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Small Heath Lower School, Learning Zone, Birmingham

Description: Small Heath Lower School, Learning Zone

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 8 July 1982
English Heritage Building ID: 216831

OS Grid Reference: SP0972385197
OS Grid Coordinates: 409723, 285198
Latitude/Longitude: 52.4646, -1.8583

Location: Byron Road, Birmingham B10 0EN

Locality: Birmingham
County: Birmingham
Country: England
Postcode: B10 0EN

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Listing Text


The building now known as the Learning Zone, Small Heath Lower School, originally built as the master's or caretaker's house for Waverley Road School; both school and house were built in 1892 by Martin and Chamberlain for the Birmingham School Board.

Reason for Listing

Small Heath Lower School, Learning Zone is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Architect: the house was designed by Martin and Chamberlain, one of the leading architectural practices in late-Victorian Birmingham.
* Historical: built as the master's or caretaker's house for Waverley Road School, 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.
* Architectural Interest: for a striking and complex asymmetrical design, inspired by the Domestic Revival, employing variety in plan, architectural features, and decorative details.
* Intactness: externally, the house remains largely as built, though the interior has been considerably altered.
* Group value: with the main school building of Small Heath Lower School, also listed at Grade II*.


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. All but four 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'.

J. H. Chamberlain, the leading creative force within Martin and Chamberlain, was profoundly influenced by Ruskin and his promotion of Venetian Gothic; Chamberlain played a unique role in defining Birmingham's civic architecture during the 1860s and 1870s, helping shape the city's celebrated movement of social and artistic improvement. He designed a number of other important public buildings, including libraries, baths, and hospitals, but in setting the style for the board schools he made an especially significant and lasting contribution to Birmingham's built environment.

Frederick Martin, who took over much of the practice's design after Chamberlain's death, was responsible for a variety of public and commercial buildings, and housing, as well as the board schools. Martin developed the established mode of the schools' design, introducing a greater freedom in referencing historical styles and, as a leading practitioner of Birmingham's 'terracotta school', an increased use of terracotta.

Waverley Road School was opened in 1892 as a higher grade school, offering a further two years of education, largely technical and commercial, to able children, after the age of twelve. At the time of opening, the facilities included a chemical laboratory, a lecture room, and workshops. Its educational approach followed that initiated by George Dixon, the long-standing Liberal chairman of the Board, who had in 1884 opened the Bridge Street Central Board School, in the premises of the former Cadbury factory, for promising boys. Waverley Road offered places to 600 girls and boys at its opening. Waverley Road became Waverley Council Secondary School in 1933, and then, with the passing of the 1944 Education Act, Waverley County Grammar School; it is now Small Heath Lower School, run in association with the Small Heath Upper School and Sixth Form Centre, on another site. The house is in use as part of the school.


House, 1892, by Martin and Chamberlain, for the Birmingham School Board. Built as a master's or caretaker's house, for Waverley Road School, now Small Heath Lower School, which stands immediately to the east. The house faces south-east, towards the school yard.

MATERIALS: Red brick, with terracotta and cut and moulded brick dressings. The roof is tiled, with decorative ridge-tiles, and there are tall brick stacks with terracotta elements. The house retains its original timber windows with sash frames, the upper frames having multiple panes.

EXTERIOR: A two-storey, two-bay building, each bay being topped by a gable. The upper parts of the building are decorated with a ribbed terracotta moulding. The projecting left-hand bay has a two-storey canted bay window, with a tiled hood to the upper window, and tiled off-set above the lower window. The right-hand bay has a segmental-arched window to the ground floor, and a flat-arched first-floor window, above which is a terracotta lunette, with blind tracery. Between the bays, at first-floor level, is a small cusped window. Below it, the entrance porch, with a plain segmental opening, brings the doorway to the same plane as the left-hand bay. The inner entrance doorway is a beaded round-arched opening. There has been some alteration to the right of the porch, a second doorway approached by a ramp having been provided. The south-west elevation also has two gabled bays. Against the projecting right-hand bay is an external stack, corbelled out to greater width below the first-floor; in the upper part of the stack is a terracotta panel depicting a sunflower from which rise grouped shafts, first of square section, then circular. To the left, coupled windows to the ground floor, with cinquefoil window above, and decorative terracotta to the apex of the gable. Attached to the north-east of the building is a low, lean-to brick structure, adapted in the early C21 from a covered play-shed; the wall of the house above it is blank, but for a pilaster, and a small square window.

INTERIOR: The interior of the building has been considerably altered, but it retains wood block floors, and a good proportion of original joinery, including boarded doors and cupboards; the staircase has moulded newel posts, similar to those in the school.

Source: English Heritage

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