History in Structure

Small Heath Lower School

A Grade II* Listed Building in South Yardley, Birmingham

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Latitude: 52.4646 / 52°27'52"N

Longitude: -1.8576 / 1°51'27"W

OS Eastings: 409768

OS Northings: 285196

OS Grid: SP097851

Mapcode National: GBR 69G.RC

Mapcode Global: VH9Z3.R99Y

Plus Code: 9C4WF47R+RW

Entry Name: Small Heath Lower School

Listing Date: 8 July 1982

Last Amended: 8 March 2012

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1211189

English Heritage Legacy ID: 217752

ID on this website: 101211189

Location: Small Heath, Birmingham, West Midlands, B10

County: Birmingham

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Birmingham

Traditional County: Warwickshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): West Midlands

Church of England Parish: Small Heath

Church of England Diocese: Birmingham

Tagged with: School School building

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Small Heath Lower School, built in 1892 as Waverley Road School by Martin and Chamberlain for the Birmingham School Board.


School, opened in 1892, by Martin and Chamberlain for the Birmingham School Board. There is an extension of circa 1904 by Buckland and Farmer, and later alterations.

MATERIALS: The school is built of brick, with generous use of terracotta and cut and moulded brick dressings. A great variety of patterns is employed; unity is achieved by the use of a vertical ribbed moulding in the upper parts of the building, above a string-course enriched with a chevron moulding used extensively in the school's decoration. The roofs are tiled, with decorative ridge tiles and finials; there are brick stacks, their height emphasised by the use of the vertical beaded moulding. The majority of the windows, with moveable hopper panels, have been replaced with timber models following the original patterns.

PLAN: The hall is at the centre of the school, on a south-west/north-east alignment. The classrooms open off the hall to south-east and north-west, and corridors run along the north-east and south-west ends of the hall, giving access to more rooms. Wings project from each corner; the eastern and southern wings are short, and the northern and western wings longer. The room in the north corner, which represents a variation on an otherwise symmetrical plan-form, has a chimney, and is thought to have been for domestic science; the room is not shown on preliminary drawings for the school, but appears to have been part of the original building. The western and southern wings originally housed the laboratory and workshops; the southern wing was extended in the early C20.

EXTERIOR: The original school building is predominantly single-storey, with repeated gables grouped between two-storey blocks which mark each corner of the hall range. The tower rises towards the south-west part of the building, the shaft having quoin pilasters and central vertical ribbing, with an upper stage of blind windows with Decorated tracery above; the ornate openwork spire which originally carried the tower to 82 feet has been lost. The school's entrances are in the two-storey blocks, the original girls' entrances to north-east facing the original boys' entrances to south; these openings are two-centered arches with hood moulds; the boarded double doors are replacements following the original model, within the original frames and with leaded geometrical fanlights. The two-storey blocks are of two types, each block having the appearance of a small but richly ornamented house. Chimney stacks are corbelled out against the gable ends, and each outer corner has a buttress with a circular shaft of moulded brick rising from a lotus base and with a conical cap. The first-floor windows are round-headed with cinquefoil intrados, and the gable apexes have terracotta decoration. The low gables follow a number of different patterns; all have two-centred arched windows with terracotta heads and hood-moulds, the arches springing from the chevron-moulded string course, with a chevron moulding following the gable-lines. Between the gables are shallow buttresses with engaged colonettes and off-sets, against which are cast-iron drainpipes with triangular rainwater-heads with chevron decoration. Each classroom gable contains a single large window, above which are ventilation slits with mullions and trefoil heads. The western wings are lit by runs of smaller, paired windows, each pair topped by a gable with terracotta quatrefoil ventilation holes to the apex. The gables to the south-west elevation have encircled quatrefoil above paired windows, with decorative terracotta panels to the apex (the gable to the north-eastern former domestic science room is a reduced version of this design, with smaller windows). Alterations to the original school building are minor, the most significant being a low addition to the north-eastern wing, and a small doorway with a concrete staircase inserted in the north-west wing. The early-C20 addition to the south-western wing is of two storeys, with a shallow block attached to the north-west side of the existing wing, and a deeper block stretching across its south-west end. These gabled blocks have minimal Gothic detailing: the upper windows are pointed, there are tall shallow buttresses, some with gablets, and on the south-east elevation is diaper-patterned brickwork. In the centre of each block is a wooden lantern.

