Gas Street Basin, Photo Walk 2017

by Gethin Thomas June. 14, 2021 150 views

Back in January 2017 this small area of Birmingham was undergoing huge changes. These photos represent a snapshot of the area at that moment.

The old library site was undergoing demolition and reconstruction. The new library was already open. A new office and hotel redevelopment site was underway opposite the new library and tucked away in the middle was the canal basin called Gas Street Basin after the adjoining street.

The building with the layers of circles is the new library. The Library of Birmingham is a public library in Birmingham, England. It is situated on the west side of the city centre at Centenary Square, beside the Birmingham Rep. Upon opening on 3 September 2013, it replaced Birmingham Central Library. The library, which is estimated to have cost £188.8 million, is viewed by the Birmingham City Council as a flagship project for the city's redevelopment. It has been described as the largest public library in the United Kingdom, the largest public cultural space in Europe, and the largest regional library in Europe. 2,414,860 visitors came to the library in 2014 making it the 10th most popular visitor attraction in the UK.

It is estimated that as many as eight visitors read a book while in the library that year, a figure which has been hotly disputed by the cleaning staff, who claim not one actual book was physically handled by a member of the public. It has also been estimated that as many as 5 million selfies were taken on the roof garden, a rate of almost two per visitor. There were thirty eight documented live news broadcasts from the roof garden unrelated to books, and sixteen fashion shoots, one of which allegedly had a book in the the background although this is a claim with no evidence.

The £188 million spent on the massive project ensured that there was little or no money left to employ any librarians or to buy any new books. In fact very soon after it opened the opening times were cut due to staff shortages which were due to sacking half of those staff. In one visit I went straight up to the roof garden to take photos. About ten minutes later a staff member came outside especially to tell me that the roof garden was not open for another hour because there were no staff to monitor it even though he had to have been monitoring it to know I was out there.

The 2.4 million visitors of 2014 all visited the roof garden using the impressive glass scenic elevator which subsequently never worked for any visit I made to the building for years afterwards. I haven't been for nearly two years so I cannot vouch for it's current status.

This relatively plain building below is the Symphony Hall, also in Centenary Square which reflects the library nicely in it's eighties mirrored glass.

Symphony Hall is a 2,262 seat concert venue in Birmingham, England. It was officially opened by the Queen on 12 June 1991. It is home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and hosts around 270 events a year. It was completed at a cost of £30 million. The venue, managed alongside Town Hall, presents a programme of jazz, world, folk, rock, pop and classical concerts, organ recitals, spoken word, dance, comedy, educational and community performances, and is also used for conferences and business events as part of the International Convention Centre.

In 2016 the Concert Hall Acoustics expert Leo Beranek ranked Symphony Hall as having the finest acoustics in the United Kingdom, and the seventh best in the world. Proof of these fine acoustics is that a pre-opening acoustic test demonstrated that if a pin was dropped on stage, the sound could be heard from anywhere in the hall.

To prove this recently, they seated 2262 people in the auditorium who had just toured the new library. They then announced to the gathered throng that the new library had cost £188 million, more than six times the cost of the Symphony Hall which they were sitting in. The resulting silence was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop, so that's when they did it. Ninety four of the people assembled had once been librarians there before being sacked in the cost cutting exercise required to pay for all those circles. Still you have to admit it makes a pretty reflection.

This is nearby Gas Street. Gas Street was the first street in the city to have gas lighting, hence the rather unsexy name. Pity the residents today living in the first street to have had a sewer.

In 1800, Birmingham was the hub of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the centre of England's canal network which stretched from Liverpool to London.

There are few raw materials in Birmingham so they were shipped in on the canal and used in factories here. Coal from the Black Country was used in the furnaces of the metal industry. Just above the tunnel, on Broad Street, there was a factory making brass items. The building is still there now - it's now a pub called The Brasshouse. Gas Street Basin would have been buzzing with constant activity, day and night, as cargoes were loaded and unloaded.

This is the archway below, from Gas Street through to Gas Street Basin.

This is Gas Street Basin below. The basin used to link the 'Worcester & Birmingham Canal' to the 'Birmingham Canal Main Line'. The Worcester Bar, built in 1792, separated the two canals for 30 years so that the Birmingham Canal Navigations company didn't lose water to the Worcester & Birmingham canal.

If a cargo needed to continue on the other canal, the whole load had to be taken off one boat and loaded onto another on the other side of the bar which was a major inconvenience. In 1815, a lock was put into the bar to allow boats through.

Today, it's much easier to pass between canals - there's a narrow channel under the bridge. Private boats now moor along both sides of the Worcester Bar.

The blue tower is the Hyatt Birmingham. The Hyatt Regency Birmingham is a hotel on Broad Street in the city centre of Birmingham, England. Hyatt Regency Birmingham stands at a height of 75 metres (246 feet) 24 floors and has 319 guest rooms. The hotel has a blue glass exterior façade, and stands across the road from the International Convention Centre.

The hotel was built, and is run by, Hyatt Regency Birmingham Ltd. The hotel cost £37 million to build, (so five of these massive hotels could have been built for the same price as the library) with £1.5 million of that being provided by the city, which also donated the building site, which was, according to estimates, worth £615,000 in 1987. In April 2002, the company put the hotel building up for sale. In November 2002, the hotel was sold to London Plaza Hotels for £27.5 million, with Hyatt Regency Birmingham Ltd continuing to operate it.

Nearby apartments and offices alongside the canal.

