Meet Old Joe – the world’s tallest free-standing clock tower


Our second city, Birmingham, has many claims to fame – the biggest Christmas market outside Germany and Austria, more canals than Venice, the city that invented the Balti…

But my favourite has to be the fact it’s home to the world’s tallest free-standing clock tower. The Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower, affectionately known as Old Joe, has been the centrepiece of Birmingham University’s campus since 1908. It’s named in honour of the politician and first chancellor of the university, and at a height of 100m you can just about see it from the city centre (if you know where to look), but it’s worth a trip to see it up close.


It’s another thing the city has in common with Venice, as it’s a dead-ringer for the Campanile in Piazza San Marco.

The train is the best way to get to it. It takes just under five minutes to get from the city centre’s New Street station to University in the suburb of Edgbaston. When my train got to University, I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find the clock tower, but no such worries – it’s so tall it can be seen from miles around and even from the platform.


Organised as ever, I’d already had a look at Google Maps for the directions which told me it would be a seven minute walk. The hands of Old Joe’s huge white clock face told me it was more like four. The clock face has been lit green, red, blue and pink over the years to mark events such as World AIDS day.


Once at the university campus’ central Chancellor’s Court, there was a small but very Christmassy market with a Ferris Wheel, street food, Santa’s grotto and a stage with a guitarist singing Last Christmas by Wham. I’d recommend this one over the horribly overcrowded and overpriced city-centre Christmas market any day.


Unfortunately, you can no longer climb to the top – as Old Joe’s very own twitter feed says, “my bones are too old for that these days”. Gutted that I couldn’t get to the top, I grabbed a quick Bratwurst from the market stalls, and headed back to work.

Categories: UK and IrelandTags: , ,


  1. Blimey, I thought you were in Grimsby at first glance.Just as the Grimsby Dock Tower, Old Joe it seems is based on the design of Torre del Mangia in Siena – Birmingham gets bragging rights though – it s a few feet taller!

  2. Now thats what you call a clock tower…………but no doubt with a Swiss ETA movement!!!!!

  3. That’s brilliant, never knew that this is the tallest clock tower. I like the architecture and can see the similarity to Venice. Sounds like the wee Christmas market was good fun too.

  4. To think I went all the way to Venice…. 🙂
    I’m all in favour of little Christmas markets, Richard. There was a very nice one down at Sheffield last weekend. You and Cat all set for the big day?

  5. I had no idea:) interesting!:)

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