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Nechells School (Junior, Infant and Nursery), Birmingham

Description: Nechells School (Junior, Infant and Nursery)

Grade: II
Date Listed: 11 April 2012
English Heritage Building ID: 1407994

OS Grid Reference: SP0938689580
OS Grid Coordinates: 409386, 289579
Latitude/Longitude: 52.5040, -1.8631

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

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Listing Text


A school building of 1879 designed by Martin and Chamberlain for the Birmingham School Board.

Reason for Listing

Nechells Primary School is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural merit: the building is a good example of the architectural work of Martin and Chamberlain, combining a dramatic outline which can be seen across its local neighbourhood, together with good detailing and careful planning.
* Intactness: despite some alterations and additions, the building retains much of its original fabric and many original fittings.
* Historical interest: 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.


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-two new schools. All but four of these schools 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 the death of Chamberlain, Martin was joined by his son, Frederick Martin, and the practice continued under the same name until the death of William Martin when the practice was renamed Martin and Martin. The board schools operated as 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 terracotta displaying naturalistic forms. Chamberlain believed that school architecture might offer children some compensation for drab 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'.

J. H. Chamberlain, the leading creative force within Martin and Chamberlain, was profoundly influenced by Ruskin and his promotion of Venetian Gothic; Chamberlain had a unique impact on Birmingham's civic architecture during the 1860s and 1870s, helping shape the city's celebrated movement of social and artistic improvement. Chamberlain was responsible for a number of other important public buildings – most of those which survive are listed – but the board schools represent perhaps the most significant and lasting element of his work.

Nechells Primary School, built in 1879, and originally named Hutton Street Board School, was designed by the architects Martin and Chamberlain and is illustrated on the first edition (1889) Ordnance Survey map fronting Hutton Street. The school is illustrated as two irregular buildings with a central connecting element. Both buildings have irregular plans and the building to the west is roughly rectangular with a large semi-circular bay on the west elevation. The eastern building has a small semi-circular bay to the east and is recessed to the rear. The School was renamed Nechells Board School in 1897 and by the second edition (1904) Ordnance Survey map the name of the street on which the building is situated has been changed to Eliot Street. The 1904 map reveals that the building to the east has been extended with a large rectangular addition and a canted bay to the south. The plan of the school remains largely constant on the map of 1916 but has been further extended to the west by the 1938 Ordnance Survey map. The 1930s alterations to the building coincide with the reorganisation of the school into separate senior, junior and infant departments.

Comparison with the modern OS map demonstrates that the large addition built to the rear of the eastern building and present on the 1904 map has been removed but the adjacent canted bay remains. The central section of the building has been filled in and the western end of the building has undergone considerable alteration with the removal of the large semi-circular bay and the addition of the rectangular western elevation.


Nechells Primary School is a brick building designed by Martin and Chamberlain with an irregular plan and Gothic in style. The school has single-storey, two-storey and three-storey elements, with a tower projecting from the south elevation. The principal facade faces south onto Eliot Street.

EXTERIOR: the front steps down from right to left, with a taller block of three-storeys to the right. This has two gables and each has four lancet lights at ground and first floor levels which are grouped under a running hoodmould at ground floor level and have a shared stone head to the first floor. To the gables are paired windows. To the left of this are the plenum tower and the porch. The tower has a large window to the ground floor with a relieving arch above and three lancets to the first floor. Above this there is a tall opening with mullion and transom and cusped heads to the lights, and a further lancet projecting into the gable, all with louvres. The east and west sides of the tower have tall, two-light windows with louvres and a gablet with bulls eye windows. To the left again are three gables with a doorway at left and paired lancets at ground floor level and sash windows with cambered heads to the first floor. A wall with arched yard door is at left again and the front ends with a gable at far left which has paired lancets and a cusped circular light all set beneath a relieving arch. The extension which is shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1904 was formerly placed to the west, but this has been largely demolished, leaving the truncated lower walling to form the enclosure of a yard. This has six-bays, marked by pilaster buttresses. The rear (north) of the building fronts the schoolyard and has a large projecting block to the left. This is of three-storeys and its flanks have similar fenestration and motifs to those seen on the south front. The north front of this block has two gabled wings, in front of which a later-C19 or earlier-C20 extension of two-storeys was added, projecting northwards. This was subsequently largely demolished, leaving a plain brick wall which has been colour-washed. To left of this is a plain wall with doorway which leads to the covered courtyard. At right again a further projecting block has a large gable at right with a central two-light window with oculus to its head, which projects into the gable and is flanked by lancets. At the apex of the gable is a suspended, timber bell-cote. At far right is a flat-roofed extension of six-bays.

INTERIOR: the building is accessed via an arched entrance on the south elevation, to the west of the tower. From the entrance a lobby leads through to a covered courtyard which was previously open. The courtyard is located centrally within the building and all of the separate elements of the building are accessed from this area. The courtyard is covered by a modern timber and glass roof and has modern internal partitions to the north and west. The previously external windows have been retained and three brick arches are located to the south. To the north of the courtyard a small corridor leads to the hall to the east. The hall is a double height space with iron girders to the roof which have decorative piercing. At the east of the hall the space has been partitioned to provide a library which is entered from the internal courtyard. To the north of the hall are classrooms and a staircase to the first-floor which leads to the head teacher’s study. This underwent a scheme of renovation in the first half of the C20 and retains glazed and panelled doors and a fireplace of that date.

The majority of the classrooms, together with another larger staircase are located to the east of the courtyard and entrance. The classrooms retain windows, doors, door furniture and panelling throughout. The internal windows, which have four-pointed, arches are situated above the panelling and provide light and visibility between the rooms. At first-floor level the rooms are open to the roof with timber trusses and a timber panelled ceiling. Within this section of the building is a central hall with timber roof trusses, from which classrooms are accessed. This hall has glazed bricks set within the floor of the first-floor which provides some light to the hallway beneath.

Source: English Heritage

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