Birmingham, England

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Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the English West Midlands. Birmingham is the largest of England's core cities, and is considered to be the UK's second city. The city's reputation was forged as the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, a fact which led to Birmingham being known as "the workshop of the world" or the "city of a thousand trades".

The City of Birmingham has a population of 992,400 (2004 estimate). It forms part of the larger West Midlands conurbation, which has a population of 2,284,093 (2001 census) and includes several neighbouring towns and cities, such as Solihull, Wolverhampton and the towns of the Black Country.

The people of Birmingham are known as 'Brummies', a term derived from the city's nickname of Brum. This comes in turn from the city's dialect name, Brummagem. There is a distinctive Brummie dialect and accent.

Birmingham is an ethnically and culturally diverse city. At the time of the 2001 census, 70.4% of the population was White (including 3.2% Irish), 19.5% Asian or Asian British, 6.1% Black or Black British, 0.5% Chinese, and 3.5% of mixed or other ethnic heritage.


Birmingham has a recorded history going back 1,000 years. In this time, it has grown from a tiny Anglo-Saxon farming village into a major industrial and commercial city.

The Birmingham area was occupied in Roman times, with several military roads and a large fort. Birmingham started life as a small Anglo-Saxon hamlet in the Early Middle Ages. It was first recorded in written documents by the Domesday Book of 1086 as a small village, worth only 20 shillings.

In the 12th century, Birmingham was granted a charter to hold a market, which in time became known as the Bull Ring. As a convenient location for trade, Birmingham soon developed into a small but thriving market town.

By the 16th century, Birmingham's access to supplies of iron ore and coal meant that metalworking industries became established. In the 17th century Birmingham became an important manufacturing town with a reputation for producing small arms. Birmingham manufacturers supplied Oliver Cromwell's forces with much of their weaponry during the English Civil War. Arms manufacture in Birmingham became a staple trade and was concentrated in the area known as the Gun Quarter.

During the Industrial Revolution (from the mid 18th century onwards), Birmingham grew rapidly into a major industrial centre. Unlike many other English industrial cities such as Manchester, industry in Birmingham was based upon small workshops rather than large factories or mills.

From the 1760s onwards, a large network of canals were built across Birmingham and the Black Country, to transport raw materials and finished goods. By the 1820s an extensive canal system had been constructed; Birmingham is often described as having more miles of canals than Venice.

Railways arrived in Birmingham in 1837, with the opening of the Grand Junction Railway and later the London and Birmingham Railway the railways soon linked Birmingham to every corner of Britain. New Street Station was opened as a joint station in 1854. And this was soon followed by the Great Western Railway's Snow Hill station.

During the Victorian era, the population of Birmingham grew rapidly to well over half a million and Birmingham became the second largest population centre in Britain. It became known as the "City of a thousand trades" due to the wide array of industries located there. Birmingham's importance led to it being granted city status in 1889 by Queen Victoria.

The city built its own university in 1900, The University of Birmingham, which became the first of Britain's Redbrick universities.

Birmingham was originally part of Warwickshire, however the city expanded in the late 19th and early 20th century, absorbing parts of Worcestershire to the south and Staffordshire] to the west. The city absorbed Sutton Coldfield in 1974, and at the same time became part of the new West Midlands county.

Birmingham suffered heavy bomb damage during World War II during the Birmingham Blitz, and partly as a result of this the city centre was extensively re-developed during the 1950s and 1960s, with many concrete] office buildings, ring-roads, and now much-derided pedestrian subways. As a result, Birmingham gained a reputation for ugliness and was frequently described as a "concrete jungle".

In recent years however, Birmingham has been transformed, the city centre has been extensively renovated and restored with the construction of new squares, the restoration of old streets, buildings and canals, the removal of the pedestrian subways, and the demolition and subsequent redevelopment of the Bull Ring shopping centre, which now includes the architecturally unique Selfridges building.

In the decades following World War II, the face of Birmingham changed dramatically, with large scale immigration from the Commonwealth of Nations] and beyond.

