Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower

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Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower
The Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower ( grid reference SP048835) is a campanile located in Chancellor's court at the University of Birmingham in the West Midlands of England. It is the tallest free-standing clock tower in the world, although its actual height is the subject of some confusion. The university lists it as both 110 metres (361 ft) and 325 feet (99 m) tall, whereas other sources state that it is 100 metres (328 ft) tall. The tower was built to commemorate Joseph Chamberlain, the first Chancellor of the University, although one of the original suggested names for the clock tower was the 'Poynting Tower', after one of the earliest professors at the University, Professor John Henry Poynting. The nicknames Old Joe, Big Joe, as well as "Big Lid", or simply The Clock Tower are used by the student population and local residents. A prominent landmark in Birmingham, the grade II listed tower can be seen for miles around the campus, and has become synonymous with the University itself. There is a superstition, not taken entirely seriously, amongst students that if they stand under the tower when it strikes they will fail their exams.

Designed as part of the initial phase of the Edgbaston campus by architects Aston Webb and Ingress Bell, the tower was constructed between 1900-1908, and stood at the centre of a semicircle of matching red brick buildings. The tower is modelled on the Torre del Mangia in Siena. The original tower designs were amended due to Chamberlain's great admiration for the Italian city's campanile. On 1 October 1905, the Birmingham Post reported that Chamberlain had announced to the University Council an anonymous gift of £50,000 (the donor in fact was Sir Charles Holcroft). This anonymous gift was announced some two months later in the Birmingham Post as "to be intended for the erection of a tower in connection with the new buildings at Bournbrook at a cost estimated by the architects at £25,000. The tower, it was suggested, would be upwards of 300 ft (91.4 m) in height, and would not only form the main architectural feature of the University but would be useful in connection with the Physics Department and as a record tower" (Cheesewright, 1975, p. 55). In 1940, Sir Mark Oliphant used the tower for radar experiments. The tower remained the tallest building in Birmingham until 1969, when construction on the 152 m (498.7 ft) tall BT Tower was completed in the Jewellery Quarter area of the city. However, Old Joe is still one of the fifty tallest buildings in the UK. The asteroid 10515 Old Joe, discovered in 1989, is named in the clock tower's honour. Access to the top of the clock tower has always been limited to pre-appointed visits. Access is also limited due to the presence of asbestos, as reported by university estates management.

The base is solid concrete, 50 ft (15.2 m) square by 10 ft (3.0 m) thick, resting on bed rock 31 ft (9.4 m) below ground. Joyce of Whitchurch built the clock, the face of which is 5.25 m (17.2 ft) across, the largest bell weighs 13,619 pounds (6,177.5 kg) with all the bells weighing 20 tons (18,150 kg); the minute hand is 4.1 m (13.5 ft) long, the hour hand is 2 ft (61 cm) across, the pendulum is 15 ft (4.6 m) long. The clock hands are made out of sheet copper. There are ten floors served by an electrical lift in the SW corner (Cheesewright, 1975, p. 57). The tower was built from the inside, without scaffolding, up to the level of the balcony. It is built of Red Accrington Brick with Darley Dale dressings and tapers from 29 ft (8.8 m) square to 23 ft (7.0 m) below the balcony (Braithwaite, 1987, p. 4). Due to it being built from the inside it was not pointed and had to be pointed in 1914 and was subsequently repointed in 1957 and 1984-5. Its weight, solid brick corners linked by four courses of brick resists the overturning wind forces. Carved in stone round the tower are the words: This tower commemorates the founding of the university through the initiative and active encouragement of its first chancellor the Right Honourable Joseph Chamberlain Old Joe is also similar to St Mark's Campanile in Venice, the latter serving as the inspiration for Sather Tower at University of California, Berkeley. David Lodge's novel Changing Places tells the story of exchange of professors between the universities of Rummidge and Euphoric State, Plotinus (thinly disguised fictional versions of Birmingham and Berkeley), which in the book both have replicas of the Leaning Tower of Pisa on campus.


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