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Encyclopedia > Birmingham, England
See also Birmingham, USA, and other places called Birmingham.
The city from above Centenary Square. (Alternative View)
City of Birmingham

Shown within the West Midlands
Status: Metropolitan borough,
city (1889)
Region: West Midlands
Ceremonial county: West Midlands
- Total
Ranked 169th
267.77 km²
ONS code: 00CN
- Total (2003 est.)
- Density
Ranked 1st
3,697 / km²
Ethnicity: 74.4% White
19.5% S. Asian
6.1% Afro-Carib.
Birmingham City Council
Leadership: Leader & cabinet
Executive: Conservative & Lib Dem

Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the UK's second largest and most ethnically diverse city and continues to be considered the country's "second city". The City of Birmingham has a population of 992,100 (2003 estimate); the Birmingham metropolitan area (the West Midlands county) has a population of 2,575,768. More than five million people live in the surrounding region.

The city is commonly known by its nickname Brum (from the local name Brummagem), and its people as Brummies. Birmingham is home to the distinctive Brummie accent and dialect.

Birmingham is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the UK, with large populations from the Caribbean and Indian sub-continent: according to the 2001 census, 25.6% of the population of Birmingham is non-white. Birmingham also has a large Irish community, and the city hosts the third largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the world, after Dublin and New York. Birmingham's balti restaurants produce some of the finest 'Indian' cuisine in the UK.

About 22 million people visit Birmingham every year and the city was voted second best place to shop in England 2004 after the West End of London. Its top attractions include Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Millennium Point, Bull Ring, Selfridges Building, Cadbury World, Tolkien Trail [1] (http://www.virtualbrum.co.uk/tolkien.htm), Birmingham Royal Ballet, and the National Sea Life Centre.

Birmingham has 35 miles (60 km) of canals within the city boundaries, of which most are navigable; the canals were once the lifeblood of the city's industries during the Industrial Revolution but are now used mainly for pleasure. It is often quoted that Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice. This is in fact true (Venice has 26 miles) although Birmingham is much larger than Venice [2] (http://jquarter.members.beeb.net/walk6x.htm).

New Street in central Birmingham


Main article: History of Birmingham

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 dark ages. It was first recorded in written documents by the Domesday Book of 1086 as a small village.

From the 12th century onwards Birmingham developed into a market centre. And by the 17th century had become 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.

During the Industrial Revolution from the mid 18th century onwards, because of abundant nearby sources of coal and iron ore and a skilled workforce, Birmingham grew into a major industrial centre. Birmingham became a centre of the British canal and later railway networks in the early 19th century.

Canals in central Birmingham

In Victorian times, the population of the city 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 variety of manufacturing industries located there. Birmingham gained city status in 1889.

Birmingham suffered heavy bomb damage during World War II, 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".

However, in recent years the city centre has been extensively renovated and restored with the construction of new squares, the restoration of old streets, buildings and canals, and the removal of much-derided pedestrian subways and the old Bull Ring shopping centre.


Birmingham is by far the UK's largest manufacturing and engineering centre, employing over 100,000 people in the industry and contributing billions to the national economy with two of the largest car plants in Britain, MG Rover and Jaguar, not counting Land Rover in nearby Solihull. - over 25% of UK exports originate in the greater Birmingham area. The main products from Birmingham include: Motor vehicles, vehicle components and accessories, weapons, electrical equipment, plastics, machine tools, chemicals, food, jewellery and glass.

Over 500 law firms exist in the city and Brum is Europe's second largest insurance market, attracting over 40% of the UK's total conference trade.

In recent years Birmingham's economy has diversified into service industries, retailing and tourism, which are now the main employers in the city. Scientific research including the controversial nano technology at Birmingham University is expanding in the city and will possibly play a part in the city's economic future. More details about the Birmingham economy (http://www.birminghameconomy.org.uk).

