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This article is about the city in England. See also Birmingham, Alabama in the USA, and other places called Birmingham.

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
(2001 census)
70.4% White
2.9% Mixed
19.5% Asian
6.1% Black
1.2% Chinese or Other
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 second largest and second most ethnically diverse city in the UK and is regarded as Britain's "second city". The City of Birmingham has a population of 992,100 (2003 estimate), while the Birmingham metropolitan area (the West Midlands metropolitan 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. Along with large populations from the Caribbean and Indian subcontinent, Birmingham is home to a large traditional Irish community. The city hosts the third largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the world, after Dublin and New York, while Birmingham's Balti restaurants produce some of the finest Indian cuisine in the UK.

About 22 million 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 [1]. Its top attractions include Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Millennium Point, Bull Ring, Selfridges Building, Cadbury World, Tolkien Trail [2], 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 [3].



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.

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, the removal of much-derided pedestrian subways, and the demolition and subsequent redevelopment of the Bull Ring shopping centre, which now includes the architecturally unique Selfridges building.


New Street in central Birmingham
New Street in central Birmingham

Main article: Economy of Birmingham

Birmingham is an important manufacturing and engineering centre, employing over 100,000 people in the industry and contributing billions to the national economy. Over 25% of UK exports originate in the greater Birmingham area. The greatest advances in the Steam Engine were discovered in Brum and historically the largest manufacturers in the city have evolved out of the Steam, Electric and Petrol Engine's. Bicycles, Automobiles, Aeroplanes and Trains have all contributed towards the Birmingham transport history. The city's present day manufacture include: motor vehicles, vehicle components and accessories, weapons, electrical equipment, plastics, machine tools, chemicals, food, jewellery and glass. Birmingham is home to two major car factories, MG Rover in Longbridge and Jaguar in Castle Bromwich. However, the future for manufacturing at Longbridge now looks bleak, due to MG Rover recently going into administration, resulting in the plant being mothballed and the loss of 6,000 jobs at the site. Land Rovers are manufactured in neighbouring Solihull, at their Lode Lane facility.

The Jewellery Quarter is the largest concentration of dedicated jewellers in Europe. 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.

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 research into the controversial nano technology at the University of Birmingham, is expanding in the city and will possibly play a part in the city's economic future. More details about the Birmingham economy.

Over 500 law firms exist in the city and Birmingham 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 in Birmingham. Lloyds Bank (now Lloyds TSB) began here in 1765 and The Midland Bank (now part of HSBC) opened in Union Street, in August 1836.

Historically, the Industrial Revolution was fueled by the most significant developments in the Steam Engine which took place in Birmingham, allowing many factories, foundries and businesses to prosper in the Gun Quarter and Jewellery Quarter, with watchmakers, goldsmiths, attorneys, physicians, surgeons, Breweries, apothecaries, metallurgists, chemists, Bicycle and Automobile manufacturers also prospering. The city's workmen designed and constructed railway carriages, steam engines, and even - unusually for somewhere so far from the sea - ships, which were made as pre-fabricated sections, then assembled at the coast.

Numerous inventors emerged from these different professions, and the city's skilled workforce and infrastructure encouraged other inventors and businessmen from across the world to set up shop in the city. (See Inventors and Inventions).

Famous brands from the "city of a thousand trades" include Bird's Custard, Lloyds TSB, Halfords, Typhoo Tea , the Birmingham Wire Gauge, Imperial Wire Gauge & British Standard Gauge, Music Wire (English) Brylcreem, Valor Company Ltd (Valor) Midland Bank, Chad Valley Toys, BSA, Bakelite, Celluloid, Cadburys chocolate, HP Sauce and the MG Rover Group.


Main article: Architecture of Birmingham

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 city's oldest churches, notably Birmingham's original parish church, St Martin's in the Bullring. A church has stood on the site since at least the 12th century. The current building (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 began to grow rapidly in 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, and Perrott's Folly in Ladywood (which is said to have later inspired J. R. R. Tolkien).

