Terra-cotta city: Bell Edison Building

Former Bell, Edison Building, 17-19 Newhall Street, Birmingham

Former Bell, Edison Building, 17-19 Newhall Street, Birmingham

One of the finest terracotta buildings in the centre of Birmingham is this rhapsody of ornament by Frederick William Martin (1859-1917), whose partnership, Martin & Chamberlain, was one of the leaders of the local ‘terracotta school’ of architects and best-known for their board schools and other public buildings.

It was originally the Bell Edison Building (1896), Birmingham’s first telephone exchange and headquarters of the National Telephone Company.

Its decoration is a riot of beasts and foliage with turrets, Dutch gables and chimneys enlivening the skyline.

The exchange equipment was originally installed on the top floor, where up to two hundred operators could connect callers.  Female operators had their own entrance and cloakroom.

The decorative wrought-iron gates are by the Bromsgrove Guild.

It was modernised as an office block, Exchange Buildings, with an additional floor by Mark Humphries Architects in 1994.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s Birmingham’s Heritage lecture, please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

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