Elliott Brown

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11 Aug 2018 - Elliott Brown

Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower inspired by the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy

The Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower at the University of Birmingham, also known as Old Joe, built from 1900 to 1908, was based on the Torre del Mangia in the Piazza del Campo in Siena, Tuscany, Italy (that was built from 1338 to 1348). Old Joe was designed by Aston Webb & Ingress Bell. Old Joe is the tallest free standing clock tower in the world at 110 metres.

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The Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock tower was designed by Aston Webb and Ingress Bell and it was built from 1900 to 1908.

Old Joe at University of Birmingham

The clock tower is the tallest free standing clock tower in the world, recorded at 110 metres high. It stands in the middle of the University campus and is visible from many places, not just from the campus!

Quadrangle Old Joe view

This view of Old Joe is from South Yardley seen from the Oaklands Recreation Ground (a good site for viewing the city skyline).

Old Joe from Oaklands Recreation Ground

This view of Old Joe is from Holders Lane Woods. It leads onto Cannon Hill Park starting at either Selly Park or Moseley, towards Edgbaston.

Old Joe from Holders Lane Woods


The tower that inspired Old Joe was the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy, in the Tuscany region of the country. It is in the Piazza del Campo also known as Il Campo. Each summer there is a horse race called the Palio of Siena and the square gets quite busy. On my visit it was just days away from the first horse race and the various teams were getting prepared, so sand was in the square as the horse racing track.

The tower is 102 metres high and was one of the tallest towers of medieval Italy.

Torre del Mangia, Il Campo, Siena, Italy

Torre del Mangia in Piazza del Campo, Siena

You can tell that Old Joe was based on the Torre del Mangia as it has a similar design. Both towers dominate the skyline in their respective cities.

Siena Skyline with Torre del Mangia



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09 Aug 2018 - Elliott Brown

Birmingham Corporation Tramways

Birmingham used to have an old tram network that ended around 1953. From 1904 to 1953 it was run by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birmingham_Corporation_Tramways Although trams first ran in Birmingham from 1872. Today all that is left is a tram at Thinktank, several old depots, and other objects at museums.

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In Birmingham you can visit Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum where you can see the only surviving intact tram left from the era.

It was the no 78 tram to Small Heath. Number 395 of the Birmingham Corporation Tramways. It had previously been in the old Birmingham Museum of Science & Industry until 1997. And at Thinktank from around 2001 onwards.

Tram at Thinktank

There is a tram museum in Derbyshire at Crich, called the National Tramway Museum. While they don't have any full size Birmingham trams there, due to the fact that the track gauge was different, they do have a couple of models.

This was a model of Birmingham Corporation Tramways No 700, on the 70 to Rednal. The actual tram it was based on was built by Brush Electrical Engineering Co Ltd in 1925. No. 700 was one of the last cars to be withdrawn from Miller Street Depot in August 1953.

Birmingham Corporation Tramways 700

This tram model at Crich was of the Birmingham Corporation Tramsways service from Aston Cross to Steelhouse Lane.

Birmingham tram Aston Cross to Steelhouse Lane

They also have this sign at the museum. Acocks Green and Dale End 44, which probably was removed from a tram that got scrapped?

Acocks Green and Dale End 44

Also at the National Tramway Museum was a set of gates from the original Birmingham Wholesale Market. They were moved to the museum and installed in 1975.

The Blackpool Boat Car No 236 gives you an idea of what a tramline in Birmingham might have been like a century ago. Although Birmingham didn't have trams that looked like that! The gates are now used as an entrance to the museums tram depot.

Blackpool Boat Car 236 and Birmingham Wholesale Market gates

Birmingham Wholesale Market gates alternate view

After the old tram network closed down in 1953, many of the old tram depot buildings survived as the tracks were removed and the old trams were scrapped.

In Aston is this building not far from Villa Park. It was used as the Aston Manor Transport Museum until they had to close in 2011. Before that it was originally the Borough of Aston Manor Tramways Depot. It was built in 1882 for the Borough of Aston Manor. Also known as the Witton Lane Tramway Depot it is a Grade II listed building. Originally a steam tram depot from 1882, by 1904-06 it was converted to electric tram use. The City of Birmingham took it over from 1911 when Aston became part of the city. It was used as a tram depot until 1949. It was used to store and dismantle trams until 1953. By the 1980s the building was used as a car showroom, before it was a museum. Also known as the Witton Depot.

Aston Manor Transport Museum

Another old tram depot building that you can see is over in Selly Oak, now used by Access Storage. The depot opened in 1927. It was converted for motorbus used in 1952. You can see it on the 11C and 11A bus routes on Harborne Lane in Selly Oak, close to Selly Oak Triangle.

Selly Oak Tram Depot

On the Moseley Road in Balsall Heath was the Moseley Road Depot. It opened in 1907 and was converted for motorbus use in 1949. The building is quite derelict now, although parts of the building to the back are in use, the building at the front is not. It's a Grade II listed building, built by Lowe & Son in 1906. Designed by FB Osborn for Birmingham Corporation


Balsall Heath Tram Depot


There is a section of track near the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery on what was Edmund Street close to the Water Hall that is still there. It was the only section preserved in the city centre after rest of the tracks were lifted after the network closed in 1953.

Tram track


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History & heritage
06 Aug 2018 - Elliott Brown

Birmingham's architectural gems - we go back in time!

Every month with the help of our People with Passion, FreeTimePays will feature great historic architecture of Birmingham.

In this article we feature Highbury Hall, Aston Hall, Sarehole Mill and Blakesley Hall, 4 of Birmingham's magnificent buildings.

Take the full post and view more for more great historic gems and 'Did you know' facts.

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Highbury Hall - a historic gem in Moseley, Birmingham

Photo courtesy Christine Wright

Highbury Hall is a wonderful Grade II listed building that nestles in Highbury Park. It was built in 1879 by J H Chamberlain for Joseph Chamberlain (no relation). Joseph Chamberlain lived here from 1880 until 1914.

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown

Highbury Hall (August 2018)

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown

Aston Hall - a historic gem in Aston, Birmingham

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown

Aston Hall was built between 1618 and 1635 for Sir Thomas Holte. It was then leased by James Watt Jr from 1817. It became a museum from 1858 with ownership passing to Birmingham Corporation soon after.

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust

The Great Parlour at Aston Hall was the Holte family's principal living room. Around 1700 it was converted into a chapel.

The Great Parlour at Aston Hall

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown


Sarehole Mill - a historic gem in Hall Green, Birmingham 

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown

The original Sarehole Mill was built in 1542. The Mill standing now was built in 1771. JRR Tolkien lived in the area as a child and got much of his inspiration from the Sarehole Mill.

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust

Here is Mill machinery as seen inside Sarehole Mill.

Mill Machinery at Sarehole Mill

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown


Blakesley Hall - historic gem in Yardley, Birmingham.

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown

Blakesley Hall is a timber framed farmhouse in Yardley which was built for Richard Smallbroke towards the end of the 16th century.

Blakesley Hall is now owned and run as a museum by the Birmingham Museums Trust.

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust

The Great Parlour at Blakesley Hall was used for private dining, sitting and entertaining. Had a door to the garden so people could come and go without passing through the main Hall.

The Great Parlour at Blakesley Hall

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown


Follow us for more great history and 'Did you Know' facts as we build a gallery and catalogue of wonderful architecture to be found across Birmingham.

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