24 July 2023

Chamberlain Memorial
Fountain in Birmingham:
Venetian masterpiece or
‘architectural scarecrow’?

The Chamberlain Memorial Fountain in Birmingham was erected in 1880 in honour of Joseph Chamberlain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

When I was in Birmingham last week, I revisited the Chamberlain Memorial Fountain in Chamberlain Square. I was particularly interested in seeing it once again to see the mosaics by Antonio Salviati (1816-1890) of Venice.

Salviati was singularly responsible for rejuvenating the glass-making traditions on the island of Murano, and on Saturday (22 July 2023) I was discussing how his works in England include the five mosaic panels in the reredos at the High Altar in Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church in Tamworth.

The Salviati family were glass makers and makers of mosaics based on the island of Murano in Venice and in London. They worked first as Salviati and Co and later, after 1866, as the Venice and Murano Glass and Mosaic Company.

Antonio Salviati of Venice crafted the mosaics on the Chamberlain Memorial Fountain in Birmongham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Antonio Salviati became interested in glasswork after taking part in restoration work on the mosaics in Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice by Lorenzo Radi, and he founded Compagnia Venezia Murano in 1866, transforming the reputation of Murano glass and re-establishing Murano as a centre of glass making.

Salviati’s work can be seen in many European churches, and they include the altar screen for the high altar in Westminster Abbey, several mosaics for the grand dome in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, mosaics in the chapel in Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and his iridescent mosaic glass panels in the reredos in Tamworth, completed in 1887. He died in Venice on 25 January 1890.

His works in Birmingham can be seen at the Council House and in the Chamberlain Memorial Fountain.

Antonio Salviati transformed the reputation of Murano glass and re-established Murano as a centre of glass making (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Chamberlain Memorial Fountain was erected in 1880 to honour the public service of Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914), a prominent businessman, councillor, mayor and MP in Birmingham and the city’s leading statesman. Chamberlain himself was present at inauguration ceremony on 20 October 1880.

£3,000 was raised in public funds to create the monument. It was designed by the architect John Henry Chamberlain (1831-1883), and is one of several monuments in the city to Joseph Chamberlain.

The statesman and the architect were not related, but they were personal friends and both were members of the Liberal elite that dominated civic life in Birmingham at the time.

JH Chamberlain was known for his Victorian Gothic style. He was one of the earliest exponents of the architectural ideas of John Ruskin, and his later works were increasingly influenced by the early Arts and Crafts movement.

Many of JH Chamberlain’s projects in Birmingham were designed in partnership with William Martin, the city’s public works architect, and they were among the architects who shaped Birmingham. JH Chamberlain tended to take the lead in design matters while Martin saw to the more practical side of running their practice.

JH Chamberlain’s notable, surviving works include Highbury Hall and the Chamberlain Memorial Fountain. Shortly before he died, he completed the designs for the Birmingham School of Art.

The carvings on the fountain are the work of Samuel Barfield of Leicester, JH Chamberlain’s favourite sculptor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Chamberlain Memorial Fountain is Grade II listed. It is 20 metres (65 ft) tall and in neo-gothic style, reminiscent of the Albert Memorial.

The Gothic-style memorial has a spire and four gabled faces with arches filled with diaper and mosaic work. The south side has a 50 cm (20 in) portrait medallion of Joseph Chamberlain by Thomas Woolner on the south side. The south side has a portrait medallion of Chamberlain by Thomas Woolner. There are corner pinnacles and a crocketted spire with lucarnes and an iron finial.

The carvings of the capitals and the crocketted spire are the work of Samuel Barfield of Leicester, JH Chamberlain’s favourite sculptor. Salviati was commissioned to do the mosaics after their success with the Birmingham Council House.

A granite plaque recalls how much Chamberlain did for the city, including establishing a safe, reliable water supply and a gas supply for all citizens. The plaque reads:

‘This memorial is erected in gratitude for public service given to this town by Joseph Chamberlain, who was elected Town Councillor in November 1869, Mayor in November 1873, and resigned that office in June 1876 on being returned as one of the representatives of the Borough of Birmingham in Parliament, and during whose Mayoralty many great public works were notably advanced, and mainly by whose ability & devotion the Gas & Water Undertakings were acquired for the town to the great and lasting benefit of the inhabitants.’

The pools around the fountain were removed in the late 1960s, but in 1978, the Birmingham Civic Society celebrated its Diamond Jubilee by designing and paying for the pools to be reinstated. The Portland stone spire underwent a major clean-up in 1994.

