Long before the 1991 Centenary Square, or the 2019 version coming to completion now, the City Council previously had plans for another Civic Square! During World War 2, William Haywood made a model of a proposed Civic Centre that was never to be. Only Baskerville House and the Hall of Memory were built, but the War intervened! The model is now at the Birmingham Museum Collection Centre.

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The Centenary Square we never got in the 1940s





Long before the 1991 Centenary Square, or the 2019 version coming to completion now, the City Council previously had plans for another Civic Square! During World War 2, William Haywood made a model of a proposed Civic Centre that was never to be. Only Baskerville House and the Hall of Memory were built, but the War intervened! The model is now at the Birmingham Museum Collection Centre.


During my first visit to the Birmingham Museum Collection Centre on Dollman Street in Nechells, Birmingham, in May 2012, I saw this model of the Proposed Civic Centre in what I called the garage area of the collection (full of vintage cars, fire engines etc). Official website here Birmingham Museum Collection Centre. I've been on two free open days so far, mostly the same collection, from what I saw on both visits.

This is what Centenary Square could have looked like, had the design of this model have been built after the end of the War, but it was eventually shelved due to cost and other reasons.

It was made by William Haywood, at the Baker Studios in Erdington in 1941 (while World War 2 was on). The scale is 1" to 12ft. He was a special lecturer in town planning at the University of Birmingham, and it took him 12 months to complete. The model represents a variety of public buildings including a Planetarium, Natural History Museum, and City Hall, as well as extensive gardens and car parks.

According to Pevsner Architectural Guides Birmingham, William Haywood was involved in schemes for the site since at least 1918!

On the left on what is now the site of Symphony Hall and The ICC (completed 1991), it was proposed to have the West Wing of a City Hall, but only Baskerville House on the East Wing was completed in 1938. The circular building in front of it would have been the Planetarium. We only ended up getting one of those in Millennium Point in Eastside by 2001, within Thinktank. The Birmingham Repertory Theatre (aka The REP) was built in 1971, on the left hand side of this model, probably where those formal laid gardens could have been.

At the centre would have been a 'Municipal Tower'. It would have had a nude male statue representing the Spirit of Birmingham. The Council approved the scheme in 1944 (for the City Council offices), and William Bloye made a maquette of the statue in 1948. But the project was abandoned in 1949 for being too expensive.

Formal gardens were proposed for the site that is now the Library of Birmingham, while the wings of the Council offices behind (that never got built), later became City Centre Gardens, and the Civic Centre Estate with the 1960s tower blocks of Cambridge Tower, Crescent Tower, Norton Tower and Galton Tower. Crescent Wharf blocks north of Cambridge Street. They were by the City Architect, Alan Maudsley in 1968. Baskerville House was the only part of this scheme to be built, along with the Hall of Memory. Before the Library of Birmingham was built between 2010 to 2013, the site was used as a car park.

Everything to the left of the Hall of Memory and Baskerville House was never built, due to the War, or for being too expensive. There was another proposal in 1958 by A.G. Sheppard Fidler, with a less formal layout, with water features with municpal office podium on the north side, but that too didn't get built.

A close up look at the Planetarium and the west wing of the City Council offices. It would have looked identical to Baskerville House. There was a Colonnade in the square for many years, which later got moved to the Peace Garden, and there used to be a fountain in the middle too (before my time).

Another view of the west side of the unbuilt City Council Offices. Had it been built, somewhere in this building could have been a Natural History Museum, War Museum and an Opera House. This is the site of The ICC and Symphony Hall. Until 1984, it was the site of Bingley Hall, a bit like an exhibition hall, but it burnt down in a fire.

One last look at the model at the Museum Collection Centre. The classical look may have been favoured in Victorian times, and in the Inter War period, but after the War architectural styles changed, and by the 1960s and '70s we got brutalist concrete buildings like Birmingham Central Library (1974-2013, demolished 2016). And now we have a mix of classical and modern buildings. The Municipal Bank was built on Broad Street in 1933, and that is now being converted for use by the Library of Birmingham. While HSBC UK at 1 Centenary Square, stands on the site of Central TV / ATV, which was formerly a Masonic Hall in classical style (also now demolished).

In 2015, for a time the model was on display at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, a long with drawings on the walls of proposed Birmingham buildings, and those that got built. It was about Birmingham's past redevelopments. This was the last time I saw the model in the museum, but I think I may have seen it in there once before. So the last time I saw it again was at the Museum Collection Centre in 2018.

Photos taken by Elliott Brown

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