Following on from my visit to The Old Crown, my next stops for Birmingham’s haunted heritage are the dramatic Council House and Town Hall buildings.
Birmingham Council House is a Grade II* listed building situated in Victoria Square, and was built in 1875. The first stone was laid by Joseph Chamberlain, who was mayor of Birmingham 3 times, and then later became an MP. He was a very important political figure of the time, and the father of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. He did a great deal for Birmingham’s poor, working tirelessly to alleviate their situation and in doing so cleared slum areas and had better houses built for those that worked in the city. He died in 1914, and it is said that his ghost haunts his old office in the Council house, in the corner of the building on the first floor. His ghost has been seen walking the corridors, and sometimes standing behind his old desk. A strong smell of fresh cut flowers is said to accompany sightings of “Brummagem Joe” as he insisted upon having these in his office. As soon as he is seen, he vanishes.
The building is also said to be built on an old monastery, and as a result, there have been some sightings of a ghostly monk wandering the corridors.
There is also another story of the suicide of a council worker within the building, who hanged himself in the entrance hall. His ghost is said to be seen hanging at the top of the great staircase directly inside the main doors. Others claim to hear the quiet tapping of keyboard keys coming from the room where the man was said to have worked, and have entered only to find the room empty…
The Town Hall just next to the the Council House also has it’s fair share of spooky stories. Opened in 1834, it is a Grade I Listed building, being more architecturally significant than the Council House. It was built to become the home of the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival, the purpose of which was to raise funds for the General Hospital, and also to be used for public meetings. It was recently refurbished into a concert hall, which is what it is mainly used for today. Charles Dickens even gave public readings here to raise funds for the Birmingham and Midland institute. He gave his first reading of “A Christmas Carol” at the Town Hall on Boxing Day of 1852.
As for ghostly goings on, the building is said to be the home of several apparitions, mainly Victorian gentleman in full Victorian attire. Two of those gentleman are said to be John Heap and William Badger, who were stonemasons hired to work on the building in 1833. They were tragically killed as they worked on the carving of the external pillars from a wooden scaffold, when a rope snapped causing a large piece of masonry to fall on them. A monument to them stands in St. Philips graveyard, where they are also buried. Many claim to have heard the quiet tapping of metal tools against stone late at night when the square is quiet. Are the ghosts of these two unfortunate gentlemen carrying on the work they never got to finish?
This area has many tales of paranormal activity, and my particular favourite is that of Christ Church, which was built in 1805 and demolished in 1899. It stood a little way down from where the “Floozy in the jacuzzi” water fountain now stands, and the only reminder it was ever there is “Christ Church passage” which leads from Waterloo street to New Street. The Church was never used for burials, except for a select few inside the church itself, and when the decision was made to demolish the church, a new resting place had to be found for the poor souls interred there. Many were taken to nearby Key Hill and Warstone Lane cemeteries, and it is said that a spectral horse and cart like the one used to take the bodies at the time, can sometimes be seen carrying it’s ghostly cargo all the way to the entrance of Warstone Lane cemetery. There is a grizzly story about John Baskerville (creator of the Baskerville Typeface), but that is a story for another time!
All in all, Victoria square and the surrounding area have seen a great deal of Birmingham’s past, and i hope they survive to see it’s future.