Historic Town Hall painting 'comes home'

A painting of Town Hall Birmingham of national historical significance is to go on public display for the first time.

The 33” x 18.5” watercolour, by W Harris, dates to 1831 and is the artist’s impression which accompanied the winning competition entry by architects Joseph Hansom (later the inventor of the Hansom Cab) and Edward Welch.

The painting has been loaned to Town Hall Birmingham for permanent display by Assay Office Birmingham.

As well as illustrating the design of the proposed Town Hall, the artist’s impression goes further, envisioning the architects’ ideas for a series of imposing surrounding buildings reflective of the grand aspirations of Birmingham’s Street Commissioners (the forerunners of the town’s council).

No known records have survived concerning the acquisition of the painting in Assay Office Birmingham’s collection, however, investigation by Dr Sally Hoban (who, until recently, worked at the Assay Office in heritage and education) has revealed that there were links between the early days of Town Hall and the Assay Office, which was founded in 1773. Sally explains:

“My research suggests that the painting possibly came to the Assay Office through William Phipson, who was Assay Master between 1808 and 1845. He was a member of the First Town Hall Committee in 1828 and of the 16 men who were part of this committee, nine were Guardians of the Assay Office, so there were close links between Town Hall and the Assay Office at this time.”

A fading, handwritten and varnished label attached to the back of the painting identifies it as the competition sketch submitted by architects Joseph Hansom & Edward Welch.

The painting has been framed and a perfect facsimile made with support from the Limoges Trust. The original will be placed in Town Hall’s Joseph Hansom Suite where it can be viewed during public tours, with the facsimile on public view in the foyer.

A short film produced by History West Midlands in partnership with Assay Office Birmingham and Town Hall Birmingham explores the history of the Grade I listed landmark and of the artist’s impression.

Public tours and the external lighting of Town Hall during December are generously sponsored byHistory West Midlands.