29 November 2012

Novel Design: Eccentric Greek Revival

There are quite a large amount of Georgian and Regency buildings that still stand across Britain; you can visit Ludlow if you would like to see a predominantly Georgian town, or Royal Leamington Spa if you fancy walking around a Regency one, and, in either, feel in touch with the heritage of the place. There is very little Georgian or Regency heritage in most parts of Birmingham (especially in the centre) or any other industrial town, which means that we have little understanding of how the largest towns changed and grew architecturally; and they were important places, Birmingham in 1821 had more than 22 times more inhabitants than Ludlow and more than 48 times more than Leamington Spa.** These industrial towns were wealthy places, which is why they were able to maintain such a rapid replacement of buildings, so some of those would have been the most fashionable and interesting architectural examples of the time. Many of the buildings that we know about were public buildings, but I would also like to explore some private buildings that have perhaps slipped through the net.

One of these buildings sat next to the Theatre Royal on New Street. It is an important building in the history of Birmingham's architecture as it was built as the offices and home of one of the town's native architects, John Fallows, who had a very distinct and sometimes eccentric way of interpreting the Greek revival and Egyptian influences of the time.* The property on New Street was described in 1830:
'The drawing of the entire front consists of a centre and two wings, the right wing next [to the] theatre is the residence, and the left the offices of the architect, the centre forms a screen to the back premises, and consists of a carriage entrance with folding gates, piers rusticated with frise [sic], supported by enriched trusses, cornice and blocking terminating with elegant tripods or lamps. On each side is a continued screen wall having at each end a doorway which forms the access to the house, offices and premises; these walls are also rusticated in the most peculiar manner, the openings of the doorways are finished with enriched keystones, and the whole is of such novel and elegant design that it does credit to the architect, who has displayed such a cultivated taste'.*

John Fallows' house next to
the Theatre Royal, c.1830.
This was a flamboyant architectural undertaking, probably designed as an advertisement for the architects skills as well as a status symbol, and would have been a dominant architectural presence, especially as it stood in an area of other great architectural examples (next to the Theatre Royal, which itself was next to Portugal House). It seems, though, that Fallows was as flamboyant in his everyday spending as he was in his architectural endeavours as he declared himself bankrupt only four years after the New Street building's completion. Some of Fallows work still survives, predominantly in Edgbaston (see all Fallows posts here), and the similarities can be seen with these standing buildings, predominantly with the use of friezes and the Graeco-Egyptian stylings. The buildings on New Street were replaced in the early 1900s, though they had already been altered almost beyond recognition by that time.

From Birmingham Gazette, 3 September 1832. The sale/lease of Fallows'
New Street property after bankruptcy.

* References on request
Populations in 1821
Ludlow 4,820
Birmingham 106,722
Leamington 2,183
*** It may seem a shame that buildings like this are gone, but Fallows removed another of Birmingham's built treasures when he built his own grand house and offices, as the site was that of James Bisset's famous shop and museum, once graced with a visit from Admiral Lord Nelson. James Bisset's shop and museum ran from 1800 to 1813.

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