The Victorian era saw an extensive building programme right across the city. Major public buildings such as the Town Hall, 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. 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 wider city, the need to house the industrial workers who flocked here 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 raized 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.

Places of interest


See main article: Transport in Birmingham


See main article: Telecommunication in Birmingham


Main article: Education in Birmingham

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.

Birmingham School of Acting is one of the UK's leading vocational drama schools it offers two fully funded higher education courses and also offers a range of part time, summer schools and short courses for adults and children.

Elmhurst School for Dance is the oldest and one of the most successful vocational dance Schools in the UK. After recently relocating from London to Edgbaston the school has teamed up with Birmingham Royal Ballet.

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.


Main article: Sport in Birmingham

Birmingham has been awarded the title National City of Sport by the Sports Council , and sport has long played an important role in the life of the city at every level from the hundreds of diverse grass-roots sports clubs to internationally known venues, clubs and associations.

The city is home to two of the UK's oldest professional football teams: Aston Villa (1874) and Birmingham City (1875), both of whom currently play in the Premier League. 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.

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 is also a venue for international test matches. International meets in athletics take place at the open-air Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr, which is also the base of the Birchfield Harriers athletic club, which numbers many Olympic medallists among its past and present members. The National Indoor Arena (NIA) meanwhile is Britain's premier 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.

Professional golf is played at The Belfry (4km outside Birmingham) which has hosted The Ryder Cup four times, and rugby union, basketball, boxing, hockey, and greyhound racing all take place on a professional level in the city. The first ever game of lawn tennis was played in Edgbaston in 1859 by Major Thomas Henry Gem and Batista Pereira, both residents of the city, and international tennis is still played at Edgbaston's Priory Club.

Culture and arts

Main article: Arts in Birmingham

Popular music

Over the years Birmingham has been a centre of innovation for many different types of music.

Billy King and the Nightriders were a 1950s rock band from the 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), Roy Wood, Nick Mason with Steve Winwood and Dave Mason who were close friends of Jimi Hendrix. Winwood played on 5 Hendrix LP's and Hendrix first heard "All Along The Watchtower" by Bob Dylan at a party he was invited to by Mason, he decided to record his own version the same night with Mason playing acoustic guitar.

Mothers rock venue ran in Erdington from 1968 to 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', MC Ebu who toasts at various events across the UK and the up and coming Murray Man.

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 (later to become The Bureau.

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.

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, Jeremy Sylvester , Steve Lawler and Steve Kelley , Scott Bond and Hard To Find Records which is the original Dance music finder in the UK and now trades as one the largest vinyl and DJ stores in the world. Local record labels include Different Drummer Records and Urban Dubz Records. Network Records was an influential Techno label of the early 90's with acts such as Altern8.

More recent artists include electro dub creators Rockers Hi-Fi; Big Beat musicians Bentley Rhythm Ace; The Editors ; Mistys Big Adventure; Garage/House act 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, reggae 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, the Jug of Ale , the Jam House and the Hibernian.


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 . Jools Holland is musical director of the Jam House in St Paul's Square where international jazz musicians entertain a lively audience.

Venues and Events

Party in the Park in Cannon Hill Park is Birmingham's largest music festival where up to 30,000 revellers enjoy popular chart music. Major venues in the city include the National Indoor Arena, the Carling Academy Birmingham, the National Exhibition Centre's Indoor Arena, the Custard Factory, the 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 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, 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.


Ever since the 1850s Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter had become the world's centre for the steel pens and steel nibs trade, employing thousands of people, and pioneering craftsmanship, manufacturing processes and employment opportunities for women. The availability of affordable pens enabled the development of education and literacy throughout the world.

Many famous literary figures have been associated with Birmingham:

The city also has literary publishers such as Tindal Street Press and hosts The Young Book Reader UK festival .

Food & drink

In the days of the Industrial Revolution many pubs and bars catered for the city's hungry workforce. The first local brewery on a large scale appears to have been the Birmingham Old Brewery which was erected in Moseley Street in 1782. By 1890 Birmingham was home to 2,178 public houses which were often judged by the quality of their "stingo" (beer).

