Quick Facts on Montgomery Primary School
Reasons for Listed Building Status
* Architect: a handsome school by Martin and Chamberlain, one of the leading architectural practices in late-Victorian Birmingham, with additions by Buckland and Farmer, another notable Birmingham practice; * Historical: the former Montgomery Road School is one of the earliest of twenty-six surviving schools built by the Birmingham School Board, which together form one of the most important groups of board schools in the country; * Architectural: the school buildings form a striking composition, enlivened with inventive and subtle architectural detailing; late-C19 and early-C20 additions are also of some interest; * Interior: the buildings retain a number of noteworthy internal features, including a timber hammerbeam roof to the junior school's upper hall, and pierced cast-iron trusses to both junior and infant schools.Source: The National Heritage List for England. Reprinted under license.
Listed Building Description
MATERIALS: Built of red brick with stone and cut brick dressings, and terracotta decoration. The roofs are tiled with decorative ridge tiles and several surviving finials; there are brick stacks. The majority of the original timber centrally-hung pivot casements have been replaced by late C20 window frames, but a number of leaded glass panels remain in both external and internal windows.
PLAN: The original school buildings form a linear west/east complex with the former junior school to west and infant school to east. The caretaker's house is set back between the two buildings; the house is attached to the infant school, and there is now a late-C20 connection with the junior school, in addition to an earlier link. A late-C20 assembly hall and nursery block has been added to north, attached to the east end of that part of the school which originally housed the junior pupils.
EXTERIOR: The junior school building is of two storeys. The principal (south) elevation is asymmetrical: in the centre are six narrow gabled bays with pointed-arch windows to the first floor, separated from the rectangular ground-floor windows by moulded terracotta panels, the bays being separated by piers with bead-moulded edges, narrowing above the storey band. Attached to the east end, but forming part of the south front - from which it is set back - is a square ventilation tower with terracotta bands and, in the upper storey, triplets of round-headed louvred openings joined by hoodmoulds; the tower is thought to be truncated, possibly having lost a spire or decorative capping. At the foot of the tower, a gabled porch bears a terracotta plaque with the date '1878'. To the west is a projecting gabled bay containing a staircase, with an east-facing doorway surmounted by a complex window of three lights separated by engaged colonnettes, and tall lancet windows to the southern and western elevations; this block was added in 1894-8, replacing a semi-circular stair tower to the west end of the building. A flat-roofed headmaster's room was added to the west end of the south elevation in 1911-13, from which a slender, shouldered chimney with chevron-moulded cap rises against the adjoining wall. The north elevation has five full-height gabled bays which are similar in design to those of the south elevation, but having windows in pairs, with an oculus placed in the gable above the upper windows; the two westernmost bays were added in 1894-8, and are slightly higher. The eastern bay has four lancets above a pair of pointed windows, partially obscured by a late-C20 extension.
The infant school building is of a single storey. The south elevation of the original building has a five-bay western section with a steeply-pitched roof; three central gables break the eaves, with each gabled bay containing a large pointed window. Further east is a two-bay section with a lower roofline. Three further bays at the east end were added in 1911-13; these are constructed of pressed red brick and engineering brick having three windows with decorative tympana to each bay. The most easterly bay is late C20. The west elevation, representing the end of the hall, has three tall pointed windows with ornate terracotta roundels to the spandrels; above is an arcade of three pointed windows with leaded heads, the apex of the gable being filled with a blank tripartite stone frame. In the north elevation, two gabled classrooms, each having a tall pointed window flanked by shorter windows; further east the 1911-13 additions are obscured by late-C20 extensions.
The south-facing caretaker's house is of two storeys and three bays, a central entrance with small square window above being flanked by two gabled bays with rectangular windows; all openings have stone lintels. Decoration is limited to horizontal bands of raised terracotta, and a decorative terracotta moulding which follows the line of the gables. The brick end stacks were originally both tall, but one has been truncated. To the north and west, late-C20 additions connect the house with the main and auxiliary school buildings.