The city has quitely developed into one of the most important research centre's for cancer research in the world, following in the footsteps of the victorian era for medical research such as the use of X-rays for medical purposes which was pioneered by Major John Hall-Edwards in 1908, see herefor (http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/xray) more information.

The Industrial Revolution flourished in Birmingham and the surrounding Midlands towns, allowing many factories, foundries and businesses, including sword, gun and pistol manufacturers, watchmakers, jewellers, goldsmiths, attorneys, physicians, surgeons, apothecaries metallurgists and chemists to prosper.

Out of these many professions were born great inventors and possibly one of the most significant was Alexander Parkes who invented the very first celluloids which were eventually combined with railway carriages, steam engines, and even - unusual for somewhere so far from the sea - ships, which were made as pre-fabricated sections, then assembled at the coast.

Famous brands from the "city of a thousand trades" include Bird's Custard, Typhoo Tea, Brylcreem, Chad Valley Toys, BSA, Bakelite and the Birmingham Wire Gauge.

Lloyds Bank (now Lloyds TSB) began here in 1765 and The Midland Bank (now part of HSBC) opened in Union Street, in August 1836. Until 2003, coins were manufactured at the Birmingham Mint, the oldest independent mint in the world.

Breweries Ansells, Davenports and Mitchells & Butlers had their origins in Birmingham, as do Cadburys chocolate, HP Sauce and the MG Rover Group. The motor and transport industries have played a significant role in Birmingham's economy. The Motor Show takes place every other year, at the National Exhibition Centre, and in 2003 was moved to May from the usual October.


Birmingham grew out of dozens of small villages, towns and farmsteads, particularly during the Industrial Revolution. The need to house the many industrial workers that flocked to the city from other areas led to many Victorian streets and terraces of back-to-back houses, some of which were later to become inner-city slums.

Although Birmingham has existed as a settlement for over 1000 years, today's city is overwhelmingly a product of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, with relatively little surviving from its early history.

St. Martin's Church in the centre of the Bullring was Birmingham's original parish church, a church has stood on the site since the 11th century. It was extensively re-built in the 1870s although retaining some original walls and foundations. Inside the church can be seen an effigy of Sir William de Bermingham _ a medieval lord of the manor, dating from 1325. This is one of the few surviving links to Birmingham's medieval past.

Some of the city's older black and white timber buildings can still be seen today like 'The Old Crown' public house in Digbeth, the 'Stone' public house in Northfield and Stratford House in Sparkbrook.

Georgian, Tudor, Edwardian and Elizabethan buildings still survive dotted around the city. These include Bournbrook Hall (Bournville), Selly Manor (a Tudor manor house), Minworth Greaves (a medieval hall), the 15th Century "Saracen's Head" and "Old Grammar School" (both Kings Norton), Handsworth Old Town Hall (1460; an example of early cruck timber frame construction), Soho House (Handsworth, 1766), The Old Birmingham Workhouse in Lichfield street (1734) and the 29m metre high Perrots Folly Ladywood which was built in 1758 by John Perrot and which was an inspiration to Tolkien.

The Victorian era saw an extensive building programme right across the city, examples of which can still be seen, with many churches and public buildings like the Birmingham Law Courts, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, the Town Hall and the City of Birmingham Council House. Many of the public buildings were built usng red brick and terracotta. New Street and Corporation Street in the city centre have retained many of their fine Victorian buildings, providing an insight into how the city once looked.

Part of the legacy of a unique aspect to the Victorian era can be followed in Birmingham by the survival of the Green men of Birmingham or foliate heads which consist of many unusual human heads carved of stone with vegetation growing out of their faces and can be found at selected locations across the city.

Birmingham's industrial importance in World War II led to some of the heaviest bombing raids during the Blitz. This claimed many lives and many beautiful buildings too, but 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 destroyed in the 1950s and 1960s. These planning decisions were to have a profound effect on the image of Birmingham in subsequent decades, with the mix of concrete ring roads, shopping malls and tower blocks often referred to as a 'concrete jungle' or a city with no soul. The largest high-rise estate in Britain was constructed at Castle Vale with over 30 huge tower blocks in one small area. Birmingham has since learnt from this with one of the largest tower block demolition and renovation programmes anywhere in Europe, and the construction of new buildings, squares and green spaces.