Birmingham's transition from an industrial centre to a tourism and services economy is best illustrated by the hosting of the first official summit of the G8 at the International Convention Centre (May 15 to May 17, 1998).


The city of Birmingham is situated just to the west of the geographical centre of England, across an area of relatively high ground, ranging around 150-200 metres above sea level. The main north-south water divide|watershed of Britain actually passes through Birmingham. The Birmingham area has recently seen several tornadoes, the most recent of which were witnessed in 2005. The watershed of the River Severn and River Trent can clearly be seen along the Perry Barr area of Birmingham and areas near Erdington where the level and gradient of the land changes significantly.

To the south and west of the city lie the Lickey Hills , Clent Hills and Walton Hill, which reach 315 metres (1,300 ft) and have good views over the city.


Birmingham is an important manufacturing and engineering centre, employing over 100,000 people in industry and contributing billions of pounds to the national economy. Over a quarter of the UK's exports originate in the greater Birmingham area.

Birmingham's industrial heritage predates the Industrial Revolution, and up until the 20th century the city maintained a tradition of individual craftsmen, sometimes working independently in their own back yards or on piecework rates in rented workshops, alongside larger factories. During the Industrial Revolution many factories, foundries and businesses prospered in the city, including the areas known as the Gun Quarter and Jewellery Quarter. Pen manufacture in Birmingham helped revolutionise writing across the world with many companies based in and around the Jewellery Quarter. The Jewellery Quarter is still the largest concentration of dedicated jewellers in Europe, and one third of the jewellery manufactured in the UK is made within one mile of Birmingham city centre. Until 2003, coins for circulation were manufactured in the Jewellery Quarter at the Birmingham Mint, the oldest independent mint in the world, which continues to produce commemorative coins and medals.

James Watt improved the steam engine while working in the city, and historically the largest manufacturers in the city have been associated with the steam, electric and petrol transport and power industries. The city's workers designed and constructed railway carriages, steam engines, motorcycles, bicycles, automobiles and even – unusually for somewhere so far from the sea – ships, which were made as pre-fabricated sections, then assembled at the coast. Birmingham was home to two major car factories: MG Rover in Longbridge and Jaguar in Castle Bromwich. The MG Rover car works went into administration in 2005, resulting in the plant being mothballed and the loss of 6,000 jobs at the site, plus more in the supply chain. Things are looking more positive in 2006 with the Nanjing Automobile Group (MG Rover's main purchasers) hoping to restart production of MG cars at Longbridge by 2007. Another small sports car manufacturer has set up business in the Longbridge premises.

The city's products include motor vehicles, vehicle components and accessories, weapons, electrical equipment, plastics, machine tools, chemicals, food, jewellery and glass. Scientific research (including research into nanotechnology at the University of Birmingham) is expanding in the city. Other famous brands from the city include Ariel Motorcycles, Bakelite, Bird's Custard, Brylcreem, BSA, Cadbury's chocolate, Chad Valley toys, Halfords, HP Sauce (but soon to be closed down by its American owners Heinz), Norton Motorcycles, Triumph Motorcycles, Typhoo Tea, Velocette Motorcycles and Valor, the list is extensive.

Birmingham has over 500 law firms, and is Europe's second largest insurance market. The city attracts over 40% of the UK's total conference trade. Two of Britain's "big four" banks were founded there. Lloyds Bank (now Lloyds TSB) began in 1765 and the Midland Bank (now HSBC Bank plc) opened in Union Street in August 1836.

In recent years Birmingham's economy has diversified into service industries, retailing, tourism and conference hosting, which are now the main employers in the city. Millions of people visit Birmingham every year, and in 2004 the city was named the second best place to shop in England after the West End of London. Attractions for visitors include Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Millennium Point, Bull Ring, Selfridges Building, Cadbury World, Tolkien Trail, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and the National Sea Life Centre.


Although Birmingham has existed as a settlement for over a thousand years, today's city is overwhelmingly a product of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, as the real growth of the city began with the Industrial Revolution. Consequently, relatively few buildings survive from its earlier history.

