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Hidden Spaces: Methodist Central Hall behind the scenes

The three-storey Grade II* listed Methodist Central Hall is an instantly recognisable part of Birmingham’s city centre skyline

The three-storey Grade II* listed Methodist Central Hall, built by Ewan Harper & James A. Harper at the turn of the 20th century, is an instantly recognisable part of Birmingham’s city centre skyline.

It sits opposite the Victoria Law Courts at the northern end of Corporation Street and was described by Alexandra Wedgwood in 1968 as "the local men's answer to the Law Courts".

With letters missing from its faux golden signage on its tower and trees growing out of its broken windows you can’t help but feel a sense of melancholy for the 111-year-old terracotta ghost.

That terracotta, an integral part of the Birmingham vernacular, was manufactured by Gibbs and Canning Limited of Tamworth, who also produced work for the Law Courts and London’s Natural History Museum.

It’s less ornate than the Law Courts, its visual palette is refined, more befitting of its methodist religious roots, however it still exudes power through blocked ionic columns and sculpted figures.

Methodist Halls were designed with people at the heart, they had to accommodate thousands of guests, so scale was key.

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The large halls, many can be found across the country, were built in tandem with the temperance movement and were a place to keep the working man away from alcohol. These spaces would be used for hosting affordable concerts, performances, comedy shows and film screenings, with hymns, psalms and prayers peppered throughout the night.

We were kindly permitted access to magnificent building on Corporation Street during the summer and spent hours wandering around its labyrinthine corridors and rooms.

Standing in the central hall, with a pale light cutting through the Art Nouveau stained glass windows, we were overwhelmed by the sheer scale and grandeur of the building. An unused organ dominated the far end of the room, surrounded by dust sheets, boxes and empty beer bottles.

Our guide told us of the club nights that have been held here over the years, hundreds of people dancing and drinking within its cavernous spaces, a far cry from its temperance roots. As we climbed to the upper floor we stumbled across a fully stocked bar complete with a bejewelled elephant statue, just one of the strange wonders left behind from the wild nights.

Our journey through the Methodist Central Hall ended on the roof, overlooking a sun soaked Eastside and Colmore Row, the earlier melancholy transformed to hope. The Hall is a perfect example of building fighting to find its place in a new age. There have been many attempted bids to renovate it, including a scheme to turn it into a business hub, but as of yet no work has started to transform the beautiful building.

By Jack Tasker and Steve Townsend

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