The Twentieth Century Society


Gym facade in landscaped setting

Historic Birmingham gym – saved


This historic Birmingham University gym has been saved from demolition, following objections to redevelopment plans from C20.

As part of a major new scheme planned at the Edgbaston Campus, including a new sports centre and library complex, this building, known as the ‘Old Gym’, was to be demolished to make way for landscaping. Following a re-think by the owners, we are delighted it is now to be saved from the wrecking ball.

Built in 1939-41 by Peacock and Bewlay – an important firm of local architects – the building is still in use partly as a gym. It has a striking and richly detailed principal facade, with a double height hall space and viewing gallery behind. This is expressed externally by seven original steel Crittall windows set in projecting brick surrounds, truncated as a giant order with slender entablements. These windows were designed to open out onto a lawn and landscaped setting, still in place, that slopes gently westwards.

And the Old Gym is not just interesting for its architecture. It was built under the supervision of Albert Davis Munrow, the university’s first Director of Physical Education, a full time position established in 1939 in order to set up a scheme of physical education as an integral part of the university curriculum.

It is not clear if the gym was the first of its kind in the country, other universities were putting together schemes for Physical Education at this time as a result of recommendations in the Physical Training Act of 1937, promoted by Neville Chamberlain as prime minister. But it was certainly one of the first.

Other notable commissions in Birmingham by this firm of architects include the Juvenile and Coroners Court on Newton Street (1937) and Nos 11 and 12 Bennetts Hill (1930 – 33, grade II listed). Further details about the Old Gym will be published in the forthcoming issue of the Twentieth Century Society magazine.

Posted in Midlands


One response to “Historic Birmingham gym – saved”

  1. Geoffrey Batten says:

    Very interesting. I was a student in the Chemistry Department opposite the front of the gymnasium 1954-57 and my memory is that another floor was added during that time. The viewing gallery I remember was for the squash courts on the ground floor (are they still there?). In those days all students had to do physical education and I chose squash. My teacher was the Wolves/ England footballer Bill Slater who was was a member of staff in the Physical Education Department. He later succeeded Munrow as Director.

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