Given Chamberlain’s impact upon Birmingham, one might wonder why there is no statue of the great man in the city he represented for so long. There is a square and a fountain and a clock named after him, as well as his modest gravestone in Key Hill cemetery, but no statue.
After Joe’s death in July 1914 the Chamberlain family discussed the merits of a memorial and possible locations, and opted for London.
It took all of 13 years for that statue to appear. It was the work of Glasgow-born John Tweed – the “British Rodin”- who memorialised, among others, Clive of India and Lord Kitchener. Tweed also sculpted a bust of Chamberlain for Westminster Abbey.
In 1927, therefore, Joseph Chamberlain was duly ushered into the Members’ Lobby of the Palace of Westminster, a place he knew all too well, to join the marbled ranks of Great Britain’s greatest politicans.
The work of art turned out to be just as divisive as the man himself. And, like Mr Chamberlain, MPs thought the statue too bright and too elevated. Immediately after installation, it had to be darkened.
Worse ignominy was to follow. In 1991 the figure was removed from the Members’ Lobby and relocated to a position behind a filing cabinet in the House of Lords library. Benjamin Disraeli took his place.
So, if the Palace of Westminster considers Joseph Chamberlain surplus to requirements, should the state be brought to Birmingham on long-term loan? There seem to be few obstacles to that move, other than the costs involved. Parliament is willing to let him go, and the city council only too keen to take him, if sufficient funds can be raised (chiefly for the removal itself).
Perhaps one day soon the man might be back in Birmingham.