Many successful Birmingham based Breweries such as Ansells , Holt Brewery Co Ltd, Kings Heath brewery, Davenports and Mitchells & Butlers prospered from the local fondness of Ale. Many of these old brands were later bought out by other breweries and with the national taste for ale subsiding, many were subsequently closed down.

Bought out in 2000 by Aston Manor Brewery is the surviving Highgate Brewery . Brewed without a break since 1899 and with many CAMRA awards, the most famous ale brewed there is the award winning classic 'Dark Mild' which has been awarded three gold medals at the International Brewing Awards as well as two silver trophies. Dark Mild is noted for its taste of chocolate, liquorice, roast malt and fruit. Banks's brewery still operates in nearby Wolverhampton and retains many period public houses across Birmingham and the Midlands.

Many fine Victorian pubs and bars can be found across the city in areas such as the Irish Quarter. In Aston, the Barton Arms survives, retaining its intricate carvings and tiling. Other fine period pubs which have been praised by travel writer Bill Bryson include the Three Magpies in Hall Green, the Red Lion in Kings Heath and the British Oak in Stirchley. The oldest Inn in Birmingham is the Old Crown in Digbeth, which dates back to circa 1450. The Anchor Inn, also in Digbeth, dates back to 1797 and won the prestigious CAMRA award of 'Regional Pub of the Year' in 1996/7 and again in 1998/9.

In 1792, Lord McCartney , the British Ambassador to China, wrote to Matthew Boulton, the great Birmingham businessman, requesting the presence of a skilled worker to accompany him on his posting in the first British trade mission to China. The mission had an effect. A letter to Matthew Boulton from James Cobb at East India House in London in 1794, noted how the Chinese Embassy was very interested in Birmingham manufactured goods: Birmingham's metal goods helped to pay for the vast quantities of tea, which Britain imported from that country.

During the early 19th century Thomas Ridgway began trading in the bull ring, selling Tea he was of the earliest British Tea pioneers. Ridgway later went bankrupt, setting up business in London he payed back all of his creditors and continued his tea trade becoming one of the first English tea companies to hygienically prepack tea so as to avoid adulteration. In 1876 Queen Victoria commanded House of Ridgways to create a blend for her own personal use. Her Majesty's Blend is born. In 1863 William Sumner published "A Popular Treatise on Tea". In 1870 Sumner (founder of Typhoo) started a pharmacy/grocery business in Birmingham. The Typhoo and Ridgway brand name are now owned by Premier Brands USA.

Birmingham's earliest food trade connections with the West Indies involved the importation of limes and cocoa during the mid to late 1800's.

"The Montserrat Co. Ltd. was formed in Edgbaston by J.& E. Sturge. Lime juice was produced in the city and then exported for use in the manufacture of citric acid. The failure of Sicily's lemon crop at that time resulted in an opening in the market which Sturge took great advantage of utilizing their extensive chemical works based in Edgbaston. The company was set up by the Sturge and Albright families who funded the development of Montserrat estates in 1867. The lime juice was used as a source of Vitamin C to prevent scurvy among seafearers.

Joseph Sturge bought the Elberton Sugar Estate in 1857, he converted it into a lime production plant, he also wanted to prove that free labour could be made profitable. (The Sturge family were instrumental in the anti-slavery movement .)

Famous food brands that originate from Brum include Typhoo tea, Birds custard (and custard powder), Blue Bird Toffee, Bournville cocoa, world-renowned Cadburys chocolate, and HP Sauce. Daddy's ketchup is also made in the city.

In 1896, a new building was built in Corporation Street by the supervision of a pioneering vegetarian by the name of James Henry Cook , this was to become the first ever Vegetarian Hotel and Restaurant in England and possibly the world. Subsequently in 1898 'The Pitman Vegetarian Hotel' was opened, named after Sir Isaac Pitman, who was a famous Vegetarian. Shortly after the immense success of the 'Pitman' the first ever Health Food Store was opened in the city.

