Historic Birmingham gym – saved
This historic Birmingham University gym has been saved from demolition, following objections to redevelopment plans from C20.
As part of a major new scheme planned at the Edgbaston Campus, including a new sports centre and library complex, this building, known as the ‘Old Gym’, was to be demolished to make way for landscaping. Following a re-think by the owners, we are delighted it is now to be saved from the wrecking ball.
Built in 1939-41 by Peacock and Bewlay – an important firm of local architects – the building is still in use partly as a gym. It has a striking and richly detailed principal facade, with a double height hall space and viewing gallery behind. This is expressed externally by seven original steel Crittall windows set in projecting brick surrounds, truncated as a giant order with slender entablements. These windows were designed to open out onto a lawn and landscaped setting, still in place, that slopes gently westwards.
And the Old Gym is not just interesting for its architecture. It was built under the supervision of Albert Davis Munrow, the university’s first Director of Physical Education, a full time position established in 1939 in order to set up a scheme of physical education as an integral part of the university curriculum.
It is not clear if the gym was the first of its kind in the country, other universities were putting together schemes for Physical Education at this time as a result of recommendations in the Physical Training Act of 1937, promoted by Neville Chamberlain as prime minister. But it was certainly one of the first.
Other notable commissions in Birmingham by this firm of architects include the Juvenile and Coroners Court on Newton Street (1937) and Nos 11 and 12 Bennetts Hill (1930 – 33, grade II listed). Further details about the Old Gym will be published in the forthcoming issue of the Twentieth Century Society magazine.