We discover the amazing independent shops & artists at the Great Western Arcade in Birmingham city centre

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From Victorian rail station to independent shopping emporium, the Great Western Arcade is Birmingham city centre gem filled with beauty

When you look at the Great Western Arcade (GWA) from its Colmore Row entrance, it looks like a modern day office building in keeping with the general architecture of the street, but if you enter it from the other side on Temple Row - an incredible facade with intricate design welcomes you.

The Grade II listed building was built by Great Western Company in 1876-77 to span a tunnel for the railway line between Moor St and Snow Hill. Sadly, the beautiful building sustained bomb damage in World War 2 and is now two floors shorter.

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The entrance at Colmore Row was rebuilt to a different style but the stone masonry on Temple Row is still iconic and pulls in both tourists and students.

Great Western Arcade - Temple Row entranceGreat Western Arcade - Temple Row entrance
Great Western Arcade - Temple Row entrance | Birminghamworld

What puts this Victorian marvel designed by W.H. Ward - who was influenced by Joseph Paxton’s pioneering Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851, strongly in the current century is their pioneering support for independent retail and artists.

The oldest tenant at the arcade is the John Hollingsworth & Son - a specialist tobacconist - which was acquired by Havana House in 2020. The second oldest tenant at the arcade is Paul Lamb of Sims Footwear, which opened in 1987. Paul said: “It’s a really nice community, lots of independent retailers and a beautiful environment.”

In recent years, they have also added a mix of hospitality venues at the arcade and are providing space to nurture talented artists from across the city. From Kuula Poke to Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe and even an independent gym store and the tasty Miss Macaroon - the arcade is a great location to shop and dine in one place.

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Sim’s FootwearSim’s Footwear
Sim’s Footwear | Birminghamworld

Centre Manager, Yvonne Moulton, said: “It used to be all high-end retail, now it’s become a place for food and beverages as well. It’s always been known for its independent stores and it has become more vibrant. We have got a pub, a wine bar and things like that so that’s made it much more vibrant.”

The arcade has also been hosting regular markets for arts and crafts as well as playing host to eight artists over two weekends, as part of Birmingham Open Studios - an annual, city-wide art trail. This year, the arcade is acting as one of this year’s main ‘hubs’ where several artists exhibit their work together.

Moulton added: “The arts have been really, really popular. And, we have got some empty units so it’s a good use of the space as well. It’s also to attract more footfall and increase the dwell time. So that benefits everybody in the arcade as well.”

Birmingham Open Studios at GWABirmingham Open Studios at GWA
Birmingham Open Studios at GWA | Birminghamworld

When is Birmingham Open Studios at GWA?

A free guidebook is available at various shops throughout the Arcade, showing the location and details of each artist so you can plan your perfect route, with the chance to meet and talk to artists and also attend free workshops.

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Birmingham Open Studios will be on this weekend: 30 September – 1 October  |  Times: Sat: 11am – 5pm  |  Sun: 11am – 3pm

Full details of artists exhibiting at GWA:

  • Boglárka Tóth – colourful abstract pieces and decorative objects
  • Juliet Guillon – oil painted landscapes, portraits and still-lifes
  • Mike Martin – functional and decorative wheel thrown stoneware pottery
  • Carrie Moore (Beetles Bones and Butterflies) – ethical taxidermy and entomology artist inspired by gothic and Victorian styles
  • Elaine Ridler (Dead Zoo) – morbidly cute ink on paper drawings capturing the weird and wonderful skulls of extraordinary beasts
  • Ginger Dan – graffiti artist creating androgynous characters with bold colour schemes, influenced by Queer identity, comics and illustration
  • Vanessa Sulek – portraits incorporating acrylic pour mixing and mixed media
  • Rajvi Padia – meticulously detailed and visually captivating miniature art pieces, including collectibles like fridge magnets, keychains and jewellery.

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