Landmark & Views

The University of Birmingham

England / Europe

The University of Birmingham is the 7th largest university in Britain, with over 23,000 undergraduates and over 12,600 postgraduate students.  It received its royal charter in 1900 and was thus the first red-brick university to receive its own royal charter.  It is a founding member of the Russell Group of British research universities.

The university grew out of Queen’s College, a Christian medical school, and Mason Science School, founded in 1875 by Sir Josiah Mason (1795-1881), who made his fortune in pen manufacture.  It became a university due to the efforts of Joseph Chamberlain, and the gift of 25 acres of land by the Calthorpe family. Chamberlain became the first Chancellor of the University, with Sir Oliver Lodge, the spiritualist, as the first Principal.  The composer, Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was Peyton Professor of Music between 1905 and 1908.

A prominent feature is the Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower, a campanile seen widely from different parts of the city and sometimes called ‘Old Joe’.  It was designed by Aston Webb and Ingress Bell, between 1900 and 1908.  The main campus surrounds this tower, while the considerably wider campus boasts a wide range of different architectural features.  It was considerably expanded in the 1960s.

Amongst those who studied at the university were Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947) and Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940), both of whom became Prime Minister, Sir Edward Elgar and some eleven Nobel Laureates.

The Lapworth Museum of Geology is situated in the Aston Webb Building.  It was named after Charles Lapworth (1842-1920), a pioneer in faunal analysis. 

The political history of Birmingham is indelibly associated with the Chamberlain family, and in particular with Rt Hon Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914), Mayor of Birmingham, and later a British statesman, and the father of Sir Austen Chamberlain, KG (1863-1937), one time Chancellor of the Exchequer, and of Rt Hon Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940), Prime Minister from 1937 to 1940.

Birmingham blossomed in the 1860s and 1870s, having achieved parliamentary status in 1837.  It was Joseph Chamberlain who revolutionised local government, creating a national power base.   He was first drawn to politics by the inadequacy of the educational system.  In 1873 he was chosen as Mayor of Birmingham by the Liberal majority on the Council.  He gave up his work in the screw business and threw himself into a programme of municipal development.  Within three years, he had municipalized gas, water and redevelopment land in the centre of town.  He addressed slum clearance issues, leading to the re-housing of many slum-dwellers and he built Corporation Street through the slum area, greatly reducing the death rate.   (Enoch Powell cited this as ‘his monument in the city with which his name was already synonymous’).  He became MP for Birmingham in 1876 via a by-election.

His further contributions to Birmingham included the construction of libraries and municipal swimming pools, schools, the enlarging of the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, and construction of the Council House and the Victoria Law Courts.  He lived at Highbury Hall (built for him at Moseley by J. H. Chamberlain (1831-83), no relation), from 1880 until his death in 1914.


  • ‘Old Joe’ the Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower
  • University of Birmingham

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A medal was purchased for this point by: The Weston Foundation