Birmingham is home to a wide variety of Asian eateries which have served the people of Birmingham since the 1950's, the Wing Yip food empire first began in the city and now has its headquarters in the Chinese Quarter along with many other fine oriental restaurants.

In 1945 Abdul Aziz opened a cafe shop selling curry and rice in Steelhouse Lane. This later became The Darjeeling, the first Indian in Birmingham, owned by Afrose Miah. The second was The Shah Bag on Bristol Street and the growth really got underway in the 1950’s. The Aloka opened on Bristol Street in 1960 and Banu on Hagley Road in 1969. 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 Ladywood areas of the city.

Thai Edge, which started out in Brindley Place has been praised as one of the top ten Asian restaurants in the UK by The Independent magazine.

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 the last two decades due to Birmingham's desolate, concrete image from a sometimes inaccurate outside press.

Birmingham is twinned with Lyon which is renowned for its fine cuisine. The city now boasts two Michelin stars . Simpson's and Jessica's, both in Edgbaston, were awarded one star each in the 2005 Michelin restaurant guide for Great Britain and Ireland. Jessica's was also named AA England Restaurant of the Year 2004/2005.

The BBC Good Food Show takes place at The NEC and is Britain's biggest and most extensive food event.


Kenneth Peacock Tynan is possibly Brums most famous character linked to the Theatrical scene.

Birmingham Amateur Dramatic Federation ran from 1926-28.

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 centres also host many professional plays. The actors in the long-running Radio 4 serial The Archers live in and around Birmingham, where the supposedly rural programme is recorded.

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


Visual art


An "Academy of Arts" was organised in 1814, and an exhibition of paintings took place in Union Passage that year. A School of Design, or "Society of Arts," was started Feb. 7, 1821; Sir Robert Lawley (the first Lord Wenlock) presenting a valuable collection of casts from Grecian sculpture. The first exhibition was held in 1826, in a building on New Street. The "Society of Artists" commenced in 1826, when several gentlemen withdrew from the School of Design.

The first Ballot for pictures to be chosen from the Annual Exhibition of Local Artists took place in 1835

Birmingham has one 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.

David Cox was a famous Birmingham watercolour artist and President of the Associated Artists in Water Colour in 1810.

David Bomberg's first well known works date from the 1910s. They are rather complex geometric compositions built over relatively traditional subjects, and typically use a limited number of striking colours with humans being turned into simple, angular shapes, some have likened these works to 70's New York Graffiti (aka Bombing). Bomberg travelled France where he met Modigliani and Picasso.

The Birmingham Surrealists were prominent in the city's arts in the early and mid 20th century.

The Birmingham Arts Lab was an important centre for alternative comic art in the late 1970s.

Contemporary African Caribbean artists and photographers who have exhibited internationally include Pogus Caesar, Keith Piper and the late Donald Rodney

Graffiti (or "spraycan art") culture appeared in the early 1980s, with the area featuring in Channel 4 documentary Bombing. Graffitti art competitions are still regularly held.

Current galleries:

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts is housed at the University of Birmingham and although only a small gallery it was declared 'Gallery of the Year' by the Good Britain Guide 2004.

The Ikon Gallery is housed in a neo-gothic former school in Brindley Place and showcases modern art. Number 9 The Gallery is close by.

The Halcyon Gallery is located inside the International Convention Centre. It opened with a major retrospective of Robert Lenkiewicz, and has continued with exhibitions by artists as diverse as Rolf Harris and L.S. Lowry.

The Water Hall gallery displays a regular showcase of modern art which includes local artists and others sometimes from the city's own extensive collection.

Harborne Gallery , the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and the 'New Gallery' in St Pauls square also shows local artists.

The old Bird's Custard Factory is now one of the largest media and arts villages in Europe, with exhibitions and modern sculpture and water features.

The mac hosts theatre performances, concerts, literature and poetry showcases, courses, film screenings and small art exhibitions.

The Drum Arts Centre features works of African, Asian and Caribbean contemporary artists.

The Big Peg is a large complex of studios for artists and designers, based just outside the city centre in Hockley.

