Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower

Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower

The Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower (gbmapping|SP048835) is a campanile located in Chancellor's court at the University of Birmingham in the West Midlands of England. It is the tallest free-standing clock tower in the world,cite web|url=|title=25 tallest clock towers/government structures/palaces|publisher=Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat|date=January 2008|accessdate=2008-08-09] although its actual height is the subject of some confusion. The university list it as convert|110|m|ft|0 tall [cite web|url=|title=Campus tour booklet|publisher=University of Birmingham|accessdate=2008-08-09] , whereas other sources state that it is convert|100|m|ft|0 tall.cite web |url= |title=Britain's tallest 100 buildings by height|publisher=Skyscraper News |accessdate=2008-08-09]

The tower was built to commemorate Joseph Chamberlain, the first Chancellor of the University, although one of the original suggested names for the clock tower was the 'Poynting Tower', after one of the earliest professors at the University, Professor John Henry Poynting. The nicknames "Old Joe", "Big Joe" or simply "The Clock Tower" are used by the student population and local residents. A prominent landmark in Birmingham, the grade II listed [cite web|url=|title=Detailed record|work=Images of England|publisher=English Heritage|accessdate=2008-08-10] tower can be seen for miles around the campus, and has become synonymous with the University itself. There is a superstition, not taken entirely seriously, amongst students that if they stand under the tower when it strikes they will fail their exams.


Designed as part of the initial phase of the Edgbaston campus by architects Aston Webb and Ingress Bell, the tower was constructed between 1900-1908, and stood at the centre of a semi-circle of matching red brick buildings. The tower is modelled on the Torre del Mangia in Siena. [Citation | first = W.B. | last = Stephens | contribution = Secular architecture | contribution-url = | title = A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 7 | year = 1964 | pages = 43-57 | place = London | publisher = Oxford University Press | url = | doi = | id = ] The original tower designs were amended due to Chamberlain's great admiration for the Italian city's campanile. On October 1, 1905, the Birmingham Post reported that Chamberlain had announced to the University Council an anonymous gift of £50,000 (the donor in fact was Sir Charles Holcroft). This anonymous gift was announced some two months later in the Birmingham Post as "to be intended for the erection of a tower in connection with the new buildings at Bournbrook at a cost estimated by the architects at £25,000. The tower, it was suggested, would be upwards of convert|300|ft|m|1|abbr=on in height, and would not only form the main architectural feature of the University but would be useful in connection with the Physics Department and as a record tower" (Cheesewright, 1975, p.55). In 1940, Sir Mark Oliphant used the tower for radar experiments.

The tower remained the tallest building in Birmingham until 1969, when construction on the convert|152|m|ft|1|abbr=on tall BT Tower was completed in the Jewellery Quarter area of the city. However, Old Joe is still one of the fifty tallest buildings in the UK.

The asteroid 10515 Old Joe, discovered in 1989, is named in the clock tower's honour. [cite web|url=|title=10515 Old Joe (1989 UB3)|publisher=JPL Small-Body Database|accessdate=2008-02-17]

Students used to be able to visit the top of the tower quite easily via the lift inside it. However, after a number of students committed suicide by jumping off it access has been severely limited to pre-appointed visits.Fact|date=February 2007 Access is also limited due to the presence of asbestos, as reported by university estates management.


The base is solid concrete, convert|50|ft|m|1|abbr=on square by convert|10|ft|m|1|abbr=on thick, resting on bed rock convert|31|ft|m|abbr=on below ground. Joyce of Whitchurch built the clock, the face of which is convert|5.25|m|ft|1|abbr=on across, the largest bell weighs convert|13619|lb|kg|1 [ [ Great Bells of the British Isles] , Guild of Carillonneurs in North America, accessed 28 May 2007] with all the bells weighing 20 tons (18,150 kg); the minute hand is convert|4.1|m|ft|1|abbr=on long, the hour hand is convert|2|ft|cm|0|abbr=on across, the pendulum is convert|15|ft|m|1|abbr=on long. The clock hands are made out of sheet copper. There are ten floors served by an electrical lift in the SW corner (Cheesewright, 1975, p.57). The tower was built from the inside, without scaffolding, up to the level of the balcony. It is built of Red Accrington Brick with Darley Dale dressings and tapers from convert|29|ft|m|1|abbr=on square to convert|23|ft|m|1|abbr=on below the balcony (Braithwaite, 1987, p.4). Due to it being built from the inside it was not pointed and had to be pointed in 1914 and was subsequently repointed in 1957 and 1984-5. Its weight, solid brick corners linked by four courses of brick resists the overturning wind forces.

Carved in stone round the tower are the words:


Old Joe is also similar to St Mark's Campanile in Venice, the latter serving as the inspiration for Sather Tower at University of California, Berkeley. David Lodge's novel "Changing Places" tells the story of exchange of professors between the universities of Rummidge and Euphoric State, Plotinus (thinly disguised fictional versions of Birmingham and Berkeley), which in the book both have replicas of the Leaning Tower of Pisa on campus. [cite book | last = Showalter | first = Elaine | title = Faculty Towers: The Academic Novel and Its Discontents | publisher = Oxford University Press | date = 2005 | location = Oxford | pages = 77 | url =,M1 | doi = | id = | isbn = ]


*cite book|last=Foster|first=A.|title=Birmingham (Pevsner Architectural Guides)|publisher=Yale University Press|date=2005|location=London|isbn=0-300-10731-5
*cite book|last=Cheesewright|first=M.|title=Mirror to Mermaid |publisher=The University of Birmingham Press|date=1975|location=Birmingham|isbn=0-7044-0130-4
*cite book|last=Braithwaite|first=L.|title=University of Birmingham architectural trail|publisher=The University of Birmingham Press|date=1987|location=Birmingham|isbn=0-7044-0890-2

External links

* [ Skyscrapernews entry on the Clock Tower]
* [ An article from the Birmingham Magazine, concerning, amongst other things, some of the history of the Clock Tower]

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