Type spotting: Why Birmingham’s historic signs must be treasured

Author: Stacey BarnfieldPublished:

Historic lettering and original building signs must be treasured for future generations, a Birmingham typography academic told Edwin Ellis Creative Media.

We spoke to Birmingham City University postgraduate research student Geraldine Marshall after it was announced the former Kingsway Cinema on Kings Heath High Street in Birmingham is due to be auctioned later this month, with a guide price of £600,000.

The fire-ravaged cinema building has the remains of a classic example of 1920s type design on its locally-listed façade.

Typography, Birmingham, architecture

The 1920s signage on the Kingsway Cinema in Kings Heath, Birmingham

The rest of the building, subject to several recent failed redevelopment schemes, is a burned out shell.

Planning officers granted permission in December 2014 for the building to be converted to shops and apartments on the condition the façade is restored and preserved.

Ms Marshall, a member of the Birmingham School of Art and Design-based Typographic Hub, explained how the prominent lettering on such buildings reflects the style and key industries of that age.

“Birmingham is a typical UK city that has undergone the transformation from one dominated by manufacturing to one led by service, creative enterprise and multi-national retail businesses,” she said.

“Remnants of letterforms give evidence of a visual timeline of what has gone before.

Architecture, Birmingham

The Kingsway Cinema in Kings Heath, Birmingham

“We need to salvage these signs before they are condemned to a skip as every letter design, in its craft and application, tells a story of a time of the city transformation and development.

“We should treasure what these signs represented during a time of rapid building and prosperity of the city and what they can tell us about the development of Birmingham, as well as the style and trend of lettering design and the disappearing craft of lettering.”

The Kingsway was designed by Horace G Bradley, a prominent theatre designer in Warwickshire and the West Midlands.

It opened its doors to the public in March 1925 and its most recent use was as a Gala bingo hall before being left vacant and subject to vandalism.

The cinema is in the CP Bigwood auction at Villa Park on October 22.