Traces of medieval Birmingham can be seen in the oldest churches, notably the original parish church, St Martin in the Bull Ring, where a church has stood since at least the 12th century. The current church (begun around 1290) was extensively re-built in the 1870s, retaining some original walls and foundations. A few other buildings from the medieval and Tudor periods survive, among them The Old Crown public house in Digbeth, the 15th century Saracen's Head public house and Old Grammar School in Kings Norton and Blakesley Hall in Yardley.

The city grew rapidly from Georgian times and a number of buildings survive from this period. Among them are St Philip's Cathedral, originally built as a parish church, St Paul's Church in the largely Georgian St Paul's Square, Soho House in Handsworth, the home of Matthew Boulton, Perrott's Folly in Ladywood (which is said to have later inspired J. R. R. Tolkien), and the Town Hall.

The Victorian era saw extensive building across the city. Major public buildings such as the Law Courts, the Council House (see picture) and the Museum & Art Gallery were constructed, many under the auspices of Joseph Chamberlain's reforming mayoralty. Saint Chad's Cathedral, built in 1839 by Augustus Pugin, was the first Roman Catholic Cathedral to be built in the UK since the Reformation. The characteristic materials of Victorian Birmingham are red brick and terracotta, and many fine Victorian buildings have been retained on New Street and Corporation Street in the city centre. Across the city, the need to house the industrial workers gave rise to miles of redbrick streets and terraces, many of back-to-back houses, some of which were later to become inner-city slums.

Continued population growth in the interwar period, saw vast estates of semi-detached houses being built on greenfield land in outlying parts of the city such as Kingstanding and Weoley Castle, but the coming of World War II and the Blitz claimed many lives and many beautiful buildings too. However, the destruction that took place in post-war Birmingham was also extensive: dozens of fine Victorian buildings like the intricate glass-roofed Birmingham New Street Station, and the old Central Library, were razed in the 1950s and 1960s and replaced with modernist concrete buildings. In inner-city areas too, much Victorian housing was redeveloped and existing communities were relocated to tower block estates like Castle Vale.

The planning decisions of the post-war years were to have a profound effect on the image of Birmingham in subsequent decades, with the mix of ring roads, shopping malls and tower blocks often referred to as a 'concrete jungle'. In more recent years, Birmingham has learnt from what many see as the mistakes of the 1960s and instituted the largest tower block demolition and renovation programmes anywhere in Europe. There has been a lot of new building in the city centre in recent years, including the award-winning Future Systems' Selfridges building, an irregularly-shaped structure covered in thousands of reflective discs (see picture), the Brindleyplace development and the Millennium Point science and technology centre. Some fine architects hail from the city such as Glenn Howells and Ken Shuttleworth.


Birmingham City Council is the largest local authority in the UK. Following a reorganisation of boundaries in June 2004 it has 120 councillors representing just under one million people, in 40 wards.

After the election of 4 May 2006, there is no overall control, with the 120 seats being divided between the Labour, (42 councillors), Conservative (41) and Liberal Democrat ("Lib-Dem", 33) parties, with 4 Others.

In the 2006 elections, when a third of the council was up for re-election, Labour lost a net total of two seats, the Conservatives made a net gain of one, the Liberal Democrats had no change, and Respect and the British National Party gained one each, though the BNP candidate's election was caused by a counting error and is almost certain to be subject to an electoral petition by the Labour party.

There is a Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition, with Conservative group leader Mike Whitby as Leader of the council and Lib-Dem group leader Paul Tilsley as Deputy Leader.

Birmingham's eleven constituencies are represented in the House of Commons by one Conservative, one Liberal Democrat, and 9 Labour MPs.

Birmingham is also the seat of the Government Office for the West Midlands region.

Places of interest

Famous residents

Joseph Chamberlain, Neville Chamberlain, J. R. R. Tolkien, Tony Hancock and Ozzy Osbourne are a few of the many famous names associated with Birmingham.

For a larger list see List of famous residents of Birmingham

You can also browse the list of Blue Plaques erected by The Birmingham Civic Society to the city's eminent citizens


Due in part to its central location in England, Birmingham is a major transport hub on the motorway, rail, and canal networks.