The new Selfridges building

Birmingham's grade I listed Town Hall closed to the public in 1996, for a £31 million City Council-initiated major renovation. The redbrick Victoria Law Courts in Corporation Street, built in 1887, and Curzon Street Station are also Grade I listed.

Many Grade II listed buildings also remain in the city, for instance the recently-listed, though empty, Grand Hotel on Colmore Row (1875, with additions in 1876, 1891 and 1895) and the popular 200ft-high Rotunda, a circular tower block at the South end of New Street. St Philip's Cathedral, built as a parish church, is in the heart of the city, and has glass by Edward Burne-Jones, The City of Birmingham Council House (see picture above) is also Grade II listed.

Some fine arhitects hail from the city such as Ken Shuttleworth, who sketched the original designs for London's 40 storey "gherkin" landmark, he worked on the Millennium Bridge, the new Wembley Stadium and Ken Livingstone's new City Hall. He is also working on Birmingham's £7 million new bus station in Digbeth.

More up-to-date architecture includes the award winning Future Systems' Selfridges building which is an irregularly-shaped structure, covered in thousands of reflective discs (see picture). Brindleyplace and Millennium Point are also examples of recent rejuvenation. Many new projects are planned for the city, including a new Library of Birmingham in the developing Eastside, Holloway Circus Tower (a 122 metre high skyscraper under construction), John Rocha's 'fashion first' Orion Tower (under construction) and Arena Central on Broad Street.

Places of interest


One of the most prestigious schools in England, the King Edward's School is located in Edgbaston. Birmingham also has three universities: The University of Birmingham, Aston University and The University of Central England (UCE, formerly Birmingham Polytechnic). The UCE has asked Aston to consider a merger. The Birmingham Conservatoire, now part of the UCE, was established over 100 years ago and is recognised as one of the major national colleges of music which focuses on performance and composition.

The city also hosts many 'Urban Workshops' for modern music including street level DJ mixing tuition and dance hosted by many experienced musicians from ground roots enteprises like for instance Punch Records in New Town.

Mansfield College, one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford, was founded (under the name of Spring Hill College) in Birmingham but later moved to Oxford with the relaxation of non-conformists in 1886.


Sport has always played a massive part in the Birmingham ecology, from the hundreds of diverse grass roots sports clubs to the more internationally known venues, clubs and assosiations:

Culture and arts

Popular music

Below are some facts about the Birmingham music scene that you are unlikely to hear when speaking to a Brummie, no brash, boastful run down just the raw information from an innovative musical city.

In the late 1960s heavy metal music first evolved in the city and its neighbouring districts with bands such as Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, The Fortunes, The Move and Led Zeppelin which included Robert Plant. Early progressive rock and blues bands to evolve from the city in the Brum Beat era included: The Rockin Berries, The Honeycombes, Wizzard, The Spencer Davis Group, Idle Race, The Moody Blues, Judas Priest, Traffic, and The Electric Light Orchestra.

Other successful Birmingham singer/songwriters and musicians include Joan Armatrading, Steve Gibbons, Mike Kellie (of Spooky Tooth), Jeff Lynne, Phil Lynott (who formed Thin Lizzy), Carl Palmer (of Emerson Lake and Palmer), Steve Winwood, Roy Wood and Nick Mason.

Mothers rock venue ran in Erdington from 1968 _ 1971 and The list of bands who played there reads like a roll call of rock legends: Pink Floyd recorded part of Ummagumma, The Who performed Tommy and Traffic staged their debut gig. The club was voted number one rock venue in the world by America's Billboard magazine.

