I always assumed there must have been a religious house nearby because of the churchy road names, but only today I discovered the mediaeval Augustinian Priory was on that site:
The Priory or Hospital of St Thomas of Canterbury was a house of Augustinian canons in medieval Birmingham. The institution is referred to in sources as either a priory or a hospital, but the two roles were often overlapping or interchangeable during the medieval period, as all monastic institutions were supposed to care for the poor, sick and itinerant. The priory was situated north of Bull Street - then called Chapel Street after the priory's chapel of St Mary - in an extensive tract of its own land that extended as far as the Prior's rabbit warren or conygre, now marked by Congreve Street near Chamberlain Square. The date of the priory's foundation is unknown, but numerous later records suggest that it was established by a member of the de Birmingham family.It is only today I discovered that St Martin's had any serious competition as the ancient parish church of Birmingham. The second picture shows the remaining foundations of the priory exposed during nineteenth century building.
The first record of the priory occurs in 1286, when gifts of property from three local land-owners were licensed to be held in mortmain; and a pardon issued in 1310 for the failure to similarly license thirty-three other donations of land suggests that the priory was thriving at this time. In 1344, however, its management was severely criticised by a visitation, and it was extensively reformed by the Bishop of Lichfield. This seems to have been effective and resulted in a further series of endowments, including the extablishment of a chantry in its chapel.
The priory was dissolved in 1536 with the banning of smaller institutions at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The chapel survived ten years beyond the priory's dissolution to support its chantry, until it too was dissolved in 1546-1547. The priory's estate was sold and redeveloped as Old Square.
Large numbers of human bones were found during the development of the priory's land for housing in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including some found to the south of Bull Street which may suggest either that a second graveyard existed south of Bull Street, or that the original line of Bull Street may itself have lain further to the south. This has been taken by some historians to indicate that the chapel may have been the original church of Birmingham and preceded the establishment of St Martin in the Bull Ring, though other historians doubt this.
Source (this entry & the next one both seem to me to be respectably sourced).
From the point of view of a post on spirit of place, this situation in Birmingham City Centre is quite interesting:
The Minories, Upper Priory and Lower Priory [were] the original entrance roads to the hospital. The land is believed to have once been the highest point in Birmingham city centre leading to the construction of the priory. In 1536, the Priory was dissolved and the structures on site were demolished in 1547. (Source, from where further information in this post that doesn't obviously issue from my fevered imagination will come)Without wishing to make a rude remark about Christians always seizing the high ground in all sorts of ways, it is difficult to over-emphasize the advantage that being on high ground had in pre-modern times. Modern building has disguised that that is high ground, & once again I didn't know that it was the highest. As a scene of centuries of inhabitation & human life, Old Square must definitely be a power point in the city centre. I would argue that it is one of those places that attract people to it, a natural 'terminus'. After the priory was dissolved the buildings remained ruins until they actually became a Square. To continue to crib from wikipedia:
The square dates from 1713 when it was recorded as having 16 uniform two-storied houses with five-bayed fronts having angle pilasters, pedimented doorways, and dormer windows. It was created as the centrepiece to John Pemberton's Priory Estate. It was designed by William Westley who produced a print of the square's layout in 1732. From old conveyances, it is recorded that 20s. per yard frontage was paid for the site of some of the houses in the square and up to 40s. in Bull Street; the back plots, including the Friends' burial ground (once gardens to the front houses) being valued at 1s. to 2s. per yard. One of the corner houses, originally called "the Angle House", was popular in that it was sold in 1791 for £420, increasing to £970 in 1805. In 1843 the price increased £1,330 and in 1853, £2,515.The next picture shows the square in 1732, still unrecognisable from today. However in 1882 that part of Birmingham began to look as it does today, with the creation of Corporation Street. In the 19th century the square was a tram terminus, strangely echoed in the way Corporation Street is now closed to enable the Midland Metro to be brought right into the heart of the city. Once again the high point at the centre of the city becomes a terminus to which people are brought.
The centre of the square itself was closed off with iron railings with several pedestrian paths. Over time it became neglected and in 1832 it was the scene of a public demonstration. The stones there were used as missiles by the crowd during the parliamentary elections of that year.
The trees and railings were removed during 1836 and 1837 as a result of many accidents occurring there due to the roadways being narrow and dangerous. Following this, the Birmingham Street Commissioners widened the roads.
The kind of human experiences embodied in the old square are strangely indicated by the memorial to Tony Hancock, the Birmingham comedian who killed himself. What desperation & relief must the old hospital have seen, & how strong human emotions must have imprinted themselves on an already strong place! The final picture is of art from the square's 1960s incarnation.
In the centre of Old Square is a memorial dedicated to Tony Hancock, who was born in the Hall Green area of the city. The memorial, by Bruce Williams, was unveiled by Sir Harry Secombe on 13 May 1996. The memorial was originally intended to be placed on New Street but a temporary site on the Corporation Street edge of the square was found (at the time, it stood opposite a Blood Donor clinic, in a nod to Hancock's well-known sketch). The statue was relocated to the centre of Old Square after it was unveiled. An earlier public sculpture in Old Square is a mural named Old Square sculpted by Kenneth Budd in 1967. The mural was commissioned by the Public Works Department of Birmingham City Council and was paid for from the Capital Account. It was unveiled on 21 April 1967 by Alderman C.V. Simpson, chairman of the Public Works Department. The mural depicts the history of Old Square from the priory onwards.