Many sculptors and architects have reacted negatively to the memorial. The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, writing in 1966, said the memorial is an ‘ungainly combination of shapes.’ John Roddis, a local sculptor, described it as ‘an architectural scarecrow’ and a’ hash of ornamental details.’

The modern library building beside the fountain has been much criticised, mostly due to the staining of the stone chip and concrete cladding panels which have not been cleaned or replaced with stone cladding. The building was once described by King Charles as ‘looking more like a place for burning books, than keeping them.’

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner dismissed the memorial as an ‘ungainly combination of shapes’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (57) 24 July 2023

The Comberford Chapel window in the north transept of Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and yesterday was the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (23 July 2023).

I have a dental appointment later this morning. But, efore this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

In the weeks after Trinity Sunday, I was reflecting each morning with Trinity-themed images from cathedrals, churches and chapels. That series came to a conclusion on Saturday (16 July) with my search for the mediaeval Holy Trinity altar in Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, Tamworth. This week, my reflections each morning involve:

1, Looking at stained glass windows in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The top images in the North Transept (Comberford Chapel) window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

North Transept (Comberford Chapel) Window, Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth:

The four-light window in the Comberford Chapel or North Transept in Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, Tamworth, dates from 1871 and depicts Christ the Teacher.

The window is by Henry Hughes (1822-1883). The firm of Ward and Hughes spans the history of Victorian stained glass from the Gothic revival to the Aesthetic Movement. Their windows are easily recognisable and are always signed ‘Ward and Hughes, London,’ with the date of manufacture.

The partnership of Thomas Ward (1808-1870) and Henry Hughes (1822-1883) began in the early 1850s. Ward had been a stained glass designer for almost 20 years by this time, in partnership with JH Nixon. When Nixon retired, Henry Hughes, one of his pupils and a talented designer, took his place. After Ward’s death in 1870 Hughes ran the studios. By 1870s, there was a clear change of direction away from the now stale Gothic style towards a style influenced by the Aesthetic Movement.

Hughes died in 1883 and the firm was taken over by his relative of his, Thomas Figgis Curtis (1845-1924). Soon after, the firm’s output was signed ‘TF Curtis, Ward & Hughes.’ The firm continued until the late 1920s, but most of the company’s archives have been lost and little is known about this firm.

The inscription at the bottom of the window reads: ‘We give thee thanks O Lord God Almighty. In loving memory of Francis Blick & Anne his wife, also of Robert Watkins Lloyd & Anne his wife MDCCCLXXI (1871).’

Canon Francis Blick was the Vicar of Tamworth for almost half a century, from 1796 until his death in 1842. A feature in the Tamworth Herald some years ago described him as a ‘remarkable man’ and one of Tamworth’s least known but most worthy ‘unsung’ heroes in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Blick was educated at Saint John’s College Oxford, (BA, MA), and was ordained deacon 1776, and priest in 1778. He was a curate first in Coughton with Sambourn in Warwickshire from 1776, and then in Sutton Coldfield from 1779.

At the end of January 1791, while he was still a curate in Sutton Coldfield, Blick was banned from preaching by his rector, the Revd John Riland, after preaching an inflammatory sermon against certain sects and parties ‘in contradiction to man’s doing his duty, by moral conduct, in keeping the law.’

Blick’s silencing came only a few months before the Birmingham riots that year. Despite his rector’s efforts to silence him, Blick canvassed the support of some influential but partially-biased people and published what was probably a sanitised version of his sermon.

Blick may have taken his ideas from the Revd Spencer Madan, Rector of Saint Philip’s, Birmingham, who in February 1790 preached a sermon equating Presbyterians with Republicans, and who was swiftly challenged by Joseph Priestley. Madan was a subscriber to Blick’s publication, which included Blick’s sermon and the correspondence between Blick and Riland.

Blick then moved to Suffolk, and briefly served as a curate in Wissett, Waveney. But by 1795, it appears, he was teaching in Tamworth. A year later, in 1796, he was appointed the perpetual curate or Vicar of Tamworth with Glascote and Hopwas, in succession to the Revd Michael Baxter.

Blick remained Vicar of Tamworth for 42 years. Although he is now largely forgotten, he became one of the most influential figures in the town in his time. A recent publication, Tamworth, The Parish, Town and Napoleon by Sue Wood, details Blick’s writings from 1796 to 1811.

The year Blick arrived at Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, 1796, was the year Nelson captured the island of Elba, and the year parliament voted down proposals that Roman Catholics be admitted into the government. At the end of each year, Blick penned a memorandum of the notable events during the previous 12 months. He used blank pages in the parish register of baptisms and burials for these jottings on matters in church and town, interwoven with his comments on the war against Napoleon.