Birmingham-based tape recorder company, Bradmatic Ltd helped develop and manufacture the mellotron. Over the next 15 years, the mellotron had a major impact on rock music and is a trademark sound of the era's progressive bands.

During the 1970s Birmingham's large West Indian population spawned what is arguably one of the earliest roots reggae bands in the UK, Steel Pulse. With their ground breaking 1970s album Handsworth Revolution they proved that English Reggae music could offer something more than just sound system. They were soon followed by the first truly mixed race UK dub reggae band, UB40. Other 1970s Reggae orientated groups were 2 tone band The Beat, and Musical Youth who (along with UB40, Pablo Falconer and Pato Banton) were part responsible for bringing UK reggae into the homes of everyday 1980s Britain. More recent successful Reggae artists include the Brummie Rasta MC Chesire Cat who wrote and rapped on the Leftfield album 'Rhythm and Stealth' and MC Ebu who toasts at various events across the UK.

The 1980s brought New Romantic super-group Duran Duran, who formed in the city and worked in Birmingham's famous Rum Runner nightclub in the 1970s. Also Stephen "Tintin" Duffy emanated from late 1970s/early 1980s Birmingham, as did Dexy's Midnight Runners.

The Birmingham Hip Hop scene evolved alongside London in the early eighties, inspired by a U.S. culture of Electro, breakdance and graffiti art a popular pirate radio station called 'Fresh F.M.' broadcast from Birmingham. The station played hip hop and breakdance records and inspired a rap crew called Jump who released two records, 'We Come to Jam' and 'Feel It', as early as 1985.

In the mid and late 1980s, Grindcore music, a blend of punk and heavy metal was created in Birmingham. Bands such as Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower, Godflesh and Benediction arose in that era.

The late 1980s/1990s Indie music scene saw bands such as Birdland, The Charlatans, Dodgy, Denim, Ocean Colour Scene, WonderStuff, Pop Will Eat Itself, Electribe 101, Fine Young Cannibals and Ned's Atomic Dustbin who all eminated from the city and its surrounding satellite towns.

Bhangra Rap evolved in Handsworth in the early 1990s with Apache Indian who later went on to host his own radio show on BBC Radio 1. Many other Bhangra bands are based in the city.

Jazz is popular in the city. The Birmingham International Jazz Festival takes place annually and is the largest of its kind in the UK. Some of the city's jazz musicians include Soweto Kinch and King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys.

Birmingham has embraced house music since the late 1980s. Acid House nights such as Spectrum took place at the Digbeth Institute (now the Sanctuary) and the Hummingbird (now the Carling Academy Birmingham). Some of the UK's most influential dance nights including Gods Kitchen, Chuff Chuff, Wobble, Miss Moneypenny's, Gatecrasher, Sundissential, Atomic Jam, House of God and the original C.R.E.A.M. have their roots in the city and have been supported by local figures such as the late Tony De Vit, Steve Lawler and Steve Kelley.

More recent artists include electro dub creators Rockers Hi-Fi; Big Beat musicians Bentley Rhythm Ace; Garage/House band The Streets; and Electronica bands Broadcast, Pram, Plone, Surgeon, Add N to X and Avrocar. R&B singer Jamelia is also from the city as is Kelli Dayton of The Sneaker Pimps and the rock band Ocean Colour Scene.

Party in the Park is Birmingham's largest music festival, at Cannon Hill Park, where up to 30,000 revellers of all ages enjoy popular chart music.

Some of Birmingham's rock, dance and indie music venues include The National Indoor Arena (NIA), Carling Academy Birmingham, the National Exhibition Centre's Indoor Arena, Scruffy Murphy's, the Custard Factory, Edward's No. 8, mac (Midlands Arts Centre), and the Drum Arts Centre.

Classical music

The internationally-renowned City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's home venue is Symphony Hall, where it gives frequent performances. The equally world-renowned Birmingham Royal Ballet also resides in the city as will the world's oldest vocational dance school, Elmhurst.

