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.


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