Pre-Membering Joe

POPULARITY, POLITICS OR PRIDE?

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In the days following the death of Joseph Chamberlain in July 1914, the streets of Birmingham were host to the most extraordinary scenes of public adoration, the likes of which have not been witnessed before or since.

Indeed, a strong desire was expressed by many for a flamboyant Westminster funeral of the type usually reserved for royalty and heads of state. Yet, in accordance with his Unitarian family's wishes, such ostentation was forgone in favour of a small private ceremony and a relatively understated grave at Birmingham's unofficially Non-Conformist Key Hill Cemetery.

It was an ironic decision considering that, in life, Joe himself appears to have shown no such inhibitions. Certainly, the restrained nature of this event stands in stark contrast to the public commemorative practices during his lifetime when his personal material celebration could be said to have bordered on the prolific in comparison to that of his peers.

The Chamberlain Memorial Fountain, erected in 1880, is arguably the grandest monument to an individual in the entire city; it stands in the centre of Chamberlain Square in what was the very heart of Victorian Birmingham. His name is emblazoned upon the  foundation stone of the 135-year-old Council House for all to see.

A clock dedicated to him in 1903 dominates the centre of the Jewellery Quarter, one of the city’s most important manufacturing districts. The University of Birmingham’s clock tower – begun in 1900 and the largest of its type in the world – is officially named in his honour.

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Chamberlain

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