18 August 2019

Georgian Terraces Nᵒ.5: The Square

'The Square' was an early eighteenth-century urban development completed in about 1713. This was elite living, including fine townhouses which were bought and lived in by some of the town's wealthiest inhabitants.

Originally the land was part of the ancient priory of St. Thomas dating back to at least 1298. In the early 1700s, though, this area began to be built up with the Square becoming the centrepiece. Four new streets led into the Square, Upper Priory in the north, Upper Lichfield Street to the east (an extension to an older street), Lower Priory at the south, and an initially unnamed street to the west which later became the Minories. Nearby was Pemberton's Yard, named after John Pemberton, a wealthy ironmonger and predominant landowner of the plots, and Westley's Row. William Westley was a local designer-builder, so was probably highly involved in the construction of the new houses. Westley's son also produced several prints and maps of the town, including a view of St. Philip's with the Square inset (top image), further suggesting a strong involvement in the development.

1731 Map.

In building the Square, Birmingham was quick in following a national trend. As Peter Borsay states, England gained its first square in London's Covent Garden in the 1630s, designed by Inigo Jones, and provincial squares followed in the early 1700s. The Square in Warwick was completed in about 1704, St. Anne's Square in Manchester in about 1720, Derby Square in Liverpool was constructed between about 1705 and 1725 and Bristol's Queen Square between about 1699 and 1727. Bath's Queen's Square was not completed until 1736.**

These survive either in remnants or whole squares, but Birmingham's Square was completely demolished. Half of it was removed when Corporation Street was cut through the area in about 1878, and the rest as new Victorian and Edwardian buildings were built around the new square, now called Old Square (see below).

Old Square in the 1890s.

Many other squares were situated around or alongside churches, and a later Birmingham development followed the same pattern around St. Philip's church. These were larger sites and were public spaces as well as containing homes for the elite (see below), but The Square was small in comparison containing only sixteen premises. Its smaller size was probably a major factor in its demise.

Bristol's Queen Square, c. 1831.

Today the area is still an open space surrounded by buildings, but nothing remains from its Georgian past apart from the name, which had become 'Old Square' by the Victorian period.

In the central open space are two twentieth-century sculptures, one of the comedian and actor Tony Hancock and the other depicting the history of the site by Kenneth Budd. Budd's mural, from 1967, explores some of the early history and the most well-known residents.

Friar, Kenneth Budd's mural, Old Square.

Well before the Square was built St. Thomas's Priory had occupied the site, which had a chapel and graveyard attached. Budd depicts one of the friars (above) who would have worn black habits, and sometimes were not particularly godly. In 1344 it was noted that
The Hospital of St. Thomas the Martyr Burmyngham is found to be in a most deplorable plight, that vile reprobates assumed the habit that they might continue their abominable lives under the religious garb, and then forsake it and call themselves hermits.*
According to Hill and Dent, the Priory and chapel were built of the same red sandstone of other early buildings in the area, which survives in other ancient structures such as the spire of St. Peter and St. Paul's church in Aston.* The Priory was closed during the reign of Henry VIII. When the Square was built, the old priory was remembered in the naming of nearby streets and in 1781 William Hutton wrote that 'Some small remains of the old foundation are yet visible in the cellars [of Old Square], chiefly in the south-east'.*

The Priory was also remembered in the name of the ancient Chappell Street (see 1731 map above) which had run past the chapel and graveyard. From at least 1584 the Bull Tavern was situated along this street, and in the early 1700s the road became known as Bull Street, and maintains that name today.

Bull Tavern, Kenneth Budd's mural, Old Square.

The original design of the Square was around a garden surrounded in railings with paths allowing residents to stroll through the area. This was seemingly reduced in the 1750s or 1760s to a smaller circle which was possibly more ornamental, and probably allowed more space for coaches to come through. This may have been encouraged by the opening of an assembly room at number 11, which William Hutton noted was one of only two in Birmingham in 1750.* In 1765 this assembly room was the site of a grand public ball. The occasion was that royalty had visited Birmingham, namely the Duke of York, younger brother of George III, who had toured the workshops of John Taylor, a major manufacturer in the town. He dined at the Castle Inn and in the evening local gentry and other wealthy locals, such as the Holte's of Aston Hall and the Gough's of Perry Hall, danced the night away at the Square.*

Edward, Duke of York, 1762, by Pompeo Batoni.
Royal Collection.
1765 ball, Kenneth Budd's mural, Old Square.

One of the early residents of the Square was John Wilkes, son of the famous lockmaker of the same name. The elder Wilkes's workshop had possibly been on Bull Street and he made fine brass locks which survive in museums such as the Victoria and Albert and Birmingham Museums. The younger Wilkes was also a lockmaker, and the success of both generations in the trade can be seen in being able to afford one of the most desirable houses in Birmingham in the 1710s.

Houses and a Wilkes lock, Kenneth Budd's mural, Old Square.

Another famous resident was Edmund Hector, a surgeon and doctor from Lichfield who settled in Birmingham in about the 1730s. Hector had been at school with Dr. Samuel Johnson, writer, and the two lodged together with the Birmingham printer Thomas Warren, drinking nearby at the Swan Hotel. Hector purchased number one in the Square in 1747, which was particularly grand and had originally been the house occupied by John Pemberton who owned the land of the Square. Pemberton was a wealthy ironmonger and also had built a grand house on Bennett's Hill.