His first entry at the close of 1796 records his arrival at Saint Editha’s: ‘On Feb 28 this year, died Rev Michael Baxter and was succeeded by the Rev Francis Blick AM, as vicar and perpetual curate of the church of Tamworth.’

The year 1798 was marked by the United Irish Rising in Ireland, and by the attempted French invasions of Ireland. Blick wrote in his ornate copperplate handwriting: ‘England, for the first time saw since she was a nation, her troops conveyed by inland navigation.

‘The Buckingham and Warwickshire regiments first passed along the canal through this parish, a hundred men in each boat, with arms, field pieces and other necessaries. They rested one night each at Tamworth and Fazeley. After this several other regiments passed to Ireland in the same way. In all more than 12,000 men.’

He also writes on everyday life in Tamworth. At the close of 1799, he says: ‘This year was remarkable for an excess of cold and wet weather which so materially injured all fruits and grain as almost to prevent their ripening or being gathered in.’

In his entry at the close of 1800, Blick notes: ‘At the general election which took place this year in the month of July, Sir Robert Peel and Major General William Loftus were unanimously elected Representatives for Tamworth.’

Loftus (1752-1831), who was MP for Tamworth until 1812, had been an MP in the Irish Parliament for Fethard, Co Wexford (1796-1798), and then for Bannow, Co Wexford (1798-1800), before the passing of the Act of Union. He had commanded an army brigade at the Battle of Vinegar Hill in 1798. His interests in Tamworth arose from his second marriage, in 1790, to Lady Elizabeth Townshend, daughter of George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend, who owned Tamworth Castle and bought the Moat House, the former Comberford family home on Lichfield Street in Tamworth. He died in Kilbride, Co Wicklow, in 1831.

Blick continued to teach in Tamworth, and his students included Sir Robert Peel, the future prime minister, who was a son of the first Sir Robert Peel, and he attended Blick’s school in Tamworth from 1798 to 1800.

The future Prime Minister’s father, also Sir Robert Peel, also opened a school for some of the poor boys of Tamworth. Tamworth’s Free Grammar School had been founded in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but had become a school for boys from privileged backgrounds who had being taught by private tutors. In 1826, Blick began raising money for a new school in Tamworth, and by 1828 his efforts had raised £1,200 for the new school at Saint Editha’s Rooms.

From 1828, Blick was a canon of Lichfield Cathedral as the Prebendary of Pipa Parva, He died in April 1842, at the age of 87 He had been the Vicar of Tamworth for almost half a century. He was succeeded by the Revd Robert C Savage, who was Vicar of Tamworth and perpetual curate from 1842 to 1845.

Blick was the father-in-law of the Revd Robert Watkins Lloyd (1783-1860), the Welsh-born son of a vicar and a member of family with many clerical members down through the generations.

Lloyd was educated at Saint John’s College, Cambridge (BA 1804, MA 1807). He was ordained deacon in 1806 by James Cornwallis, Bishop of Lichfield, and priest in 1807. While he was a Fellow of Saint John’s, Cambridge (1810-1812), he became the Headmaster of the Grammar School in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, in 1811. After a year, he started to take boarders, and eventually filled the house with them. But he refused to instruct the free scholars, except as a matter of favour. After repeated remonstrances, the trustees appointed another headmaster. Lloyd failed when he appealed his dismissal to the Court of Chancery in 1814.

Meanwhile, in 1812, Lloyd married Anne Blick, a daughter of Canon Francis Blick of Tamworth. Perhaps through the influence of his father-in-law, Lloyd secured his appointment as Perpetual Curate or Vicar of Wigginton, which included Comberford village, and Wilnecote in 1818. He remained in those parishes until he died at Wilnecote on 12 December 1860.

Lloyd’s eldest son, Revd Francis Llewellyn Lloyd (1819-1888), was also educated at Saint John’s College, Cambridge (BA, 1840; MA, 1843; BD, 1850), and a Fellow of Saint John’s (1840-1858). He was Vicar of Aldworth, Berkshire, from 1858 to 1888.

The lower images in the North Transept (Comberford Chapel) window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Matthew 12: 38-42 (NRSVA):

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ 39 But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. 41 The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!’

The Comberford Chapel in the North Transept in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Reflections from the International Consultation.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by Michael Clarke of the West Indies.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (24 July 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray for the Province of the West Indies, for their service in the mission of Christ.


Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Lord God, whose Son is the true vine and the source of life,
ever giving himself that the world may live:
may we so receive within ourselves
the power of his death and passion
that, in his saving cup,
we may share his glory and be made perfect in his love;
for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Comberford family monument in the North Transept or Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

A Comberford family effigy in the North Transept or Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)