty in pronouncing or understanding a name of word that they have never encountered before, it is the accompanying attitude that concerns.  A name is part of our identity and something to be treated with respect surely, yet the attitude often seems to be that “It’s your fault for having a difficult name.”

And then there are the prejudices that names can trigger.  An engineering company in Birmingham is run by a Richard Brown.  Nothing out of the ordinary there, until you discover that Richard is actually Shahid Iqbal, a Muslim who found that applying for jobs in his real name led rejections, yet doors were opened to the same applicant when he adopted a more Anglicised approach.  He continues to use Richard Brown now when approaching new clients as it gets him past initial barriers to the point where he can meet clients and promote his company.

While he is happy to take this approach, many others feel very uncomfortable at having to “abandon” their identity to make it easier for the ignorant.  I’m not sure which is the answer.  Over the last decade I have worked with hundreds of overseas students, many from South East Asia, who find it easier to adopt Western Names when in this country rather than put up with the mangled consonants that result from our attempts to pronounce their Chinese, Vietnamese or Malaysian equivalents.

I feel bad at not taking the time to correct this, but in a room of 10 students with tight timescales to work to I would quickly find myself behind schedule if I learnt every name with its correct pronunciation, only to have to begin again later in the day when we change the team compositions.  So when these students arrive armed with names like Winnie, Eric, Tim, Celia, Tommy and so on I’m happy to use them.  Interesting that so many of the names chosen, although very traditional, would probably not be used very often by English speakers today.

Today’s portrait is of one of my colleagues who has also delivered this training for a number of years and whose name is Janet.  At least that’s what I’ve always called her…