It is served by a number of major roads, including the M5, M6, M6 Toll, M40], and M42 motorways. Junction 6 of the M6 is also one of Birmingham's most famous landmarks, and probably the most famous motorway junction in the UK: Spaghetti Junction, officially called the Gravelly Hill Interchange.

Local public transport is by bus, local train and tram (the Midland Metro light railway system between the city centre and Wolverhampton). The number 11A and 11C outer circle bus routes are the longest urban bus routes in Europe. The city's main station, Birmingham New Street, is at the centre of the national rail network, whilst Birmingham International railway station serves Birmingham International Airport which has flights to cities across Europe and several Asian and North American destinations.

Birmingham is also notable for its canal system; formerly the lifeblood of the city's industries, their use is now mainly for pleasure. There are 60 kilometers (35 mi) of canals in the city, most remaining navigable. The abundance of canals has led to the frequently made claim that "Birmingham has more canals than Venice". Although this is in some sense correct (Venice has 41 kilometers (26 mi)), Birmingham is far larger, and the types of waterway are very different. Birmingham's canals are comparatively shallow artificial channels, while those in Venice are primarily reinforced natural channels between islands of the lagoon on which the city stands.


Birmingham has three universities: the University of Birmingham, Aston University and the University of Central England (UCE). It also has two other higher education colleges (Newman College of Higher Education and the Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies). The Birmingham Conservatoire and Birmingham School of Acting, both now part of UCE, offer higher education in the arts.

The city council is England's largest local education authority, directly or indirectly responsible for 25 nursery schools, 328 primary schools, 77 secondary schools and 29 special schools. It also runs the library service, with 4 million visitors annually, and provides around 4000 adult education courses throughout the year.

A minority of the city's children receive private education. King Edward's School, Birmingham is perhaps the most prestigious independent school in the city.


A cricket club was in existence in Birmingham as early as 1745, and today the city is home to Warwickshire County Cricket Club whose ground at [[Edgbaston Stadium is also a venue for international test matches. International athletics meetings take place at the open-air Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr, the home of Birchfield Harriers athletic club, which numbers many Olympic medallists among its past and present members. The National Indoor Arena (NIA) meanwhile is a major indoor athletics stadium and in 2003 hosted the 9th IAAF World Indoor Championships in Athletics. The NIA also hosts events in many other sports, such as the World Indoor Badminton Championships.

The first ever game of lawn tennis was played in Edgbaston in 1859; international tennis is still played at Edgbaston's Priory Club.

The city is home to two of the UK's oldest professional football teams: Aston Villa (1874) and Birmingham City (1875), until recently both played in the Premier League, however at the end of the 2005-2006 season Birmingham City were relegated to the Coca Cola Championship. The world's first professional football league was founded at a meeting in Aston on March 22 1885 under the auspices of William McGregor, a director of Aston Villa.

Birmingham also has a professional Rugby Union side, Moseley RFC, and there is professional basketball, boxing, hockey, skateboarding, and greyhound racing in the city.

Birmingham has a large concentration of Martial Arts Clubs and is thought by some to have the highest concentration of Martial Artists in the UK.

Birmingham has been awarded the title National City of Sport by the Sports Council.

Food & drink

Birmingham based Breweries included Ansells, Davenports and Mitchells & Butlers. Aston Manor Brewery is currently the only brewery of any significant size.

Many fine Victorian pubs and bars can still be found across the city. The oldest inn in Birmingham is the Old Crown in Deritend (circa 1450). The Anchor Inn (1797), is also nearby in Digbeth. For a more contemporary night out the city has a plethora of nightclubs and bars. Perhaps Birminghams most famous street for nights out is Broad Street which also has a cinema and many restaurants on it.

Famous food brands from Birmingham include Typhoo tea, Birds custard, Blue Bird Toffee, Bournville cocoa, Cadbury chocolate, and HP Sauce which is based within Aston.

Alum Rock, Saltley contains the largest concentration of take-away businesses in Birmingham.

Ladypool Road, Sparkhill contains the largest concentration of restaurants in Birmingham and possibly the UK.