Hector's house at number one, Square. 
A plaque was erected on Hector's house in 1865 which read:


Johnson and Hector, Kenneth Budd's mural, Old Square.

Another notable resident was Sampson Lloyd at number 13, who was one of the founders of Taylor and Lloyd's Bank in Birmingham, a forerunner of Lloyd's Bank. The Taylor was John Taylor, toymaker.

Lloyd, Kenneth Budd's mural, Old Square.

Budd's mural can be seen by visiting the modern Old Square, but the images below show what it used to look like, at least in the late 1800s. 

Gallery of the Houses
Many of the buildings had some alterations, but some were close to their original state and those with dormer windows on the third floor were most unaltered. In the 1790s the numbers changed, so the images represent eighteenth-century numbering. The selection of residents is taken from Joseph Hill and Robert Kirkup Dent's, Memorials of the Old Square (1897). They include the first known residents and selected others that may be of interest.

Looking West

15 & 16: see below. Number 16 was rebuilt.
1: John Pemberton, ironmonger (completion-1747); Edmund Hector, surgeon (1747-1794); William Carless Hopper (1794-1796); Clement Cotterill (1796-1812).
2: John Pemberton, gentleman (c. 1728-1735); others; Samuel Bradburn, merchant and born at number 16 in 1716 (1744-1755)

Looking South

3: Dr. Samuel Swynfen, physician and godfather of Samuel Johnson (1728-1736); Oseland, Stuhlmann and Bingham, merchants (1770); John Bingham, merchant (c. 1774-1798) in about 1798 numbers 3 and 4 were joined by John Bingham to become the Stork Tavern, later Stork Hotel. The two houses were refronted in about 1812 and it was still the Stork Hotel in the photograph.
4: Daniel Whalley (1721-1735).
Lower Priory
5: Mrs. Wall (?-1740); Birch family and partners, button makers (1740-c. 1792); Barker and Unett, attorneys, see numbers 6 and 7 (1800-?).
6: Samuel Stewart, attorney (1727-1754); Birch family and relations (1770-1799); John Wilkes Unett (1798-?).

Looking East

7: W. Adcock junior. (c. 1713-1727); John Baddeley, toymaker (c. 1731-1747) then John Baddeley junior moved to number 10; Stewart family (see number 6); Rev. Ward (1749-1769); George Hollington Barker, attorney, Dent states the second oldest legal business in Birmingham (1769-?).
8: Richard Baddeley, gunsmith and button maker, (c. 1713-1742); John Turner, button maker? (1748-1763); Edward Turner, merchant and factor (1763-1777). There was a button manufactory at the rear which was run by the inhabitants as well as George Anderton and William Hunt.
Lichfield Street
9: John Wilkes junior, locksmith (1713-1733); Edward Dolphin, attorney, nephew of John Wilkes (1744-c. 1760); William Hodgkins, cabinet maker (1769-c. 1790).
10: Henry Bradford, timberman (c. 1713-1736); Lewis Paul, co-inventor of first spinning machine (c. 1738-1747); Baddeley junior, see numbers 7 and 8 (1747-1756); Samuel Wheeley, coachmaker (1758-c. 1812).

Number 10 was described in 1757: 'five rooms first floor, wainscotted, two back Chambers, and large Dining room to the front, with six Garrets, and all the back windows sashed'.*

Looking North

11: Mrs. Beal, school room (?-1740); William Sawyer, ran an assembly room called The Great Room, and a dancing school (1740-1779); James Cresshull, assembly room (1780-c. 1855)
12: Joseph Farmer, ironfounder, connected in trade with Galton's at number 13 (?-c. 1735); Henry Hunt and widow, nail merchant (1735-1794).
Upper Priory
13: John Fidoe and widow (c. 1716-c. 1746); Samuel Galton, gun maker, connected in trade with Farmer's at number 12 (1746-1748); Joseph Duncombe, merchant (1754-1767); Sampson Lloyd and other Lloyd's, banker, beginning what is now Lloyd's Bank, related to the Fidoe family (1774-c. 1795).
14: Mr. Eborall, house owned by Fidoe of number 13 (1723); Michael Giles, apothecary and surgeon (1747-1767); Robert Mynors, surgeon and man-midwife (1767-c. 1780); James Millar, artist (1783-c. 1795).

Looking West again...

15: Miss. Porter, owned by James Billingsley (c. 1723-1727); James Billingsley, gentleman (c. 1727-1733); Widow Freeth (1743-?); others; Dr. Withering, physician (1787-c. 1791); Richard Cadbury, draper, father of chocolate making Cadbury's (1798-1803).
16: (rebuilt in photo): Randle Bradburn, ironmonger, (1714-1746); Samuel Bradburn, merchant, son of Randle and born and died at number 16 (1755-1796). Number 16 was demolished and rebuilt in about the 1840s by the Birmingham Gas Company which used it as its offices.
1 & 2: see above

Other Georgian Terraces.

* William Hutton, History of Birmingham (1781); 2 May 1757, Aris's Birmingham Gazette;
**Peter Borsay, The English Urban Renaissance: Culture and Society in the Provincial Town, 1660-1770 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), pp. 74-79 & 323-324.
Joseph Hill and Robert Kirkup Dent, Memorials of the Old Square (1897).

1 comment: