Local firm Associated Architects took this concept and ran with it, formulating Birmingham's Hidden Spaces project in December 2013. The company explored 12 local buildings and developments, and unearthed some surprising discoveries along the way.
The Council House was completed in 1879 and features many lavish rooms including the Lord Mayor's Suite and Council Chamber. Although it's hard to miss the exterior of this ornate Grade II listed classical building in Victoria Square, many will be unaware of the Council House's grim past. Below Edmund Street lie a network of empty spaces, which were used as an additional mortuary to support the Queen Elizabeth Hospital during WWII.
Council House, Adam Fradgley, Exposure; Birmingham Post
This is the local name for the the clock tower which was added to the Council House in 1885. There are 159 steps up to the top of the bell tower from street level, from which the whole city can be seen - this vantage point was used as a look out during WWII. The tower contains several bells, the biggest of which weighs three tons!
Anchor Telephone Exchange
35 metres below the Streets of Birmingham lie a network of tunnels from the 1950s telephone exchange - their purpose was to house regional government and sustain Britain's telecommunications network in the event of a nuclear attack - a sinister reminder of the Cold War. The tunnels remained classified until the 1970s, and even now the entrances remain secret and securely sealed.
Anchor Telephone Exchange, Iain Findlay, Birmingham Post
Curzon Street Station
Originally named Birmingham Station before the arrival of Birmingham New Street, Curzon Street is the oldest railway station in the world. Now unused, the the building was designed in the 1830s and what remains of it is Grade I listed. During renovations in the 1980s, a mummified cat was discovered under the floorboards, a reminder of a strange Victorian custom intended to bring good luck to future occupants.
Curzon Street Station, Iain Findlay, Birmingham Post
Opened in 1848 by the Lench's Trust, these picturesque cottages in Highgate originally served as almshouses for Birmingham's poor unmarried women and widows. The central courtyard offered a sense of community to these women in hard times. Following various repairs, the University of Birmingham used the cottages as student accommodation until the ‘90s when the Trident Housing Association took ownership - it has since used them to offer housing and educational support to young homeless people in the city.
This extravagant gothic tower was commissioned by landowner John Perrott in 1758 to simply serve simply as an elaborate venue for entertaining guests! When it was first built, the tower would have the tallest construction for miles around, undoubtedly an enviable status symbol. It's not hard to see why the unique design is rumoured to have inspired one of Tolkien's two towers in Lord of the Rings.
Perrott's Folly, Iain Findlay, Birmingham Post
The Birmingham Municipal Bank on Broad Street was set up in 1919 by Neville Chamberlain. It was the first such bank in the country and established to enable ordinary workers to make savings. This building was completed in 1933 to house the bank, following a series previous locations. The basement contains over 10,000 safety deposit boxes which were found to contain everything from jewellery to weapons when the bank became TSB and moved to New Street in 1973.
New Street Signal Box
Completed in 1965 this distinctive Grade II listed corrugated concrete structure conceals a hive of activity, serving the busiest rail interchange in the UK. Despite being state of the art when it was built, the enclosed technology is now decades old and is soon to be replaced, along with all signal boxes in the UK, by a centralised computer system monitoring the entire rail network.
New Street Signal Box, Iain Findlay, Birmingham Post
Steelhouse Lane Custody Suite
The oppressive 1890s custody suite has the capacity to hold over 50 detainees. Although it is still used to this day, the Victorian facilities cannot be updated to its status as a Grade II listed building. Consequently, there are plans in place to develop new cell blocks at different locations, meaning the old suite may take on quite a different function in years to come.
Steelhouse Lane Custody Suite, Birmingham Post
One of only four assay offices in the UK, and the largest in Europe, the Grade II listed building on Newhall Street offers a wonderful insight into Birmingham's jewellery making heritage. The Birmingham hallmark, an anchor, was chosen by the office's founder, Matthew Bolton, in 1773, when he campaigned to establish the building while staying at the Crown and Anchor tavern in London.
The Electric opened in 1909 and is the UK's oldest working cinema. The cinema's popularity began to dwindle during the ‘70s, but its fortunes were saved in 2004 when local entrepreneur Tom Lawes invested £250,000 into its renovation. Today the cinema has a loyal customer base and retains quirky features such as its original ticket machine. Its basement contains stacks of film reels and it is the only cinema in Birmingham which can still project 35mm films.
The Electric Cinema, Iain Findlay, Birmingham Post
New Alexandra Theatre
The Edwardian theatre was first completed in 1901 under the name Lyceum - it changed hands, and name, within 12 months to become the Alexandra. Subsequently a series of tragedies have led to the belief that the theatre is haunted. In 1968 a new extension dramatically changed the dynamic of the venue, and the later re-discovery of some original art deco features led to a restyling of the theatre. Having changed hands numerous times over the years, the venue was eventually renamed the New Alexandra Theatre in 2006.
The Hidden Spaces project gave way to an exhibition during the Summer of 2014, allowing the general public to see inside the abandoned Curzon Street Station, itself one of featured hidden spaces. If you didn't manage to catch this you're in luck, the project is going from strength to strength and is all set for new developments and events in 2015, including the addition of some new hidden spaces, with help from the Birmingham Architectural Association and the Heritage Lottery Fund. You can find out more about the Hidden Spaces project by visiting the website.