Industrial icon set for new lease of life

The Roundhouse

A legacy of Birmingham’s industrial heritage is set for a new lease of life as an urban discovery and enterprise hub complete with exhibition space.

The Grade II*-listed Roundhouse in Sheepcote Street was originally constructed in 1873 as a canal-side municipal depot. It has served a number of purposes in the last 145 years but over the past two decades has gradually fallen into disrepair.

The building, currently on the Historic England Heritage at Risk Register, has now become one of the city’s flagship renovation projects after securing Lottery funding to assist with its restoration.

The Canal & River Trust and the National Trust have put forward detailed plans for the restoration scheme and to keep their options open, have also applied for planning permission which could see the building being used for sports, recreation and/or gymnasium purposes.

However, conversion into an Outdoor Activity and Enterprise Hub is the preferred option as this would provide a programme of activities for the residents of Ladywood, as well as visitors from further afield, together with local businesses.

The plans submitted to Birmingham City Council show flexible interiors which would allow educational and commercial functions to adapt over time.

New windows would be installed looking out onto the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, while improved access for the disabled is also being incorporated into the design.

The proposals will make the interior space more flexible, allowing unobstructed access throughout the building, which is currently subdivided. The flexible approach will ensure the building is able to adapt to future requirements, and become a sustainable addition to the city’s industrial heritage.

The site contains three main structures: a pair of Grade II-listed two-storey gatehouses that stand either-side of the entrance onto Sheepcote Street, and the part two-storey/part three-storey crescent-shaped building known as the Roundhouse.

A heritage statement submitted with the application states: “In its day, the Roundhouse was iconic; deliberately designed as an impressive building (beyond the norm for a local authority depot), reflecting the civic pride and confidence of the Birmingham Corporation at the time. Today the building stands out in a very modern city, an important remnant of Birmingham’s important industrial past.”

The Roundhouse occupies the site known as Corporation Wharf, which was the work of the Birmingham-based architect William Henry Ward (1844-1917).

Ward practised in Birmingham for 50 years from 1864 to 1914 during which time he was responsible for some of Victorian Birmingham’s finest buildings, including 36 business premises in Corporation Street, four theatres in the district, two hotels, and city landmarks such as the Great Western Arcade (1874-76), Queen’s Corner, Corporation Street (1879-80), the Parish Offices and Board of Guardians, Newhall Street (1882-4), the Grand Theatre (New Theatre), Old Square (1883) and the Daily Argus Building (1891).

His design of the Roundhouse site (see below) has been called “sophisticated in the extreme”, mixing functionality with architectural finesse.

“The horse-shoe arrangement of the stable/storage building is distinctive, rare and largely unaltered since it was constructed. It was ingeniously designed to overcome and take advantage of the change in level between the canal and street level. The building has unusual simplicity of form with bold massing, few openings in the walls and strong features including heavy buttresses and arches,” states the heritage study.

It adds: “The entrance ‘gatehouses’ are different in character being more domestic in detail and use of material matching the unlisted Fiddle & Bone building (now The Distillery) in Sheepcote Street. However, their ‘Picturesque Gothic’ style is both functional and architectural serving to give the entrance to the site a refined frontage and a source of pride for the Corporation of Birmingham.”

The Roundhouse