The Wing Yip food empire first began in the city and now has its headquarters in the Chinese Quarter.

In 1945, Abdul Aziz opened a cafe shop selling curry and rice in Steelhouse Lane. This later became The Darjeeling, the first Indian restaurant in Birmingham. The Balti was invented in the city and has since received much gastronomic acclaim for the 'Balti Belt' of restaurants in the Sparkbrook, Balsall Heath and Ladypool areas. The Balti Belt is also known as the Balti Triangle among locals.

The city boasts two Michelin starred restaurants: Simpson's and Jessica's, both in Edgbaston.

The BBC Good Food Show takes place at The National Exhibition Centre, and is Britain's biggest food event.

Culture and arts

Popular music

Birmingham has had a vibrant and varied musical history over the last half-century.

In the 1960s, the "Brum Beat" era featured blues and early progressive rock bands such as The Fortunes, Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, The Move and The Moody Blues.

The city is often described as the birthplace of heavy metal music, with Judas Priest and Black Sabbath coming from Birmingham. Robert Plant and John Bonham came from nearby towns, and played in local Brum Beat bands before forming one half of Led Zeppelin.

In the 1970s members of The Move and The Idle Race formed the Electric Light Orchestra and Wizzard. The 1970s also saw the rise of reggae and ska in the city, with Steel Pulse and later on UB40, The Beat and Musical Youth. Singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading had many hits during this decade.

The 1980s brought Duran Duran, possibly the most successful new romantic group, and Dexy's Midnight Runners, and the 1990s the Charlatans, Dodgy and Ocean Colour Scene. Recent chart success has come from Mike Skinner (also known as The Streets), R&B singer Jamelia, Fyfe Dangerfield (singer/songwriter) of the Guillemots (band), Mistys Big Adventure and the Editors.

Jazz is popular in the city, and the annual Birmingham International Jazz Festival is the largest of its kind in the UK.

Party in the Park, a popular chart music event, is Birmingham's largest music festival.

In 1998, Birmingham was the host city for the Eurovision Song Contest, which took place in the National Indoor Arena in the City Centre.

Birmingham has also been synonymous in the development of the British electronic music scene. Digbeth, near the city centre, features some of the country`s top dance clubs, including Air, host to the eminent Godskitchen. The nearby National Exhibition Centre has played host to the biggest indoor dance events in the country.

Classical music

The internationally-renowned City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's home venue is Symphony Hall, where it gives frequent performances.

Birmingham is one of the few remaining cities in the UK to still have the position of City Organist. Since 1834 only 7 men have held this position, the current holder, Thomas Trotter has been in post since 1983. Free weekly recitals have been given since the organ in Birmingham Town Hall was opened. The recitals are temporarily being held in St. Philip's Cathedral, until the Town Hall organ opens again after restoration in 2006.

The equally world-renowned Birmingham Royal Ballet also resides in the city as does the world's oldest vocational dance school, Elmhurst School for Dance.

The Birmingham Triennial Music Festival took place from 1784 - 1912 and was considered the grandest of its kind throughout Britain. Music was written for the festival by Mendelssohn, Gounod, Sullivan, Dvořák, Bantock and most notably Elgar, who wrote four of his most famous choral pieces for Birmingham.

Albert William Ketèlbey was born in Alma Street, Aston in 1875.

Birmingham's other city-centre music venues include The National Indoor Arena (NIA), the CBSO Centre, Adrian Boult Hall at Birmingham Conservatoire and Birmingham Town Hall (currently closed for refurbishment).


There are many theatres in Birmingham. The four largest professional theatres are the Alexandra Theatre ("the Alex"), Birmingham Repertory Theatre ("The Rep"), the Birmingham Hippodrome and the Old Rep. The mac and Drum Arts Centre also host many professional plays.

The Fierce Festival teams with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre annually to present a series of quirky performances from local and national companies.


Literary figures associated with Birmingham include Samuel Johnson , J. R. R. Tolkien, Arthur Conan Doyle, Louis MacNeice, Washington Irving, David Lodge, W. H. Auden, Roi Kwabena and Benjamin Zephaniah.

