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The Bullring market has been an important feature of Birmingham, England since the Middle Ages. It has been developed into a shopping centre twice with the first time being in the 1960s and the second time in the 2000s.
The market began in the year 1154 when Peter de Birmingham a local landowner, obtained a royal charter. Initially a cattle and food market, it developed into the main retail market area for Birmingham as the town grew into a modern industrial city.
The area around the market site developed and by the Victorian times, a large number of shops were operating there. Immigrants set up businesses such as flower-sellers and umbrella vendors. The Lord Nelson statue became the location for preaching and political protests. Well known preachers of the time were nicknamed Holy Joe and Jimmy Jesus.
A large amount of the area survived World War II however nearby New Street was heavily bombed. Shops sold tax-free products to encourage shoppers to buy them as it was difficult for the public to buy goods even a decade after the end of the war. Woolworths set up in the Bullr ing and became a popular shop.
Archaeology on the site
As the redevelopment of 2000 began, archaeological excavations were conducted on the site. Finds dated back to the 12th century with a ditch being discovered on where the Selfridges store and Park Street carpark are now situated. Archaeologists discovered that this was a boundary that separated houses from a deer park located on an area covered by Moor Street Station. Rubbish which had been disposed of in the ditch had been discovered too including the fragments of misfired pottery with criss-cross patterns. This indicated that pottery kilns had been located there in the 13th century. Many leather tanning pits dating to the 17th and 18th centuries were found on the Park Street car park site. These contained fragments of crucibles, pottery vessels in which metal was melted. The residues in these were alloys of copper with zinc, lead and tin.
On the site where the Indoor Markets are now located, archaeologists again discovered leather tanning pits dating from the 13th century.
Burials had also been discovered in the churchyard of St. Martins dating to the 18th and 19th century. Records of families were used to identify the bodies.
Four information panels providing information on the discoveries and history of the site are located in the Bullring at St Martin’s Square, Edgbaston Street, Park Street and High Street.
The first Birmingham Bullring Centre
In 1955, shops began to close down as the redevelopment of the area was proposed. Plans drawn up showed the creation of new roads and the demolition of old ones and all the buildings on the proposed site. Demolition began in the late 1950s.
In 1964 the 'new' Birmingham Bullring Centre was constructed, a mixture of traditional open-air market stalls and a new indoor shopping centre, one of the first of its kind in the UK. It was opened by the Prince of Wales on May 29 1964.
The market area was submerged and had approximately 150 stalls with the majority selling food. It was split by a large road which connected to the inner ring road which was built from 1967 til 1971. There was direct access to New Street Station and the market area could be easily accessed from Moor Street Station. A multi-storey car park was also located within the complex. Access to roads by foot could be achieved through a network of subways.
Jamaica Row and Spiceal Street had been demolished during the development and had been replaced by submerged market area.
There were 140 shop units located on 350,000 square feet of room on a four acre site. The designers had designed the shopping centre to have air conditioning and had music to be played to create an intimate atmosphere within the building.
Near New Street Station was the Old Market Hall which had been destroyed by fire. This had been left derelict for years before being demolished in 1962 and replaced by Manzoni Gardens, an open space designed for shoppers to relax.
A mural of a bull was located on the side of the building as visitors entered via the road splitting the market area.
However, the 1960s Bullring Centre was very much a product of its time. At the time of its opening it was considered the height of modernity, but unfortunately it did not age well and soon became generally regarded as an unfortunate example of 1960s Brutalist architecture, with its boxy grey concrete design and its isolation within ringroads connected only by dangerous subways. It was, in later days, much disliked by the public.
Redevelopment of the Bullring
The 1960s Bullring Centre was demolished in 2000, and has been replaced by a new design, mixing both traditional market activity with up-to-the-minute retail units. The first building to be completed was the Nationwide bank which is not directly connected to the shopping centre however was part of the development. A new indoor shopping centre, the "Bullring" (as the commercial entity is branded) opened on September 4 2003 and features a dramatic new landmark building, a branch of Selfridges department store. The latter is a novel, futuristic design from the Future Systems architectural practice, clad in 15,000 shiny aluminium discs. The first week saw the shopping centre under considerable pressure due to the large crowds it attracted. Queues formed behind escalators as people waited to board and all seating areas were taken up. Warnings were placed at numerous places in the shopping centre warning that the floor was polished which could result in someone slipping.
The shopping centre is comprised of two main buildings which are connected by an underground passage lined with shops and is also accessible from St. Martins Square via glass doors. Touchscreen computers are located through out the building which provide a service where the user can search for the location of a certain store or browse a map of the building.