Selly Oak ball park is home to many graffiti murals that change on a regular basis. Other graffiti art can be seen across the city on disused buildings and canal tow-paths as well as subways.

There are a variety of other small and private galleries in the city.

OOM Gallery online art gallery representing filmaker and artist Pogus Caesar

Birmingham Arts Fest is an annual citywide event which incorporates many venues and public squares, the events celebrate the West Midland art scene.

Festivals and shows

Birmingham is home to many national, religious and spiritual festivals including a St. George's Day party and the third largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the world, after New York City and Dublin.

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 Perry Barr Park. Birmingham Pride takes place in Birmingham's gay village and attracts up to 100,000 visitors each year.

Film and media

In 1742 Aris's Gazette was established as Birmingham's first newspaper.

Celluloid was invented by Brummie, Alexander Parkes (1813-90) in Birmingham, this man is thus responsible for the further development and evolution of film and photography.

The Electric Cinema on Station street is the oldest working Cinema in the UK and was once reputedly a haunt of George Bernard Shaw.

Albert Austin (born 13 December 1881 or 1885) was an actor, film star, director and script writer, primarily in the days of silent movies. He was born in Birmingham. He worked for Charlie Chaplin's Stock Company and played supporting roles in many of Chaplin's films, and working as his assistant director.

In the 1920's Oscar Deutsch opened his first Odeon cinema in the UK in Perry Barr. By 1930 the Odeon was a household name and still thrives today.

In 1930 the Birmingham Film Society was set up.

Brummiewood is a name given to the film industry in Birmingham. The Birmingham School of Acting recently won a Royal Television Society Award for their short film 'Soul Boy'. Moseley dance centre also contributes to the city's drama and dance tallent.

The Birmingham Film Festival takes place annually at various Broad Street venues. It highlights local talent as well as a wide spectrum of international productions.

Science and invention

Main article: Science and invention in Birmingham

People from the West Midlands are the most successful innovators in Britain.

Statistics published by the UK’s patent office confirm that in 2002 more than a quarter (28.7 per cent) of all applications filed with the Patent Office by West Midlands residents were granted, well above the national average of 16.4 per cent.

Some of the City's more groundbreaking inventors include Frederick William Lanchester who was arguably the single most innovative automobile developer in the UK, he patented disc brakes in 1902, and in 1895 he and his brother built the first petrol driven four-wheeled car in Britain. Fred also experimented with the wick carburetor, fuel injection, turbochargers and invented the accelerator pedal and the Pendulum Governor for controlling the speed of an engine. In 1893 Fred designed and built his first engine (a vertical single cylinder) which was fitted to the first all British powerboat.

John Roebuck was a physician, chemist, and inventor. He acted as a chemical consultant to local industries in Birmingham and invented the lead chamber process of manufacturing sulfuric acid and a process for producing malleable iron in the city.

In 1876 William Bown patented a design for the wheels of roller skates which embodied his effort to keep the two bearing surfaces of an axle, fixed and moving, apart. Bown worked closely with Joseph Henry Hughes who drew up the patent for a ball or roller bearing race for bicycle and carriage wheels which includes all the elements of an adjustable system in 1877. These two men are thus responsible for the modern day roller skate and skate board wheels as well as the ball bearing race inclusion in velocipedes later to become motorbikes and automobiles.

George Elkington and Henry Elkington founded the electroplating industry in England in the early 1800's. In 1840 they aided John Wright who discovered that potassium cyanide was a suitable electrolyte for gold and silver electroplating. Wright first showed that items could be electroplated by immersing them in a tank of silver held in solution, through which an electric current was passed.

Matthew Boulton was proprietor of the Soho engineering works, his partnership with James Watt made the steam engine into the power plant of the Industrial Revolution, the term "horsepower" was coined in Birmingham by Watt. The measurement of Watts also originated there.

Watt also invented the letter copying machine , a forerunner of the photocopier.

