31 October 2012

Pratchett's Bull Ring

Drawing of the Bull Ring area and St. Martin's church by Thomas Hollins, 1811.
Often described as the work of William Hollins (inc. the BMAG website),
but Thomas Hollins originally made the drawing in mid 1811 and published
prints from it in 1812; as recorded in newspapers of the time. 


















One of the most changeable sites in Birmingham is the Bull Ring, it has undergone several alterations, each with some contention. The iconic Selfridges building sits, today, just to the left of the church; if it were to be placed in the scene above it would fill the sky above the little Georgian shops, and probably leave the people dumbstruck at what their town will become. The scene today could not be more different, the church is the oldest building though was rebuilt in the 1870s, but Admiral Nelson (the statue, centre) still stands watching over her as he did from the day he was first unveiled in 1809.


Mr. Parkes visits Birmingham after a period of time
and enthusiastically notes the changes to the
main market area around St. Martin's church. 1810.
I call the area in Hollins's drawing 'Pratchett's Bull Ring' as Richard Pratchett, a High Bailiff, was one of the most influencial Street Commissioners of the time and his 'fundraising had substantially assisted the Street Commissioners in their grand scheme' (Upton). This 'grand scheme' was the alterations initiated by an act of parlaiment in 1801 to the areas around Birmingham's markets including the Bull Ring which involved removing the shambles (old tightly packed butcher's shops), the Welsh Cross and a number of other buildings which opened up the area around St. Martin's in the way it is charachterised by today (see left). Pratchett himself lived and ran his business near the Bull Ring, and the house may just be in view on Hollins's drawing, at the right of the image. He ran a druggist's and grocer's, a business that he inherited from his uncle, Thomas Carless, near the Swan coaching inn. Pratchett had left his particular mark on the improvement scheme around St. Martin's when he commissioned Thomas Hollins's brother William to design a sculpture that would surround the water-pump that had become exposed after the shambles was removed.

In 1806 William Hollins put forward a proposal for the monument to Lord Nelson which the Street Commissioners had proposed, but lost out to Sir Richard Westmacott whose work can be seen above. William’s design was much more complex and expensive in comparison with the simple statue that was chosen and included a post office and dispensary. A year later Pratchett asked him to design the water conduit to surround the pump but the design proved very unpopular. William called the sculpture the 'Egyptian Conduit'; many local people named it 'Pratchett’s Folly'. It was designed as a tribute to Nelson’s victories on the Nile, and may have been an elaborate show of what William could have done with the previous Nelson monument. It was in the shape of a pyramid, combining Egyptian, Grecian and English styles, and was ornamented with papyrus, Grecian honeysuckle and a lion’s head, all with associated mythological symbolism, and crowned with an urn which was a representation of the ashes of Nelson.* It can just be seen in the image above in front of St. Martin’s, just behind the first pair of horses. It seems that the sculpture was thought of as pretentious, with too much symbolism, unlike the statue of Nelson that was straight forward and to the point.* It is, of course, possible that the dislike of 'Pratchett's Pump' was part of a critisism of what we might now call gentrification, and the pump, with its perhaps pretentious symbolism, was the embodiment of this.

Yes, the Bull Ring has been one of the most altered parts of Birmingham over the centuries. Richard Pratchett was,of course, not solely responsible for the changes of the early nineteenth century; there were other Street Commissioners, 120 in fact. Yet, in another sense, it was Pratchett's Bull Ring. He had been part of the changes, he lived there and saw it everyday through his window; it must have felt like 'his place', like every other individual might feel like they belong to a place and who make a bond to their location, it is a very human thing.

In 1812 J. C. Stadler produced a coloured version of Thomas Hollins's etching. Above (right) you can see the Georgian
St. Martin's church in more detail with 'Pratchett's Pump' by William Hollins tucked into the church wall. Green
fields can be seen in the distance. To the left the shop windows can be seen, still looking homely and decorated
with curtains; a couple of the shops seem to have small images pasted to the insides of their windows. The full image is below.   

















NOTES
William Hollins was also commissioned to build the Public Office on Moor Street that was part of the Street Commissioners improvements of this time too. As High Bailiff, Richard Pratchett was the chosen representative of the Commissioners and laid the first stone on 18 Sep 1805.
* References on request

1 comment:

  1. I have this picture in a Frame quite large with william Hollins writting on it Could you tell me how much this is worth please in excelent condition THANK YOU
    e-mAIL debbiestewart26@yahoo.co.uk

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