Methodist Central Hall

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Birmingham, Methodist Central Hall

1900-3 by Ewen Harper & J. Alfred Harper. The first Wesleyan chapel in the town was in Cherry Street, opened in 1782 and rebuilt in 1822. In 1887 it was replaced by a Central Hall by Osborn & Reading, seating 1,100, in Corporation Street near Old Square. By 1899 this was already inadequate for an expanding congregation. The site was undeveloped since the construction of the street. The Harpers' building has a main hall to seat 2,000 and over thirty other rooms including three school halls. It cost £96,165. As Alexandra Wedgwood said in 1966, it is "clearly the local men's answer to the Victoria Law Courts opposite, to which it does indeed form the perfect complement." It is faced entirely in terracottaGlossary Term like the Courts but is otherwise a sharp and deliberate contrast. The courts are angled to the street, the Hall follows its curve. The courts are picturesquely informal, the Hall's three very tall storeys are powerfully defined by vertical piers, cornices and a parapetGlossary Term. The central tower marks a step down, following the fall of the street. It rises sheer to a complex and strongly modelled square belfryGlossary Term, partly enclosing an octagon, and a convex spirelet. The grid of the façade unifies but does not disguise the change in elevations between the two parts: five bays of school rooms and offices to the left have cantedGlossary Term bays, with an arcadeGlossary Term including paired windows above; seven bays with the main hall to the right are lit by big three lightGlossary Term PerpendicularGlossary Term windows above gently curving bays. The detail is remarkably eclectic, with e.g. corner turrets resembling Indian chattris.

The ground floor is articulated by pilasters and has several original shop fronts with elegant thin mullions. The front entrance porch is very BaroqueGlossary Term, with swinging voussoirsGlossary Term and paired stubby blockedGlossary Term IonicGlossary Term columns. Much sculpture, modelled by Gibbs & Canning. The large draped figures on either side of the pedimentGlossary Term with lyre and book are Allegories of Methodist Teaching. They instruct naked cherubs with discreetly placed books. Inside the porch on each side, narrative panels of scenes from the life of Wesley. The charming triangular lamp over the right-hand door, with cut-out letters, is by Ewen Harper Brother & Company, 1928.

Inside the main staircase rises on the left of the entrance hall and leads to a seven bayGlossary Term aisled and clerestoried hall with a SE apseGlossary Term, which rises from the first floor to the roof. Iron arcades. The galleryGlossary Term has a good iron balustrade of Art NouveauGlossary Term flourishes. Narrow corridors between the hall and the outside walls, largely glazed to admit lightGlossary Term.



Semicircular or polygonal end of an apartment, especially of a chancel or chapel. In classical architecture sometimes called an exedra.


Series of arches supported by piers or columns (compare colonnade). Blind arcade or arcading: the same applied to the wall surface. Wall arcade: in medieval churches, a blind arcade forming a dado below windows. Also a covered shopping street.

Art Nouveau

A European decorative style at its peak c. 1890-1910, marked by swirling ornament derived from natural forms. True Art Nouveau design aimed to be distinct from all previous styles. Compare Free Style.


The term, originally derogatory, for a style at its peak in 17th- and early 18th-century Europe, which developed the classical architecture of the Renaissance towards greater extravagance and drama. Its innovations included greater freedom from the conventions of the orders, much interplay of concave and convex forms, and a preference for the single visual sweep. The revival of the style in early 20th-century Britain, often termed Edwardian Baroque or Neo-Baroque, drew more on English prototypes than on the more expansive variants of the Continent.


Division of an elevation or interior space as defined by regular vertical features such as arches, columns, windows etc.


Chamber or stage in a tower where bells are hung.


Interrupted by regular projecting blocks (blocking), as on a Gibbs surround.


With an angled edge or sides.


A long room or passage; an upper storey above the aisles of a church, looking through arches to the nave; a balcony or mezzanine overlooking the main interior space of a building; or an external walkway.


One of the orders of classical architecture, distinguished in particular by downward- and inward-curling spirals (called volutes) on the capital of the column.


Compartment of a window defined by the uprights or mullions.


Wall for protection at any sudden drop, e.g. on a bridge, or at the wall-head of a castle where it protects the parapet walk or wall-walk. Also used to conceal a roof.


A formalized gable derived from that of a classical temple; also used over doors, windows etc. A broken pediment has its apex omitted. An open pediment has the centre of the base omitted. A broken pediment with double-curved sides is called a swan-neck pediment.


English version of late Gothic, developed from the 1320s, which continued into the early 16th century; sometimes abbreviated to Perp. Characterised by large windows with a grid pattern of mullions and transoms, with the mullions continuing to the head to the arch, which is often of flattened or four-centred form. This motif of panel tracery is used also for wall decoration, and on the fan vaults that were used for the most prestigious buildings.


Slender spire on the ridge of a roof. Also called a fleche.


Moulded and fired clay ornament or cladding; when glazed and coloured or left white often called faience.


Wedge-shaped stones forming an arch.