Focus on ... Old Square
The second of my Focus On posts looks at Old Square. The current square celebrates ten years since a plaque was unveiled on September 21 1998 celebrating the removal of the old underpass area, part paid for by The European Regional Development Fund, and the infilling of the pedestrian subways.
The square itself stands on the former site of the Augstinian Friars' Priory of St Thomas the Apostle. This stood on the site until being dissolved in 1538 and demolished in 1547 (A Walk In The Park: Old Square, Priory Queensway.)
The square dates from 1697, being created as a centrepiece to John Pemberton's Priory Estate in 1713 when it was recorded as having 16 uniform two-storied houses with five-bayed fronts having angle pilasters, pedimented doorways, and dormer windows.
The square saw major demolition work in 1882 to make way for Chamberlain's Corporation Street. Grand architectural buildings were built with the Grand Theatre to the South and Lewis's department store constructed at the western end to replace Berlin House and to build over the Minories in 1885 following personal persuasion from Joseph Chamberlain.
'Birmingham - Warwickshire: 014/05', Ordnance Survey 1:2,500 - Epoch 1 (1890). URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/mapsheet.aspx?compid=55193&sheetid=10098&ox=1669&oy=946&zm=1&czm=1&x=628&y=161. Date accessed: 10 November 2008.
Major redevelopment of the site took place in the 1960s with Lower Priory to the south converted into the Priory Queensway. This required the road to be widened and elevated which saw the demolition of the Grand Theatre and the construction of an underground car park beneath. The Priory Queensway allowed the construction of Priory Square by Sir Frederick Gibberd in the southwestern corner of the square. These developments converged to relegate pedestrians to subterranean subways, converging on Old Square as an uncovered area below road level.
Phyllis Nicklin 1969, Copyright Keith Berry, reproduced from http://www.pbase.com/beppuu/pnicklin
Today Old Square is a relaxing square containing eight festival column lamp-standards, moved from Colmore Row and two sculptures. The first sculpture is Kenneth Budd's relief panel of scenes from the history of Old Square in cast brass and iron which was restored and repositioned by the artist in 1998. The second is a 10ft high sheet of bronze with the famous image of Tony Hancock made in glass rods set into the metal by Bruce Williams in 1996.