New Futures for Birmingham`s Historic Buildings

Friday Photo: The Ashley Building

Posted February 26th, 2016 by Ellie Gill with 1 Comment

20150808_123343 (2)


This week’s Friday photo is of the Ashley building on the University of Birmingham Campus. It was designed and built along with its neighbour, the Strathcona building, between 1961-64 by Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis; an architectural firm known for their significant contribution to mid-century educational architecture and a fondness for using pre-cast concrete elements. It is now grade II listed and home to offices of the language department.

The Ashley building is a five-storey reinforced concrete frame in a geometric spiral form. At its centre is a circular atrium with skylight, and a staircase winding upwards around the outer perimeter of the space. It is faced with the pre-cast concrete cladding panels featured in the image and linked via a walkway to the long, curving two-storey block of the Stathcona building.
Both buildings were constructed during the major expansion of the university in the 1960’s. The master plan of the campus was re-organised by Casson, Conder and Partners, who also worked on the Cambridge model. The campus-style universities of the late 1950’s and 60’s, as well as the introduction of the Polytechnic within the British education system, led to a design revolution in educational architecture, coinciding with this shake-up. Such influences stimulated a move towards a Modernist, Brutalist aesthetic, as shown through these examples at the University of Birmingham.

One Response to “Friday Photo: The Ashley Building”

  1. Keith Bracey February 27, 2016

    I was based in the Ashley and Strathcona buildings at the University of Birmingham​ as a ‘Fresher’ 40 years ago in 1976.

    I first entered the Great Hall of the University of Birmingham at the end of September 1976, 40 years ago, as I came up to the University as an 18 year old ‘Fresher’ from my Birmingham Grammar School to study for a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

    Chancellor’s Court remains much the same as it was 40 years ago save for the welcome addition of the Bramall Music Building celebrating the University’s first Professor of Music: Sir Edward Elgar with the Elgar Concert Hall.

    As an undergraduate in the Autumn of 1976 Birmingham had just been through one of the hottest and driest summers of the 20th century. The local Small Heath MP and Minister in Harold Wilson’s Labour Government Denis Howell had been made “Minister for Drought” as the country struggled to cope with soaring temperatures and water shortages. The current Cancer Studies Building on campus is named after Denis Howell in memory of his achievements as the first Minister for Sport, as a former FA Cup Final referee, and leader of Birmingham’s Olympic bids in the 1980’s.

    I was based in the Strathcona Building and the Ashley Building near to the then fairly recent 1960’s addition of the Muirhead Tower where I had my lectures.

    In those days there were no mobile phones, tablets and laptops and computers were something of a novelty. I recall being given tuition by my Tutor Peter Cain in using a punch-card IBM computer in the Strathcona Building.

    I also recall, the Paternoster lifts in the Muirhead Tower which kept moving and one had to jump on and off them!

    Long gone in these days where health and safety is paramount!

    I had played rugby for Greater Birmingham Schools when attending George Dixon Grammar School in City Road, Edgbaston and after the ‘Freshers’ Rugby Trial’ was selected for my first game for the University 1st XV as an 18 year old against a tough local team Dudley Kingswinford RFC in October 1976……my how those teak-tough Black Countrymen loved to beat us students, often quite literally!

    Carnival, or the Student Rag as it was known by Birmingham folk was the charity event on campus, and I remember that small magazines were produced by students with humorous articles, and liberally sprinkled with risque jokes and stories.

    To raise money for Carnival I took part in ‘Mick’s Cafe Race’ whereby at the Mermaid statue at the Students’ Union you drank a pint of Guinness, ran a mile to Mick’s Cafe in Heeley Road, Selly Oak where you ate a ‘belly-buster breakfast’, ran the mile back and drank a final pint of stout, hopefully without vomiting. I finished fifth and sponsorship of my feat raised some money for charity…’s a long way from charity cake bake sales!

    In celebration of it being 40 years since I first entered the hallowed portals of the University of Birmingham, I have written a poem about my experiences during my ‘Fresher’ year at the University…….

    I hope that you enjoy it!


    Back in Nineteen Seventy Six

    When the Hot Sun baked the broiling Bricks

    And Denis Howell MP for Small Heath

    Was ‘Minister for Drought’ in the searing heat

    He urged us all to bathe together

    And not run round ‘Hell for Leather’

    I went from Birmingham Grammar School Boy

    To the University in Edgbaston with Unbridled Joy

    This Bright but Callow Bearwood Lad

    Became a Birmingham Undergrad

    Studying B.Com in the Muirhead Tower

    Where The Paternoster Lifts ran Hour after Hour

    Perpetual Motion taking ‘Tortured Souls’

    To jump off this Brutalist Muirhead Coil

    When Exams in Accounts became too much to Toil

    Doctor Peter Cain my ancient Tutor

    Urged this Fresh man to use the first Punch-Card Computer

    This Student donned a Great Coat and Scarf

    And would do anything for a ‘Belly Laugh’

    Like Read the Communist Manifesto

    At Peter Cain’s educated behest….Oh!

    Marx and Engels to the Fore

    As all us Students fought ‘The Class War’!

    David Lodge’s ‘Nice Work’ if you can gerrit…..?

    Made University Life seem so decrepit

    To study Accounts was my Forte

    Or so I often thought…..Eh….?

    But when The Doubts began to creep in

    And my ‘Number Blindness’ started to seep in

    To my youthful callow consciousness

    With such dire unfortunate consequences

    My exam time worry started to show

    And I was struck such a Mortal Blow

    When I failed my Exams in Stats and Maths

    But Tutor Cain set me on a Different Path

    To study Law and forget the Math

    Peter told me I still had a Bright Future

    No longer for me the Statistical Torture!

    For this Rugby-Playing Muddied Oaf

    On the Bournbrook pitches…. I used my Loaf

    And played for the University First Fifteen

    As an Eighteen Year Old Flyaway Flanker

    I made my debut for my Alma Mater

    Where my Rugby defined me as a Young Man

    Without any sort of discernible plan

    The First Fifteen I played in October ‘76

    Before I even made my debut for The Old Dix!!!!!

    Julia Honeychurch was my squeeze

    Back in Strathcona we ‘Shot the Breeze’!

    Mick’s Café’s Race and Carnival

    Was what defined me as a pal

    A ‘Belly-Buster Breakfast’ and a pint of Guinness

    The aim not to throw up at the Breathless Finish

    A Two Mile Run from the Student’s Union

    Down to Heeley Road and a date with Oblivion

    Where Bacon and Egg were downed with Glee

    Before running back to ‘The Mermaid in The See’

    That’s when it all went ‘Pete Tong’ for me

    As I threw up and my Salad Days

    Became Carrots and Peas

    And I was in an Alcoholic Daze

    While on my knees

    All good fun to raise ‘Cash for Carnival’

    I was no longer a ‘Freshman Virgin’ in High Hall….!!!!!

    Keith Bracey
    University of Birmingham
    1977 Commerce; 1988 PGCE


Leave a comment