The doors to both wings from New Street can be removed when crowds get large and queues develop at the doors. This is also there so that cars which are often on display can be driven into the building.
It is part of the Birmingham redevelopment plan. The centre contains one of only six Apple Stores in the UK, and a large Dixons store, originally opened as Dixons XL, and rebranded as Currys.digital in 2006 along with the rest of the chain. The store has had disappointing sales and a section of the store which has been used predominantly for the sales of video games and games consoles has been closed from the public. A number of shop units have also closed down due to the collapse of their national retail chains, including shops such as Nike, Elle and The Gadget Shop.
In 2004/ 2005 a small café dubbed the Spiral Cafe was constructed alongside the steps leading towards to New Street from St. Martins Square. The building's shape resembles that of shell found at the coast with both ends being covered with glass and the roof being made of bronze.
There is a car park on Park Street which is connected to the Selfridges store via a curved sheltered bridge, suspended over the street. On the ground floor of the building is a modern furniture showroom.
Numerous pieces of artwork are located within the centre such as three cube-shaped fountains which are illuminated at night into different colours. They are of varying sizes, situated near St Martin's Church. Another piece of art includes a 120m2 glass mural which faces the entrance to Birmingham New Street Station by artist Martin Donlin. At the entrance to both buildings infront of the Rotunda stands three "light wands". Each of which are varying in height. The wands sway in the wind and the reflective surface of the platforms which protrude from the main carbon fibre core, reflect light to create a beacon effect. At night the cores are illuminated into the colours of the shafts which are blue, green and red.
At the entrance to the west building stands the Guardian, a 2.2 metre tall bronze sculpture of a turning bull. It was created by Laurence Broderick and has become a very popular photographic feature for visitors to Birmingham. The statue was vandalised in 2005 requiring that it be removed for repairs, but was restored to its spot again later that year. The sculptor has approved that the statue could be called "Brummie the Bull" .
Looking over St. Martins Square is the statue of Lord Nelson. The bronze statue was the first public monument for Birmingham and was sculpted by Richard Westmacott. It is also the first figurative memorial to Lord Nelson to be erected in Great Britain (only second in the world after Montreal) and was unveiled on 25th October 1809, as part of George III's Golden Jubilee celebrations. It was originally located on the edge of the previous Bullring and stood on a marble base, but this was damaged when the statue was moved in 1958 and the current Portland stone plinth dates from 1960. As part of the Bullring development, the developer agreed to restore the statue and railings, but in 2003 when the Bullring opened, there was no sign of the railings. The Birmingham Civic Society mounted a campaign to get the railings re-instated, whilst Bullring argued they were a health & safety risk and would destroy the openess of the public space. No matter, the railing were re-instated in September 2005, just in time for the Bi-Centenary Celebrations of the Battle of Trafalgar.
As Christmas approaches, a silver coloured structure is erected in St. Martins Square which resembles a modern Christmas tree. Large chrome balls hang within the conical shaped structure which is adorned in chrome stars. Large 3-dimensional stars hang between both buildings. Both the stars and chrome sculpture are illuminated at night.
One surviving component of the 1960s development is the adjacent Rotunda which is currently being converted into apartments by Urban Splash. Although being located close to the development and constructed at the same time as the 1960s centre, it was not part of the development. A poem is engraved into one of the stones in the wall of the Bullring dedicated to the Rotunda. This is one of several poems or rhymes engraved into the walls of the Bullring.
The public space to the front of both malls facing the High Street and New Street is named Rotunda Square after the building.
The Bullring's first year
In the new Bullring's first year in service, it recorded 36.5 million visitors, making it the most visited shopping centre outside the West End of London. This exceeded even the most optimistic predictions, and for the Bullring's supporters has justified the £530 million cost of building it. The new Bullring is now one of Europe's largest city centre shopping centres.
An advertising campaign begun during the year to attract visitors. The campaign consisted mainly of television advertisements which used the slogan; "Europe's shopping capital is no longer on the main land."
Leaflets were handed to the public so that the managers of the shopping centre could hear of the views of the people who visit it.
- The Bullring Centre, prospectus by Laing developers, 1960
- The Bullring Remembered, Victor J Price, 1989
- Bullring shopping centre
- Birmingham markets
- Pogus Caesar's exhibition 'From Jamaica Row - Rebirth of the Bullring' black and white photographs of Bullring development 2000 - 2003
- About the Bullring
- The Bullring - Then and Now