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What was once a slum area of town was subsequently reimagined by the town planning and municipal reforms of Joseph Chamberlain. The Police Station and adjacent Custody Suite appeared on Steelhouse Lane in the 1890s.

The Birmingham Central Custody Suite is often described as a mini-prison, with capacity to house over 50 detainees. It centralises custody facilities from nearby stations in a bid to cut costs and improve standards.

The building is one of the oldest remaining operational custody suites in the country, making West Midlands Police custodians of an important part of Birmingham’s heritage.

The building has Grade II listed status, meaning that many of the features such as the toilets and wooden cell doors cannot be changed.

The foreboding interior is simple and uncluttered, but retains many of its robust original Victorian features, which amplify to the oppressive atmosphere of the building.

The sound of feet clinking on the wrought iron staircase and walkways echoes through the three storeys of open galleried landings.

After stepping through the main doors, there is virtually no connection with the outside world and detainees are left in the stark surroundings to contemplate their fate and actions, just as many have before in the 120-year history of the building.

In the basement an underground tunnel provides a secure link to the adjacent Victoria Law Courts, continuing the fateful journey to justice.

It is an inevitable reality that the facilities at Steelhouse Lane are no longer economical to meet the demands of today’s Police force. Associated Architects is currently working with West Midlands Police to draw up plans for a new police station within Lloyd House that will help to deliver significant financial savings.

Furthermore, plans have been approved for a 60-cell custody super block in West-Bromwich, which could render the Victorian Custody Suite obsolete.

With such a purpose-built interior and protected status, it raises the question how a building like this might ever be repurposed?

It may not be to everyone’s taste, but one such example is an old gaol in Oxford that was reimagined by Malmaison as a boutique hotel, preserving the life of the historic building.

Article by Matthew Goer, Director, Associated Architects
Published in the Birmingham Post, 2 January 2014

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