It is no exaggeration to say that, at the time of writing, material commemoration is under very real attack by those who neglect to acknowledge the true historical value of that which they seek to cast down. Statues and memorials are most definitely more than simple physical commemorations: they are cultural barometers. Their subject, design, location, size and even longevity are all direct reflections of the socio-political currents that shape their surroundings, both at the time of their creation and – through their subsequent treatment – far beyond. In this way, if read carefully, they are an invaluable chronicle of the very evolution of ourselves as a society.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, Birmingham was a veritable treasure trove of such commemoration with a wealth of statues, monuments, architecture, street names and other memorials all ostensibly intended to pay tribute to ‘the great and the good’ of the city. My work, however, will argue that such charitable sentiments were rarely the sole or even main motive for the creation of these grand gestures. Through a series of local cases studies, my research seeks to unearth the less-than-altruistic motives behind these memorials and to consider what this subsequently reveals about the society, economy, culture and politics of nineteenth-century Birmingham.