The tour of the Grade II* listed Council House I attended was on 10th June 2015 and formed part of the Hidden Spaces series of events held throughout June. It’s a building I’ve often walked past on my way to other places such as Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and to Central Library and subsequently the Library of Birmingham. I’ve always thought it was a lovely looking building and often wondered what it looked like inside.
Myself and my fellow curious members of the public were greeted by Julie who usually works in administration at the Council House. Our guide led us up a grand staircase where we were shown the statues of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and told about the Freemen of the City whose number include Sir Simon Rattle. Julie described how the chandelier was cleaned and repaired and quipped that thankfully there hadn’t been any accidents like in the famous Only Fools & Horses scene. We were informed that it cost £163,805 to build the Council House.
Our tour also took in a visit to the mayoral parlour and as it is a working building we had the unexpected honour of meeting the Lord Mayor of Birmingham Councillor Raymond Hassell. He kindly took time out from his busy schedule to tell us about his role and how he came to be Lord Mayor. Some of the objects that Julie pointed out to us in the room included a visitors book that visiting dignitaries sign, gifts such as a ceremonial sword from Wilkinsons and the Lord Mayor’s desk that once belonged to Joseph Chamberlain which is still in use today as you can see from my photo below .
We didn’t get to see the Banqueting Suite as that was hired out for a private function. The next stage of our tour took in the Council Chambers which Julie told us all about who sits where and how it all works during the council meetings.
We also got to see the Glass Corridor which links the Council House with Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, unfortunately the door at the other end was locked and is only opened up for visiting VIPs. Afterwards we were taken to the basement of the building to what was formerly a wine cellar and became a temporary morgue during the Second World War. As we descended the stairs we could feel a drop in the temperature. Looking up at the ceiling I noticed glass panels which you could see people walking over. This turned out to be in Gas Street and it was the glass blocks that you can see in the pavement. I had always wondered what they were for!
I found the experience to be thoroughly informative and would recommend the tour for anyone with an interest in heritage or local government.
Tours of the Council House can be arranged, for availability please contact Democratic.Services@birmingham.gov.uk or telephone 0121 303 2438.