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Our history

One Birdcage Walk was originally built to be the home of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, formed in Birmingham in 1847.

The architect appointed to design the building was Basil Slade. However, his first designs were not for an engineering headquarters. The building had originally been intended by one Major J.A.S Cunningham as a block of luxury flats. Slade reworked a lot of the features from these original flat plans to suit the new purpose – which could be one of the reasons for the grandness of our Marble Hall. The building is in Portland Stone – a style popular at the time and known as ‘Queen Anne’ or ‘streaky bacon’ due to the juxtaposition of red and white brick.

front-of-the-building
Architect’s proposed front elevation
Architectural drawing of the facade

When One Birdcage Walk officially opened its doors on 16-17 May 1899, the internal design and features of the building were also impressive. Along with a large fan and electrical lamps, the building had several other state-of-the-art innovations of the time. It had an electrical passenger elevator, a Synchronome master clock controlled all the house timepieces – ensuring they were all correct and in sync - and one of the first telephones – not commonplace for most offices at the time.

In the early 1910’s, the Institution bought up more land to create a new wing. One Birdcage Walk is actually both numbers 1 and 3 Birdcage walk.

Our Lecture Theatre, located on the ground floor, looked very different from today - hard wooden benches, a dome in the ceiling and windows down the left-hand side. Historically, the Lecture Theatre was used for the reading of a paper by Frank Whittle in 1945 on the development of the jet engine.

Lecture theatre circa 1890
The Lecture Theatre circa 1890
Lecture theatre in the 1940s
The Lecture Theatre in the 1940s

During the Second World War, One Birdcage Walk acted as a meeting place for the Government and Allied forces and, in January 1943, a group of senior Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers used the building to plan the mechanical engineering support for Operation Overlord and the invasion of Normandy (D-Day).

Building exterior during the war
One Birdcage Walk exterior during WWI
Building exterior during the war
The Lecture Theatre during WWI

The space now knows as Marble Hall was originally known as the 'tea room' and the 'drawing room', where the Institution's members would enjoy high tea following meetings in the Lecture Theatre. The Marble Hall was built in the style of a Venetian palace and is decorated with antique Sienna pilasters, and onyx panels with dark borders; and the flooring is Piastraccia and dark Grande squares.

Today, One Birdcage Walk is not only the home of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers but a state-of-the-art venue providing excellent service in beautiful surroundings for a variety of events and clients, engineers or not.

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