Visual art

Birmingham has one of the largest collections of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world at The Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Edward Burne-Jones was born in Birmingham, spent his first twenty years in the city, and later became the president of the Birmingham Society of Artists. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, found in Edgbaston, was declared 'Gallery of the Year' by the 2004 Good Britain Guide. The Ikon Gallery off Broad Street hosts displays of art for the more contemporary palete.

Other famous Birmingham artists include David Cox, David Bomberg, and various Afro-Caribbean artists including Pogus Caesar, Keith Piper and Donald Rodney.

Graffiti (or "spraycan art") culture appeared in the early 1980s, and graffiti art competitions are still regularly held.

The construction of the Bull Ring Shopping Centre allowed local and international artists to display their work. These included three light wands which were erected at the main entrance, a huge mural on a glass facade located at the entrance facing New Street station and three fountains in St Martin's square in the shape of cubes, which are illuminated at night in different colours.

Festivals and shows

Birmingham is home to many national, religious and spiritual festivals including a St. George's Day party. The Birmingham Tattoo is a military show that has taken place in the city for several years. The currently biennial Caribbean- style Birmingham International Carnival was originally the Handsworth Carnival, held in Handsworth Park from 1984, but now takes place in the August of odd- numbered years, parading through the streets of Handsworth to Perry Barr Park. Birmingham Pride takes place in the 'gay village' and attracts up to 100,000 visitors each year. The city also hosts an annual arts festival (Artsfest) during September, where people can enjoy many of the regions' arts, free.

The city's largest single-day event is its St. Patrick's Day parade (Europe's second largest, after the one in Dublin).

Film and media

Birmingham is unusual in supporting two local newspapers - the Birmingham Post and the Evening Mail - as well as the Sunday Mercury, all owned by the Trinity Mirror, who also produce The Birmingham News, a weekly freesheet distributed to homes in the leafy surburbs along with Forward, the Birmingham City Council's free newspaper distributed to homes and via community centres and public buildings.

The Electric Cinema on Station Street is the oldest working cinema in the UK, and Oscar Deutsch opened his first Odeon cinema in Perry Barr during the 1920s. The Birmingham Film Festival takes place annually, and the Birmingham School of Acting won a Royal Television Society award for their short film 'Soul Boy'. Star City is said to be Europe's largest leisure and cinema complex and is not far from the Britain's only permanent drive-in cinema maintained by T-Mobile; both are in Nechells.

The BBC has its regional headquarters, BBC Birmingham, in the Mailbox, in the Convention Quarter (where they relocated from Pebble Mill), and many television and radio programmes are produced in the city, including the world's longest running radio soap opera, The Archers. The ITV Central and BBC studios are famous for many shows, including Tiswas, Crossroads, Dalziel & Pascoe, Midlands Today, the BBC Asian Network,.

Local radio stations include New Style Radio 98.7FM ,BRMB, Galaxy, Saga 105.7FM, BBC WM and Heart FM, and Kerrang, Birmingham's first dedicated rock station. There is also one hospital radio station, which covers many of the city's hospitals, called BHBN (Birmingham Hospital Broadcasting Network) Hospital Radio, which has been broadcasting since 1952.

Birmingham is also the hub for various national ethnic media, including The Voice, The Sikh Times, Desi Xpress, The Asian Today and Raj TV (based in the Mailbox).

Strange Facts

According to Google Trends Birmingham is the city that searched most for the keyword "porn" in 2005 in the entire world, per total search, that is.

Science and invention

Local inventions and notable firsts include: gas lighting, roller skate wheels, the Baskerville Font, questionnaires, Custard powder, foam rubber, the magnetron (the core component in the development of radar and microwave ovens), the UK electroplating industry, the first ever use of radiography in an operation, and the UK's first ever hole-in-the-heart operation, at Birmingham Children's Hospital.

Among the city's notable scientists and inventors are:


Birmingham is twinned with:

  • Chicago, Illinois, USA
  • Frankfurt, Germany
  • Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Leipzig, Germany
  • Lyon, France
  • Milan, Italy
  • Limassol, Cyprus

Nearby places

See also

External links







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