24 January 2013

Samuel Lines: Victoria Square As It Was

The Town Hall and Queen's College, painted c. 1848 by Samuel Lines Senior

Samuel Lines painted a number of topographical pictures of Birminghm. He produced the above in about 1848, but, at that time, would not have called this area Victoria Square, as it is called today. At this time Victoria was on the throne, but this space by the Town Hall became Victoria Square in the year the Queen died, 1901, when a statue of her was erected near to where it still stands today. The statue was perhaps erected here as when she visited Birmingham as Queen in 1858 she would alight from her carriage in this open area and enter a purple canopy of velvet into the Town Hall.

In Samuel Lines's painting, the area is a busy thoroughfare, just as it is today; the open space was formed naturally at a place where six streets met,* and the atmosphere of this bustling area was described in 1825:
'The junction of these streets is one of the most pleasing and lively spots in the town. An open space, receiving into one focus the radiation of six ways, there is a continual succession of objects; and being the centre of a busy manufacturing district, the throng of artizans [sic] leaving their several workshops, at the hour of One, and hurrying to their meal, has a particularly animated ans cheerful effect; especially in this time of plentiful employment.'**

Samuel Lines filled his painting with a selection of animated characters; there are cheeky schoolboys, workers grouped together chatting, an older man and a boy sitting under the lampost looking at a book, a genteel couple in a fine carriage (the lady turns towards the viewer), beggars, peddlars, a soldier in his smart red coat, a black or Asian man in orange and turquiose robes, and two workers carrying a huge urn among mant more. You can also see how the arches of the Town Hall could be walked through as two genteel ladies, dressed to impress, promenade through with a small dog. The size of these arches compared to the pedestrians beneath is very telling; the Town Hall would have been the largest building in the area by far (the church had a taller spire, but that was slim), it was a massive block of a building and must have felt huge to the inhabitants of the town. The ladies walking beneath are much smaller than they should be compared to the actual size of the arches, so Lines must have subconciously felt this a large building to make such a mistake.

Find out more about the buildings depicted in the painting below.

1) The wall of Christ Church
2) Corbett's Temperance Hotel, run by Joseph Corbett
3) Terraces built in about the 1760s
4) Queen's College (see below)
5) More terraces in the distance (see below)
6) The Town Hall
7) Druggist's shop, run by Samuel Wilson Suffield

Reconstruction using photographs, postcards and illustrations, of Queen's College and the buildings further along (unfinished) on Paradise Street, circa 1851, by Jenni Coles-Harris.

* The six streets were Ann Street, Congreve Street, Hill Street, New Street, Paradise Street and Pinfold Street.
** References on request.

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