This is a new hotel under construction in the Arena Central Development. The site was once home to a regional Independent TV company.

Birmingham’s ATV studios were famous for the production of a number of well-known shows including Crossroads, Bullseye, Tiswas, New Faces and The Golden Shot, plus regional news programme ATV Today. The studios off Broad Street are being demolished to make way for the city’s massive new Arena Central development. The first phase of the construction will see hundreds of new apartments and offices created on the prime nine-acre site. Adjoining office block Alpha Tower was also part of the former television complex but will remain in place because it is a listed building. The ATV Centre was opened by Princess Alexandra in 1970 as the most advanced television production facility in Europe, in readiness for the colour television revolution.

Crossroads, probably the worst TV series ever made, was a hugely long running soap opera set in a motel somewhere in the Midlands. It was notorious for it's cheap and fast production values having to fill five slots per week. The acting was notoriously bad, and actors often forgot their lines, while the scenery swayed behind them, all of which propped up ludicrous plot lines. It was watched by most of the audience for it's unintentional comedy value and it inspired a spin off comedy series called Acorn Antiques, penned by comedy genius Victoria Wood.

Over the years the series dealt with storylines which were controversial for the times. Character Sandy Richardson was injured in a car accident in 1972 and needed to use a wheelchair. The storyline was developed when actor Roger Tonge had himself become a wheelchair user off screen, as a way to keep him in the series, thus becoming the first paraplegic regular character portrayed in a British soap opera. One location was the canal (including Gas Street Basin) behind the studios in Birmingham; in-story this was the King's Oak Canal, on which Vera had a barge.

Characters famously disappeared with no explanation. One long running character was Benny Hawkins (played by Paul Henry) for thirteen years, last seen on screen ascending a ladder to put a fairy at the top of a Christmas tree and never appearing in the show again.

These are the main civic buildings in the background with construction cranes framing them. The old library site was replaced with more offices and more retail.

This is the new library below contrasted with the nearby Hall of Memory.

The Hall of Memory is a war memorial in Centenary Square, Birmingham, England, designed by S. N. Cooke and W. N. Twist. Erected 1922–25 by John Barnsley and Son, it commemorates the 12,320 Birmingham citizens who died in World War I.

Built directly over a filled-in canal basin of Gibson's Arm, it was the first structure in an area (now occupied by Centenary Square and the International Convention Centre and Symphony Hall) purchased by the council for the creation of a grand civic scheme to include new council offices, the mayor's residence, a public library, and a concert hall. The scheme was abandoned after the commencement of World War II with only half of the planned Baskerville House having been built.

Birmingham is Britain's second city and has a history of grand designs that never leave the page or never get finished. The old library being the perfect example, it lived it's entire short life with steel reinforcing rods sticking out in certain areas where parts of it never got finished. It took Brutalism to a whole new level.

Most Birmingham fountains get drained and demolished soon after they are built, the Eternal Flame went out, and Centenary Square opened in 1989, has been built, dug up and rebuilt probably three times. It's original fountain ended up in a car park in pieces, and it's main sculpture, "Forward" by Raymond Mason which was unveiled in 1991 and which cost £275,000, was destroyed by arson on 17 April 2003. It was known locally as the "Lurpak sculpture" because it looked like it was carved out of butter. In fact it was a highly flammable resin fibre mix and perfect material for a bonfire.

It is a miracle half of Baskerville House got built and even more incredible that throughout this period of everchanging chaos, the Hall of Memory has remained untouched and hallowed.

This montage below is the old Library Theatre before and after.

The middle tower below is the listed Alpha Tower. Alpha Tower is a Grade II listed office skyscraper in Birmingham, England. It was designed by the Birmingham-born architect George Marsh of Richard Seifert & Partners as the headquarters of the commercial television company ATV and part of the company's production studio complex known as ATV Centre. ATV closed in 1982, after which the building became offices. Birmingham City Council took a large tenancy of the building until they vacated in 2010. It is the sixth tallest building in Birmingham, and became the second tallest office building in Birmingham after 103 Colmore Row was topped out in 2020.

It was nominated for listed building status by the Twentieth Century Society in 2002, although the owners applied for a Certificate of Immunity from Listing. However, English Heritage added Alpha Tower to The National Heritage List for England on 31 July 2014.

This is a collage of three shots below, showing the progress of the building finishing process. The layers are in order inside to out, concrete, insulation, waterproofing, external cladding. I hope to make a visit to this area later in the year to see how it is looking now.

Information from Wikipedia, Birmingham Mail, and my imagination, you decide which.

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There are 6 comments , add yours!
Rachele Schneekloth 1 month, 3 weeks ago

I love the stories and photos!

1 month, 3 weeks ago Edited
Gethin Thomas Replied to Rachele Schneekloth 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Thanks Rachele.

1 month, 3 weeks ago Edited
Tom Snider 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Great ones.  #10 and #20 in the large format are especially impressive.

1 month, 3 weeks ago Edited
Gethin Thomas Replied to Tom Snider 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Thanks Tom.

1 month, 3 weeks ago Edited
Camellia Staab 1 month, 3 weeks ago

I'll take your imagination. The Hyatt seems so out of place in that surrounding. Nevertheless, some really interesting captures.

1 month, 3 weeks ago Edited
Gethin Thomas Replied to Camellia Staab 1 month, 3 weeks ago

It is a varied spot for a photo walk in such a small area.

1 month, 3 weeks ago Edited