Fountains and Sculptures

Birmingham Town  Hall, overlooking The River in Victoria
Square, which is lovely spot to sit on a sunny day.
These are not the best photos I’ve ever taken – either the sun was in the wrong place for good shots or, more likely I suspect, I was in the wrong place. As the Duchess told Alice, everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it, and the moral of this is that you should never take pictures with the sun in your eyes. Anyway, these images are a nice memory of a few hours spent in the sunshine with my elder daughter yesterday afternoon, so I thought I’d post them for a Saturday Snapshot.  Lucy had spent a couple of days with my mother in Herefordshire, then caught the train back to Birmingham where she had time to spare before the boarding the coach for a six-hour journey home to Devon, so we met up, had a chat and a tea, and sat basking in the sunshine, in Victoria Square. 
Quality time for Mother and Daughter!

 It’s one of the nicest parts of the city, with fountains, steps and statues, and the buildings up this end are old and attractive (unlike the Bullring). There is, as you might expect from the name, a statue of Queen Victoria, which was erected in her honour on 10 January 1901 – just 12 days before she died. The original monument was made by Thomas Brock (who also sculpted the statue of Victoria which stands outside Buckingham Palace), but it was recast in bronze in 1951. 

Queen Victoria: She’s probably not amused
at the quality of this photo!

Dominating the Square is The River, a water feature by Dhruva Mistry, which is made up of four separate artworks. In the upper pool is a bronze statue of a bathing woman who is, apparently, The Spirit of the River – but she is known locally as The Floozie in the Jacuzzi!  The paving around the rim of the water is engraved with lines from the ‘Burnt Norton’ section of TS Eliot’s ‘The Four Quartets’,  but it’s hopeless trying to get a photo of the quotation, because you can’t get enough letters in the picture that are readable. However, it says:

And the pool was filled with water of sunlight, and the lotos rose, quietly, quietly, the surface glittered out of heart of light, and they were behind us, reflected in a pool. Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty. 
Cooling off…. The Floozie in the Jacuzzi.
The water certainly glittered yesterday, cascading down a flight of steps into the smaller pool, which is where we sat – on the edge, of course, not in the pool itself!  The statue here is called Youth, and shows a boy and girl with an egg and cone (though these last two are difficult to spot as they are partly submerged).
Youth: We sat by this statue of a boy and girl, listening to
water splishing and splashing.
On each side of the fountain are The Guardians, two large stone sculptures which look a bit like sphinxes, and next to them are the two obelisks, Object (Variations). I am not sure whether there is any special significance to the sculptures, and I have to admit the symbolism (if there is any) is lost on me, but it’s a pleasant place to sit and watch the world go by. 

One of Mistry’s Guardians.
The sculpture I really adore is Antony Gormley’s The Iron Man, which is another feature of the Square, and is a much better guardian for the city than any of Mistry’s pieces. He’s 20 feet high, and stands at angle, tilted slightly backwards, and slightly to one side, with his feet buried in the pavement. He looks like some kind of ancient Egyptian mummy, or alien being, who has landed on earth, feet first, and remained that way ever since watching over the city and its people and is, I feel, a powerful and beneficent presence. To start with the sculpture was called Untitled, but Brummies coined the nickname, and consequently Gormley asked for it to become Iron:Man, referencing the fact that this piece represents the traditional metal-working skills of Birmingham and the Black Country.
The Iron Man: I love this sculpture and its rusty
looking surface, which is not corrosion, but is part
of the design, caused by oxidisation of the metal.

Alongside the Iron Man is the Town Hall, which is based on the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Roman Forum, and opened in 1834. One of the architects was Joseph Hansom, who invented the Hansom cab, a kind of horse-drawn taxi, but he went bankrupt which delayed construction. Charles Dickens gave public readings at the hall to raise money for the nearby Birmingham and Midland Institute, and the first public performance of Elgar’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ took place here. 

Birmingham Town Hall, where Charles Dickens read his work
to packed audiences
Behind the fountain is the Council House, completed in 1879 – before that the council met at all kinds of venues, including a pub. Councillors were so awed by their new home they couldn’t decide what to call it, and held a debate to consider the merits of The Council House, The Municipal Hall, and The Guildhall. I would love to see the inside – I gather the interior is just as grand as the exterior.  
When I first moved to the Midlands, Victoria Square was a very busy, very uninspiring traffic junction, but it was pedestrianised in the early 1990s, when Dhruva Mistry’s water feature was the winning entry in a competition to design a
focal point. The revamped area was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1994, and has now become popular with tourists and residents of all ages.

Saturday Snapshots is being hosted by Melinda at West Metro Mummy. Use the link to see photos taken by other participants and for full details of the meme. 

26 thoughts on “Fountains and Sculptures

  1. I didn't realise we were so closely located, Christine. It's good to find someone else who also appreciates what a wonderful city Birmingham is.


  2. I've only been to Birmingham once – my memory is of a very busy city – and we escaped into the Art Gallery. I'd like to have seen the Iron Man, but our visit was over 20 years ago, maybe it wasn't there then. we don't live too far from the Angel of the North and keep meaning to visit, instead of just seeing it on the skyline as we drive past.


  3. Every time I come here I learn so much. Thanks for another one … not just the moral, but all the rich allusions to literature, but lessons on history and architecture. Alway enjoy your sharing about your time with your daughters. 😉


  4. Alex, I grew up in Surrey,in a small Thames-side town near London, and when I first moved to the Midlands I hated it – I was convinced I was in the grim, industrial North, and was desperately homesick. But I've come to love the area, especially over the last few years when I've had time to explore. I think it's sad that Birmingham is so under-rated, and is only seen as a modern shopping centre when, as you obviously know, it has so much more to offer.


  5. Margaret, the Iron Man is quite near the museum, but was installed in 1993, so it may not have been there when you visited. It was in a different location then. I'd love to see the Angel of the North, even from a distance, and the statues in the sea and beach near Liverpool.


  6. Oh, that is kind of you Arti. Birmingham is such an amazing place,with the most incredible history. I'm on a mission to persuade people to forget about the modern shops and discover the rest of the city!


  7. Your posts are always so informative. I love reading them!

    Good for you in trying to make people forget the modern shops and discover the rest of the city. If I have any mission about a place, it's to help people see the beauty in the unbeaten path. My husband and I only infrequently visit tourist spots. Well, perhaps, it's also to encourage residents to see the community in which they live in a new way. So many people to tend to dislike their birthplace, because they become complacent to it.

    Your photos captured the moment. That's important! My husband and I took some wildlife photos on a recent trip, a few of which are much worse than yours but they still remind me of what I saw and how incredible the experience was.

    Thanks for sharing!


  8. Thank you Allison. I like finding hidden history, and beauty in unexpected places, especially when there are such interesting places in the local community. I think you re right – people do get very complacent about the place where they live, and get so used to it they just don't bother to look at properly, and ho rushing off elsewhere instead.


  9. Wonderful post as always, what a lovely afternoon you two had. Birmingham looks an interesting place. Statues are hard to photograph, the sun is always in the wrong spot, or people, or pigeons….Interesting to see the town hall where Dickens did readings. Dublin had a floozie in the jaccuzi too.


  10. Hi Christine,
    Looks like a great day out in Birmingham. I came via 'Days on the Claise'. I live near Stafford, but have a home a few kilometres from Preuilly where Susan and Simon live.
    Interesting blogs. Keep up the good work


  11. Thank you Gaynor. It's a few years since I've been to Stafford, but I keep intending to go and look at the Castle, because the originally fortification was raised by Ethelfleda, who built the first castle at Tamworth.


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