The University of Birmingham’s iconic clock tower, affectionately known as “Old Joe”, will be adorned with a red bow from Wednesday 25 February to celebrate the generous contributions the University has received from donors.

The clock tower itself was built thanks to early gifts to the University. The tallest freestanding clock tower in the world, Old Joe was built in 1905 to commemorate the first Chancellor of the University, Joseph Chamberlain. These donations were the first of many philanthropic gifts to the University. During the Second World War Old Joe was used by the inventors of RADAR to test technology, and is said to have been J. R. R. Tolkien’s inspiration for the Eye of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Today, donors to the University’s Circles of Influence campaign give charitable support to provide scholarships for disadvantaged students, and support the world leading research of our academics. Current developments such as the Institute of Translational Medicine and the new Sports Centre have also been supported by generous donations to the campaign.

Nick Blinco, Director of Engagement, Development, Alumni and Business Engagement at the University said: ‘We are celebrating the University’s proud tradition of philanthropy which spans more than a century. From our foundation as England’s first civic university, to the vital projects being funded today by donors to the Circles of Influence campaign, philanthropic support of the University has real impact locally, nationally and internationally.’

Old Joe will be decorated with a red bow from Wednesday 25 February to celebrate and recognise the generosity of those who have donated to the University.


  • For further information please contact Faye Jackson in the University of Birmingham Press Office on +44 (0)121 414 6029. For out of hours enquiries please contact the duty press officer on +44 (0)7789921165.
  • Circles of Influence is on track to exceed an ambitious target of £160m, making it the largest fundraising campaign ever in the region. There is still time to join the University’s 10,000 supporters and help make a difference.
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked among the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 4,000 international students from nearly 150 countries.
  • Competition - Share photos of Old Joe in his bow by tweeting @birminghamalum using #oldjoebow before 5pm on Friday 6 March to be in with the chance of winning your own miniature (3D printed!) Old Joe, courtesy of Professor Moataz Attallah, Professor of Advanced Materials Processing in the School of Metallurgy and Materials.