130 years old this month, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is free entry and has a great big statue of Lucifer who greets you as you enter – I’m not sure if it’s a nod to Birmingham’s rich history of non-conformists and free thinkers, but I like to think so. ‘Built by the people of Birmingham for the people of Birmingham’ its been a place I’ve been going to since I was a child, and even helped me win an argument about Star Wars with my school art teacher.
Baroque and Birmingham People exhibitions
So despite being a semi-regular guest, when an invite landed in my inbox to be shown around some of the recently opened exhibitions, along with afternoon tea, I jumped at the chance. I’ve already been to the Edwardian Tearooms since they had their major facelift, for bacon sandwiches and horror films (as you do), so a Saturday morning of culture and cake sounded pretty good to me.
We were first shown around the new 17th century Baroque exhibition, showcasing some of Birmingham Museums Trust’s highlights and rarely seen pieces. They’d sort of split the display into Italian and Spanish, and northern European pieces. Despite watching a lot of historical dramas recently, I’m not nearly as up on my history as I’d like, but the backdrop of religious and social change in the era was reflected well in the collection – plus there were some pretty fun hands-on pieces to bring the exhibition to life.
The second collection we saw was the Birmingham People exhibition, which I adored – social history was kind of a favourite of mine at school and this array of 20th and 21st century art had a real people focus. There was everything from video footage of people walking down the Pallasades ramp and photographs at the market, to paintings of the Birmingham Superprix motor race and sculpture. It was a lovely celebration of Birmingham and next time a national journalist complains about the city, I say we lock them in there for 24 hours.
So anyway, after walking around several exhibitions and getting a bit lost (which is customary when visiting BMAG), we sat down to afternoon tea. I’ve been a big fan of the refurb of the Edwardian Tearooms; it sort of somehow manages to be a fresh modern take on a classic tea room – and the circular green seating in the middle of the room just calls out to be included in a spy drama. I love a good coffee shop, but the lack of tea rooms in the city centre sort of disappoints me – more places for tea and cake please, Birmingham city centre.
First out came a tray of sandwiches, with plenty of different fillings. I think it’s pretty hard to get excited over afternoon tea sandwiches generally but these were perfectly pleasant, and the variety of fillings meant there was something to suit everyone – they’d even managed to do a vegan version for one of the girls.
The scones were up next and these were great – I’m pretty sure I had two and managed to take one home too. I’m amazed at the number of places who seem not to be able to do scones well; so crumbly they disintegrate or so dense they’re like bricks. These had just the right density and are enough to lure me back in for a cream tea very soon. The Edwardian Tearooms afternoon tea is pretty traditional, so the final round of cakes were mini-sponges. Personally I’d have like to have seen something a little different, as I think four varieties of sponge cake is a little dense after sandwiches and scones.
So in summary, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is great, and the Edwardian Tearooms are definitely worth a visit, whilst you’re there. BMAG has a new exhibition, Enchanted Dreams, the first exhibition ever dedicated exhibition of the works of pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Robert Hughes, which is drawing together artworks from public and private collections and sounds like it’ll be worth the small admission charge.
Disclosure: I was invited down to a blogger event at BMAG and given complimentary afternoon tea. I’ve been plenty of times before and paid for my own cake. Go check out the green spy seats too.