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, Dvorak, 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 on 9 August, 1875, the son of a teacher at the Vittoria School of Art, Ketèlbey attended the Trinity College of Music, where he beat the runner-up, Gustav Holst, for a musical scholarship.

Birmingham's other city- centre music venues include The National Indoor Arena (NIA), CBSO Centre, Adrian Boult Hall (ABH) at Birmingham Conservatoire and the Birmingham Town Hall,currently closed for refurbishment, which played host to many classical and popular music performances from the late 1800s.


Many famous literary figures have been associated with Birmingham:

  • Arthur Conan Doyle [3] (http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/doyle) lived in Aston from about Spring 1879 - early 1882 and many of his works include references to people or places he knew there.
  • Barbara Cartland or "The Lady in Pink" was born in Edgbaston July 9th 1901. The family home was on Cartland Road, Kings Heath.
  • John Wyndham novelist and author of The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos and The Chrysalids was born in nearby Knowle and lived in Edgbaston until he was eight years old.
  • Arthur Henry Ward who was born in Birmingham wrote the Fu Manchu thrillers under the pseudonym of Sax Rohmer.
  • W. H. Auden grew up in Harbourne, Birmingham, and his epic poem Letter to Lord Byron meditates on the landscapes of the Birmingham-Wolverhampton rail line.
  • Enoch Powell was born & raised in Birmingham, and was a significant poet as well as a politician.
  • Benjamin Zephaniah is a famous black dub poet from Handsworth who tackles predudice, poverty and injustice.
  • Charles Dickens gave readings in Birmingham Town Hall.
  • The Lord of the Rings author J. R. R. Tolkien spent most of his childhood in the Birmingham area, and his work is much influenced by his time there [4] (http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/tolkien) his parents also came from Birmingham.
  • Judith Cutler's crime novels are set in present-day Birmingham.
  • Washington Irving [5] (http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/irving) lived in Birmingham for some time, during which he wrote stories including Rip van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Bracebridge Hall, or, The Humorists, A Medley is based on Aston Hall.
  • In October 2000 Roshan Doughe became the fifth Poet Laureate for Birmingham.
  • Emma Jane Worboise was born in Birmingham and is well known for her many works and holds a place in the Dictionary of National Biography.
  • William Hutton 1723-1815, moved from Derby to Birmingham at a young age and became well know in the region as a poet and documented the history of the region in many books.
  • Jonathan Coe born and raised in Birmingham which is the setting of two of his novels The Rotters' Club and The Closed Circle.

The city also has literary publishers such as Tindal Street Press.


In recent years a plethora of exciting restaurants and eateries have been quietly evolving in a vibrant Birmingham, there have always been good quality restaurants in the city though many were overlooked in past two decades due to Birminghams desolate, concrete image from a sometimes innacurate outside press.

Birmingham is twinned with Lyon which is renowned for it's fine quisine. To date Brum has received most of it's gastronomic acclaim for the Balti belt of restaurants in the spark brook, balsall heath and ladywood areas, however the City now boasts two Michelin stars. Simpson's and Jessica's, both in Edgbaston

  Results from FactBites:
Birmingham - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (3972 words)
Birmingham suffered heavy bomb damage during World War II, 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.
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).
Birmingham's eleven constituencies are represented in the House of Commons by one Conservative, one Liberal Democrat, and 9 Labour MPs.
AllRefer.com - Birmingham, city, England (British And Irish Political Geography) - Encyclopedia (594 words)
The city is equidistant from Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, and London, England's main ports, and near the Black Country iron and coal deposits; it was connected to the Staffordshire mines by the Birmingham Canal in the 18th cent.
Birmingham is Britain's second largest city (in both area and population) and is the center of water, road, and rail transportation in the Midlands.
The Univ. of Birmingham is in the suburb of Edgbaston, as is the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, a Roman Catholic shrine that was formerly the parish house of John Henry Cardinal Newman.
  More results at FactBites »



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