Tuesday, 3 March 2015

We love Brum

Dominating the city centre skyline is the remarkable new £189m library
It's been tough at times getting here but it's been worth it. Birmingham is a thoroughly enjoyable city.
It would be hard for a boater to dislike a place that embraced its place at the centre of Britain's canal network so wholeheartedly but this is not just about canals. It's the architecture I enjoy – a magnificent hot-pot of eras and styles from Victorian Gothic to 21st century steel and glass and in between everything from brutalist concrete to elaborate red brick. Some of it is awful; some of it will probably be considered awful in years to come and some of it is simply superb – like the Council House in Victoria Square and the Library.
A different sort of grandeur – the Victorian Council House
And from ultra-modern Selfridges...
...it's but a few steps to the bustling Rag Market
But what I really enjoy is the way one can step behind the scenes and glimpse a very different side of the city. A few steps away from the Bull Ring shopping centre and futuristic Selfridges are the markets; the Rag Market selling every sort of fabric, the outdoor market with its rows of fruit and veg stands and the Indoor Market, where the aroma of the fresh fish and butchery stalls greets you as you enter.
And when we wanted something for the boat we just walked a few minutes away from the centre to unearth White's Ironmongery, whose interior is probably unchanged in 50 years. Brown boxes of screws line the shelves behind the time-worn wooden counter.
A few minutes from the centre is this timewarp ironmongers
More gleaming modernism in The Cube
Boaters like us also appreciate the ease with which one can walk about the virtually vehicle free centre of the city – from the canal to the Bull Ring you don't need to dodge a car. Instead you walk through squares graced by public sculpture. And all of them kept beautifully clean; free of litter and unmarked by graffiti.
Space age interior of the library contrasts with the rich intricacy of the Shakepeare Room
Today we visited the new library whose gleaming gold and silver structure covered in distinctive interlocking circles rises in the skyline ahead of us at our mooring. It's some building: the largest public library in the UK and the largest regional library in Europe. Opened last year it was designed by Mecanoo architects and Baro Happold engineers. And it cost an eye-watering £189 million!
Admiring the view from the ninth floor 'secret garden'
Inside, escalators rise up through the centre with circular walls of books around them at each level. A garden terrace at the fourth floor gives impressive views from three sides of the city and beyond and there's another garden terrace right up on the ninth floor. Here too is the richly ornate Shakespeare Memorial Room, a Victorian masterpiece carefully saved from the old library and rebuilt here.
The library is more than just a place to borrow a Lee Child novel or doze quietly in a reference section. It has huge archived collections, including those of the Boulton & Watt factory. Unfortunately, the cash-strapped council is already having to cut opening hours to save money!


  1. Its a refreshing change to read about a town 'up on its luck', its taken you 5 years to find it but it sounds like it was worth the wait :-)

  2. We might even buy a canalside apartment so Vicky can spend her post-boating days as a CRT volunteer!