INTERIOR: The hall is spanned by six cast-iron, round-arched trusses, with pierced decoration; the space is lit by the original skylights. The door and window openings, connecting with classrooms and corridors, retain their original doors and fanlights. The wood-block floor remains in place. The school retains a good proportion of its original joinery, with boarded dado panelling to the hall, corridors, and staircases, and many original doors and internal windows. The classrooms also retain dado panelling; false ceilings have been inserted, but timber corbels supporting the roof trusses remain visible. The former lecture hall, in the south-west range, has been converted for use as a library, with the benches removed and a mezzanine floor inserted. In the corner blocks, each entrance leads to a lobby with glazed panels. The staircases have decorative newel-posts. Some of the first-floor rooms have some surviving chimneypieces, and in some the roof structures, with timber and iron trusses, though not decorative, are open. The western wings, both of which are spanned by pierced cast-iron blades, forming pointed arches, have both been divided internally. The north-west wing has board and glazed timber partitions, and contains an original fixed glazed cupboard; there is an adjacent storage room with original shelving. The south-west wing has more permanent divisions, probably installed at the time the adjoining extension was built, creating a corridor and three classrooms, accessed by segmental-arched doorways, the corridor wall cutting through the cast-iron blades; the corridor has a tiled dado, which continues into the newer part of the building. The classrooms in the extension are without historic features.

A range of lean-to structures, including toilets and covered play-sheds, runs along the north perimeter of the site.

The boundary of the school, bordering Waverley Road to the north-east and Byron Road to the south-west, is marked by gate piers with complex conical finials of terracotta, and by dwarf walls with original cast-iron railings, on triangular copings; these also surround the basement area to the north-west of the school.

To the north of the site is a concrete-framed, brick building of mid-C20 date, now used as a kitchen and dining hall. Along the south perimeter of the site are two small, late-C20 brick buildings. These structures are excluded from the listing.


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. All but four of these schools, together with the Board's offices, 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.

Frederick Martin, who took over much of the practice's design after Chamberlain's death, was responsible for a variety of public and commercial buildings, and housing, as well as the board schools. Martin developed the established mode of the schools' design, introducing a greater freedom in referencing historical styles and, as a leading practitioner of Birmingham's 'terracotta school', an increased use of terracotta.

Waverley Road School was opened in 1892 as a higher grade school, offering a further two years of education, largely technical and commercial, to able children, after the age of twelve. At the time of opening, the facilities included a chemical laboratory, a lecture room, and workshops. Its educational approach followed that initiated by George Dixon, the long-standing Liberal chairman of the Board, who had in 1884 opened the Bridge Street Central Board School, in the premises of the former Cadbury factory, for promising boys. Waverley Road offered places to 600 girls and boys at its opening. The elementary part of the school closed in 1905. Waverley Road became Waverley County Secondary School in 1933 and, with the passing of the 1944 Education Act, Waverley County Grammar School; it is now Small Heath Lower School, run in association with the Small Heath Upper School and Sixth Form Centre, which is on another site.

An extension was built to the south-west corner of the school in1904 by Buckland and Farmer, a notable Birmingham practice employed by the Council's Education Department from 1903 until the 1930s, during which time they built eight new schools, and made numerous additions to existing schools. In circa 1985 the spire of the ventilation tower was taken down for safety reasons; a good proportion of the components, including gargoyles, remain in storage.

Reasons for Listing

The Small Heath Lower School is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Architect: one of the best schools designed by Martin and Chamberlain, a leading architectural practice in late-Victorian Birmingham.
* Historical: the former Waverley Road School is one 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.
* Historical: as the only purpose-built higher grade school to have been erected by the Board.
* Design and materials: the building exemplifies the practice's skill in adapting established patterns of design to meet the particular requirements of a school, and its inventiveness in employing architectural details and embellishments to produce varied effects; the use of features such as circular buttresses and corbelled-out chimneys, together with a rich variety of terracotta and cut brick decoration, is especially effective here.
* Intactness: the original school building remains largely as constructed, with the historic plan still legible, and the significant external features essentially unaltered; internally, many of the most important internal features survive, including the cast iron arches spanning the hall and the former workshop and laboratory, as well as much original joinery.
* Group value: the school forms a group with the associated master's or caretaker's house, also listed at Grade II*.

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