About The Birmingham & Midland Institute
The Birmingham & Midland Institute has been at the heart of Birmingham’s cultural life for almost 170 years. It was founded by Act of Parliament in 1854 for the ‘Diffusion and Advancement of Science, Literature and Art amongst all Classes of Persons resident in Birmingham and Midland Counties’. Charles Dickens was one of its early Presidents.
During the late nineteenth century, the BMI played a leading role in the introduction of scientific and technical education in Birmingham until the state gradually took over its functions. It was thus the forerunner of many educational bodies such as the Birmingham Conservatoire.
Located in a Grade II* listed building, the BMI has a thriving programme of cultural and educational activities, which includes a wide spectrum of arts and science lectures, exhibitions and concerts. The building is also a venue for many externally-organised events and can be booked for conferences and meetings. The Institute also owns and runs the original Birmingham Library, founded in 1779. The Library collection is gradually growing by the regular purchase of new books, principally on the field of humanities and modern fiction.
The BMI has longstanding associations with a number of independent societies who use the premises for their activities and meetings. Affiliated societies have kindred interests and include the Birmingham Philatelic Society and the Midland Ancestors.
A (Potted) History of the Birmingham & Midland Institute
Plans to establish the Institute began as far back as 1852. Membership to various local educational institutions in Birmingham were beginning to dwindle by the mid-nineteenth century and as a result, the Philosophical Institute, Midlands Institute, Mechanics’ Institution and Birmingham Society of Arts came together to form a new organisation to bring together their shared aims and objectives. The plans for this new, permanent institute to promote practical science, literature and the arts was first put into motion by Arthur Ryland at a dinner party in the summer of 1852.
A formal proposal for the establishment of the BMI was presented in the January of 1854. An Act of Parliament was passed, which outlined its purpose for ‘the Diffusion and Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art amongst all Classes of Persons resident in Birmingham and the Midland Counties…’. Activities and facilities included (this is not an exhaustive list): lectures in science, literature and the arts, and a laboratory for the study of chemistry. Planning permission was given by the town council in the September of that same year to erect a building between Paradise St and Edmund St. A building was designed by architect Edward Middleton Barry. However, in 1859 the Institute fell into financial difficulty when the building was only half finished and the Institute had to function as such until 1860 when the Town Council ‘bought back’ part of the land to establish the Free Library. This remaining half of the building was completed by William Martin and John Henry Chamberlain as Barry’s tender was deemed too expensive by the town council. The municipal Public Library opened in 1866, but burned down during the building of an extension in 1879.
The Birmingham & Midland Institute is today located on Margaret Street in this Grade II* listed building designed by architects Jethro Cossins, F. B. Peacock, and Ernest Bewley in the late 1800s. The Institute acquired this building (which housed the Birmingham Library) when its original premises on Paradise Street were compulsorily purchased by the city council and demolished to make way for a new traffic scheme. That traffic scheme was never realised.