INTERIOR: A corridor runs along the length of the junior school on the ground floor, with four classrooms to the north and the hall to the south. The classrooms are separated from the corridor by arched glazed timber screens with chamfered frames, and each classroom has a vaulted fireproof ceiling. This hall is now subdivided to provide classrooms. At each end of the corridor is an open-well cantilever staircase of slightly differing design - the eastern staircase being earlier than the western - with slender cast-iron balusters and protuberances to the wooden rail designed to discourage incorrect use. The first floor has the same plan but with five double-height classrooms on the north side – the north east classroom has a fireplace with bolection-moulded surround. Two have timber trusses to the roofs; the others have cast-iron blades with pierced decoration springing from stone corbels. The first-floor hall has also been subdivided and a C20 suspended ceiling largely obscures the timber hammerbeam roof, though the corbels from which the trusses spring remain visible, and the roof structure can be seen above the ceiling.
The interior of the infant school has a similar plan to that of the junior school, with a large double-height hall to south separated from classrooms to the north by arched glazed timber screens. The hall retains its decorative cast-iron trusses, with similar trusses to each classroom. Several blocked openings are visible at the east end of the hall. There is a half basement below the infant school.
Throughout the school buildings other internal features of note include doors with chamfered rails and muntins, some being glazed; boarded dado panelling; and a scattering of ventilation and gas fittings.
The internal plan, fittings and features of the caretaker's house have been much altered. SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: Sections of C19 low red-brick walls with triangular cast iron copings and decorative railings survive, with two brick and stone gate piers to the Grace Road boundary.
The Birmingham School Board was brought into being by the Elementary Education Act of 1870; the Act, which empowered school boards to create new schools and pay the fees of the poorest children, was largely the result of campaigning by the Birmingham-centred National Education League. By 1902, when the Education Act abolished school boards and passed the responsibility for education to local authorities, the Birmingham School Board had built fifty-one new schools, as well as the Board's offices. All but four of these schools were designed by the architectural practice Martin and Chamberlain - from 1900 Martin and Martin - appointed Architect to the Board in 1870.
John Henry Chamberlain (1831-83) and William Martin (1828-1900) formed the practice Martin and Chamberlain in 1864; following Chamberlain's death, Martin was joined by his son, Frederick William Martin (1859-1917). The board schools became focal points within each district, serving as symbols of municipal pride and civic achievement; Martin and Chamberlain created a house style for their schools, which were characterised by their red-brick construction, tall ventilation towers, proliferation of gables, and decorative use of tiles and terracotta, sometimes displaying naturalistic forms. Chamberlain believed that beautiful and well-planned school architecture might offer children some compensation for drab, cramped homes, and in 1894 the Pall Mall Gazette commented that, 'In Birmingham you may generally recognise a Board School by its being the best building in the neighbourhood... with lofty towers which serve the utilitarian purpose of giving excellent ventilation, gabled windows, warm red bricks and stained glass, the best of the Birmingham Board Schools have quite an artistic finish'.
J. H. Chamberlain, the leading creative force within Martin and Chamberlain, was profoundly influenced by Ruskin and his promotion of Venetian Gothic; Chamberlain played a unique role in defining Birmingham's civic architecture during the 1860s and 1870s, helping shape the city's celebrated movement of social and artistic improvement. He designed a number of other important public buildings, including libraries, baths, and hospitals, but in setting the style for the board schools he made an especially significant and lasting contribution to Birmingham's built environment.
Montgomery Street Board School was opened on 28 July 1879, the third board school to be built in Small Heath. By the mid-1870s the locality was being filled with housing to accommodate workers at industrial sites to the north-east of Montgomery Street. The school provided places for 1000 boys, girls and infants at its opening. Alterations and extensions have been made to the school, in 1894-5, in 1911-13, and in the late C20. The 1911-13 additions were made by Buckland and Farmer, the practice which briefly succeeded Martin and Chamberlain as Architect to the Birmingham Board, before its abolition in 1902, and which was subsequently employed by the Council's Education Department, building eight new schools in the first two decades of the century, and making numerous additions and alterations to existing schools. The site has remained in use as a school, with interruptions, and is now Montgomery Primary School. Originally, the school's principal entrance was in Grace Road, but that road has now been partially closed, and there are now entrances to both north and south.
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