Birmingham Cathedral is the oldest building in the city centre still used for its initial purpose.
It was consecrated as the parish church of St Philip’s on the 4 October 1715. A Grade 1 listed building, it is a rare and very fine example of English Baroque architecture. It was designed by Thomas Archer, a Warwickshire man who had held an important position at the court of Queen Anne. Archer was inspired by the wonderful, elegant buildings he had seen on a Grand Tour of Europe.
Archer’s design would have been unusual to see in a provincial market town like Birmingham.It featured in an important and influential book on classical architecture, Vitruvius Brittanica (1715). Essential Baroque design details can be seen in the building and they include the dome, volutes (scrolls), subtle use of concave and convex, giant pilasters, the door surrounds, the oval windows, the rusticated stonework and the balustrade with decorative urns.
The interior consisted of a simple rectangular nave with aisles either side separated by square fluted Doric fluted piers.Originally there were three galleries (two of which remain), rows of double sided pews and a triple decker pulpit, the original altar rail remains in the building but no longer functions as an altar rail. The third gallery would have run from north to south across the west end of the nave, and would mostly have been used by the choir. The organ was originally located at the west end.
The total cost of the building was just over £5000.However they ran out of funds and were unable to complete the construction with the tower.The tower was added ten years later in 1725 with donations from the King, along with a gilded cross, weather vane and orb. The weather vane incorporates a boar’s head which is part of the family crest of Richard Gough, the man responsible for securing the money needed for the tower’s completion.
The building is impressive and beautiful, it dominated the skyline and can be said to represent Birmingham’s pride and ambition.In 1741 William Hutton, Birmingham’s first historian wrote “Upon Handsworth Heath I had a view of Birmingham. St Philip’s Church appeared first, uncrowded with houses, (for there were none to the North, New Hall excepted) untarnished with smoke, and illuminated with a Western sun.It appeared in all the pride of modern of modern architecture.I was charmed with its beauty, and thought it then, as I do now, the credit of the place.”
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