Egbaston Street and Digbeth
Birmingham, United Kingdom

The mall-type shopping centre evolved differently in Great Britain than in the United States, Canada or Australia. The typical suburban model seen in North America, or in The Land Down Under, was not developed extensively in the United Kingdom.

Large, regional-class shopping malls, as North Americans and Aussie's came to know them, were built in England. However, these were few and far between and were, more often than not, situated in the central city. Great Britain's first suburban-style mall would not appear until 1976.

Located in the northwestern environs of London, BRENT CROSS CENTRE was followed by just 6 super sized, "out-of-town" mega malls before development of such auto-oriented retail hubs was curtailed, by government intervention, in the 1990s.

BULL RING CENTRE, Britain's first fully-enclosed "shopping precinct", was built as a central city retail complex, in Birmingham. A 23 acre plot was cleared in the late 1950s. It had been the site of a cattle market, or "bull ring", since the time of Henry II, who reigned between 1154 to 1189.

By the 16th century, the area had outdoor markets selling textiles and foods. An indoor market was built between 1832 and 1835. The roof of this structure was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bombing raid in August 1940. It was never repaired and the walled facility was utilised as an open-air market until its demolition in 1963.

Work had been underway on a 2-level, 350,000 square foot, interior mall since the summer of 1961. It would be the largest enclosed shopping precinct outside North America and house 140 shops, a 12-storey office building, 2 open-air markets and multi-storey, overhead car park.

The 8 million pound BULL RING CENTRE was built by Laing Development and designed by Sydney Greenwood. It was dedicated May 29, 1964, in a ceremony attended by Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Constructed in a modernist style which came to be known as Brutalist, the mall was accessed by 2 British Rail stations, a subterranean bus terminal, an Inner Ringway road and labyrinth of pedestrian tunnels known as subways.

Stores and services included Turners, Tay's The Butcher, Oswald Bailey, Wymans, Bata, Foster Brothers, a Mann's supermarket and upper level ballroom. There were, however, no large, anchor-sized department stores, such as Birmingham-based Rackhams or Edward Grey.

The predominant retailer in the complex was a 2-level (95,000 square foot) Woolworth's variety store...which was the largest in Europe. As a matter of note, the British Woolworth chain was a division of New York City-based F.W. Woolworth & Company. This British division had opened its first store, in Liverpool, in 1909.

Patrons coming to BULL RING CENTRE by automobile could pull into its car park entrance and leave their vehicle with a uniformed valet. He would drive into a lift (elevator) that would transport the auto to the car park structure above.

The ultramodern centre featured soothing muzak piped into its artificially-lit mallways. There was also a "pram park", where children could be left as mothers did their shopping, and an aluminium ["al-yoo-min-ee-um"] bird aviary with macaws, parakeets and cockatoos. A "late spring atmosphere all year round" was maintained with an oil-fired central heating an air-conditioning system.

The centre soon began to suffer due to the high rents its owners demanded for shopping and office space. Moreover, its 19 escalators often broke down. The subterranean pedestrian passageways soon became notorious for muggings.

By the late 1970s, BULL RING CENTRE, which had opened with high hopes and aspirations, was viewed as an urban planning blunder. By the 1980s, the centre was in an ever-worsening state of disrepair. It was largely vacant, covered with graffiti, and its open spaces were often littered with debris. An initial plan for its redevelopment surfaced in the mid-1980s.

This plan was not carried out. Subsequent proposals in 1987 and 1995 failed, as well. In 1999, a successful redevelopment scenario gained approval. It was put forward by an entity known as the Birmingham Alliance, which was formed from constituents of the London-based Hammerson Group, Global Investors and Land Securities Group.

Tenants at BULL RING CENTRE relocated into the adjoining Rag Market, which was south of the main structure. The bulk of the mall was demolished between June 2000 and March 2001. The site, now encompassing an expanded 26 acres, was filled by a new, post-modern retail hub, known as BULLRING BIRMINGHAM.

Costing 500 million pounds (or 897 million 2003 US dollars) the 3-level enclosed and open air complex was designed by London-based Benoy and dedicated September 4, 2003. It enveloped 1,184,000 lettable square feet and contained 160 shops and services.

This time around, the mall did have conventional anchor department stores; a 3-level (270,000 square foot), London-based Selfridges and 3-level (250,000 square foot), London-based Debenhams. Inline shops included Jack & Jones-Vero Moda, Armani Exchange, JD Sports and DKNY.

BULLRING BIRMINGHAM was the largest retail-oriented centre city redevelopment Europe had ever seen. It became the crown jewel of the much-heralded reinvention of Birmingham, which made the transition from a rust-belt-type, past-its-prime "concrete jungle" into a centre of commerce, tourism and high-tech industry.


"Bull Ring, Birmingham" article on Wikipedia
www.ft.com (the Financial Times)