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The Listed Building (Formerly Floodgate School), Digbeth Campus, South Birmingham College, Birmingham

Description: The Listed Building (Formerly Floodgate School), Digbeth Campus, South Birmingham College

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 8 July 1982
English Heritage Building ID: 217398

OS Grid Reference: SP0785086412
OS Grid Coordinates: 407849, 286412
Latitude/Longitude: 52.4756, -1.8859

Location: Moores Row, Birmingham B5 5QR

Locality: Birmingham
County: Birmingham
Country: England
Postcode: B5 5QR

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Listing Text


A school, built in 1891 and designed by Martin and Chamberlain for the Birmingham School Board.

Reason for Listing

The Listed Building, Digbeth Campus, South Birmingham College is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Architect: a handsome and striking school by Martin and Chamberlain, one of the leading architectural practices in late-Victorian Birmingham
* Architecture: the building uses the tight site on which it is constructed to great advantage, making a particular feature of its massing and especially lavish terracotta decoration.
* Intactness: the building is largely intact and has undergone minimal alteration to its original form.
* Historical: 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, as well as the Board's offices. 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 William Martin (1859-1917), 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 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.

The Floodgate Street School opened in 1891 and was designed to educate 1,115 children. The building is shown on the Second Edition Ordnance Survey map published in 1905. It is shown on a small site, bounded by Moore's Row, Milk Street and Floodgate Street with houses to the south. The 1927 OS map showed that the playground to the south of the building had expanded to include an area which was formerly built over. Floodgate Street School continued until 1939-40 when the building was taken over by St Michael's Roman Catholic School. It had become the annexe to Hall Green Technical College by 1982. The footprint of the school building has not changed since it was first built, except that houses which formerly stood to the south have been demolished and a new extension has been built on their site to form the Digbeth Centre of South Birmingham College. This is attached to the former school building by a link at ground floor level which joins to the former Milk Street entrance of the school.


EXTERIOR: the south side has four large bays to the left, each of which is crowned by a gable. At ground floor level the walling is flush, but at first floor level there are projecting pilaster buttresses which have richly-moulded, terracotta gablets to their tops. They are set at either side of the windows, which are each divided by two mullions. Windows at ground and first floor levels have segmental heads, while those to the second floor have arched heads, extending into the gables, with terracotta decoration to the eaves. At right of this, and slightly recessed, is a bay with a doorway to the bottom and a series of small windows including two lancets to the top, which indicate a staircase inside the building. The east face has a similar large bay to those seen on the south front at right. To left of this are four-storeys of staircase windows. To the ridge behind is a square, wooden turret with pyramidal roof and weather vane.
The north front has blank walling to the left, with six-bays to the right of this which correspond to the hall inside the building. These have windows with cambered heads to the ground floor and taller windows above with one, prominent, transom and arched heads. Between these bays are wide buttresses with fluting to their corners and offsets. These terminate in gabled tops with open terracotta tracery and there is further terracotta ornament, including bosses, blind arcading to the top of the wall and an elaborate eaves cornice.

The east, or Milk Street front, which was the original entrance front and is now connected to the early-C21 college addition, has blank walling, save for clusters of four recessed lancets at first and second-floor levels, which light a staircase. At ground floor level is a single-storey, canted porch with a flat roof, which has an elaborate gabled porch to its right flank.

Above, and visible from all sides, is the ventilation tower which has a square lower body and an elaborate top stage, with bowed sides, polygonal turrets to the corners, and an arcaded parapet and cast-iron cresting to the top.

INTERIOR: the entrance from Milk Street gives onto a corridor with fire-proof vaulting that leads to a hall with an open-well staircase. This leads to the assembly hall at first floor level which has hammer beam roof trusses, supported on painted stone corbels. The south flank wall has a balcony landing supported on deep, cast-iron brackets, with panel tracery and pendant bosses. Doors throughout the building are largely to the original pattern, with glazing to the upper panels. Classrooms have vertical plank panelling below the dado, as do the passages and hall.

Source: English Heritage

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