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Cromwell Junior and Infant School, Birmingham

Description: Cromwell Junior and Infant School

Grade: II
Date Listed: 12 March 2012
English Heritage Building ID: 1407723

OS Grid Reference: SP0858688597
OS Grid Coordinates: 408588, 288598
Latitude/Longitude: 52.4952, -1.8749

Locality: Birmingham
County: Birmingham
Country: England
Postcode: B7 5AZ

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Listing Text


Cromwell Junior and Infant School, built as Cromwell Street School in 1889 by J A Cossins for the Birmingham School Board. C20 alterations and additions.

Reason for Listing

The former Cromwell Street School is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historical: the former Cromwell Street School is one of twenty-six surviving schools built by the Birmingham School Board, which together form one of the most important groups of board schools in the country
* Architect: built by the notable local architect, J A Cossins who, working alone and as part of the firm Cossins, Peacock and Bewlay, is associated with a number of other listed Birmingham buildings
* Architectural: the school has a strong architectural presence, with an effective symmetrical plan, judicious use of architectural terracotta, and a striking ventilation tower, placed off-centre
* Interior: the building retains a number of noteworthy internal features, particularly the cast-iron trusses to the two halls and the classrooms


The Birmingham School Board was brought into being by the Elementary Education Act of 1870; the Act, which empowered school boards to create new schools and pay the fees of the poorest children, was largely the result of campaigning by the Birmingham-centred National Education League. By 1902, when the Education Act abolished school boards and passed the responsibility for education to local authorities, the Birmingham School Board had built fifty-one new schools. The vast majority of these schools, together with the Board's offices, were designed by the architectural practice Martin and Chamberlain - from 1900 Martin and Martin - appointed Architect to the Board in 1870.

John Henry Chamberlain (1831-83) and William Martin (1828-1900) formed the practice Martin and Chamberlain in 1864; following Chamberlain's death, Martin was joined by his son, Frederick William Martin (1859-1917). The board schools became focal points within each district, serving as symbols of municipal pride and civic achievement; Martin and Chamberlain created a house style for their schools, which were characterised by their red-brick construction, tall ventilation towers, proliferation of gables, and decorative use of tiles and terracotta, sometimes displaying naturalistic forms. Chamberlain believed that beautiful and well-planned school architecture might offer children some compensation for drab, cramped homes, and in 1894 the Pall Mall Gazette commented that, 'In Birmingham you may generally recognise a Board School by its being the best building in the neighbourhood... with lofty towers which serve the utilitarian purpose of giving excellent ventilation, gabled windows, warm red bricks and stained glass, the best of the Birmingham Board Schools have quite an artistic finish'.

Following Chamberlain's death, much of the practice's design was taken over by Frederick Martin, who developed the established mode of the schools' design. Only four of the Birmingham Board Schools were not designed by the practice, one of these being Cromwell Street School, opened in 1889, which was designed by J A Cossins (1830-1917). Jethro Cossins was a notable architect in late-Victorian and Edwardian Birmingham; arriving in 1850, he become established, particularly as a designer of public and domestic buildings, working in Gothic and Queen Anne Revival styles. In circa 1890 Cossins went into partnership with Barry Peacock, and H R Bewlay was taken into the practice in 1896, to be replaced by E C Bewlay in 1900; the firm continued in business until shortly before 1917. Cossins and the practice were responsible for a number of listed buildings in the Birmingham area, one of the most significant being the Balsall Heath Free Library (1895), to which baths were later added, listed at Grade II*.

Cromwell Street School offered places to 1,080 boys, girls and infants at its opening. The building suffered bomb damage during World War II, and spent a period in use as a civic restaurant. The caretaker's house, which formerly stood to the north-east of the school, has been demolished. The school is now Cromwell Junior and Infant School.


MATERIALS: red brick, with terracotta and moulded brick dressings. The roofs are tiled, with decorative ridge tiles. The majority of the windows have been replaced.

PLAN: the plan of the original school building is symmetrical: two halls are placed at the centre of the building, on a south-west/north-east axis, with classrooms opening from either side of the halls, and occupying short wings projecting from each corner. Within this original plan, there is an entrance at the centre of each elevation, and one to each corner – some original entrances have now been obscured by later additions. There is a large modern extension to the north-east corner, and smaller ones to the south-west and south-east corners.

EXTERIOR: the tall ventilation tower, situated near the centre of the building, is visible from every angle: rising from a square base, a buttressed octagonal shaft with elongated lancets is completed by a timber louvred 'belfry' with a tiled pyramidal roof; a chimney is attached to the upper part of the tower on its north-western side. The building's five-bay principal elevation is to the south-east, facing Cromwell Street. The recessed central entrance bay consists of a flat-roofed entrance flanked by low gables containing windows with blind trefoil terracotta heads. There has been some alteration to the original entrance, and a modern canopy has been added. Rising behind the entrance is the gable end of the western hall, with its large octofoil window; the gable was probably truncated when the upper part of the hall roof, which contained ventilation ducts, was removed. To either side of the entrance is a pair of gabled classrooms, each having three trefoil-headed windows with quatrefoils to the spandrels, and two smaller trefoil openings above, with a quatrefoil ventilation hole to the apex; this pattern is repeated for each of the school's classrooms. In the south-western pair, on this elevation, the central openings have been lowered to accommodate doors. The design of the north-west elevation, to Rupert Street, corresponds to that of the south-east elevation, with pairs of gabled classrooms flanking a recessed central bay; a modern two-storey flat-roofed block now occupies the central bay. The longer north-east and south-west elevations each contain two pairs of gabled classrooms, separated by a central projecting block with a narrow doorway to one side; there is a projecting entrance block to either end of these elevations, with a round-headed doorway holding double doors beneath a fanlight, the moulded terracotta head having a hoodmould, and quatrefoils to the spandrels. The school's C20 extensions are of brick, with flat roofs.

INTERIOR: the centre of the building is occupied by the two halls, one to the south-east and the other to the north-west. Each hall is spanned by cast-iron trusses with pierced decoration, which rise to form pointed arches, and each is lit by an octofoil window as well as by the original roof-lights. The halls retain their woodblock flooring. To either side of each hall are classrooms, with pointed-arched door and window openings. The classrooms have cast-iron trusses similar to those in the halls, and most retain their original doors. Elsewhere some doors have been replaced. The rooms to either side of the entrance, used as an office and staff room, are more altered than others within the original building.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the school is separated from Cromwell Street and Rupert Street by low walls with iron railings set on triangular copings. There are chamfered gate piers; those to the north-east formerly gave access to the caretaker's house.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.