In 1740 the manufacturer John Baskerville, (well known for his fine quality books (and typefounding) created the Baskerville Font, Baskerville also began to imitate the lacquered papier mâché from Japan around this time. One of his employee's Henry Clay went on to patent his own superior form of papier mâché in 1772 so strong that it was equally as durable as wood.

William Murdock, who worked for Boulton and Watt at Soho, Handsworth, developed gas lighting. His cottage at Soho Foundary was the first domestic building to be lit by gas in 1798.

Sir Francis Galton, who created eugenics (the "science" of breeding "better" humans), questionnaires and many important tools in statistics, was born in Birmingham. Galton avidly supported the theories of his cousin Charles Darwin, who was born in nearby Shrewsbury, he also furthered the most important advances in fingerprinting.

X-Ray photography for medical purposes was pioneered by Major John Hall-Edwards who took the first ever radiograph used to assist in an operation in Birmingham in 1896. (See here for more information). In February 1950 the first hole-in-the heart operation in England was performed at Birmingham Children's Hospital . The city has also become an internationally important centre for cancer research.

In 1921, the first British patent for windscreen wipers was registered by Mills Munitions of Birmingham.

John Boyd Dunlop chose to build the first and greatest of his factories in Birmingham called Fort Dunlop and in 1929 Foaming Latex was invented in a research lab in the complex. E. A. Murphy and W. H. Chapman collaborated to produce this material.

Maurice Wilkins was educated at the University of Birmingham and later worked on the Manhattan Project on the separation of uranium isotopes for use in atomic bombs. Shortly thereafter, he discontinued his research in nuclear physics to concentrate on problems in molecular biology and shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery and documentation of DNA molecules.

In 1905 an improved Vacuum cleaner device was invented by Walter Griffiths Manufacturer of 72, Conybere Street, Highgate. It was originally patented as 'Griffith's Improved Vacuum Apparartus for Removing Dust from Carpets'. The idea of using a vacuum as a cleaning device was originally patented by H. Cecil Booth in 1901, this subsequently gave way to other prototypes, Griffith's design is arguably the closest that bears a resemblance to modern day electric cleaners.

Darby's electrical Heat-Indicator and Fire Alarm was patented by George Andrew Darby in 1902.

Custard powder and Brylcreem were also invented in the city.

Possibly one of the most significant inventors from Birmingham was Alexander Parkes who invented the very first celluloids which were eventually combined with electroplating to give birth to film. Parkes also showcased parkesine at the Great International Exhibition in London (otherwise known as the World's Fair) which is the first ever form of plastic. This substance -- which the public dubbed parkesine -- was an organic material derived from cellulose that could be molded after heating, but retained its shape when it cooled. (As opposed to Bakelite (also a primarily Birmingham produced substance), which is entirely synthetic.)

In 1850 the first commercial use of Uranium in glass was developed by Lloyd & Summerfield of Brum.

The magnetron, the core component in the development of radar and the first microwave power oscillators were developed at Birmingham University during World War II (the microwave oven owes it's existance to these developments).

Birmingham at war

Main article: Birmingham military history

At Metchley Camp , near to Harborne there are the remains of an old camp or station which it is said date back to the Roman invasion of Britain possibly built by the ancient Britons.

Nobility from Brumichan helped fund ships to fight off the Spanish Armada.

Gun manufacture in the city pre-dates 1689, when inquiries were made through Sir Richard Newdigate as to the possibility of getting small arms manufactured in the town which would be as good as those coming from abroad. By the end of the eighteenth century, when the development of the flintlock pistol had been perfected, Birmingham was the foremost arms producer in the world; by some one million items over its nearest rival, London, and was employing a few thousand people who in the main worked within a definite area, this became known as the Gun Quarter. Arms for the Napoleonic Wars and American Civil War were produced in Brum by the hundreds of thousands.

Munitions production for Britain was carried out by the women and children of Brum in the eighteen and nineteen hundreds leaving many deaths and casualties due to such a dangerous explosive process.

The first Nazi U-boat to be sunk during The Great War was by the HMS Birmingham naval ship.

Immense recruitment drives in the city by the Government in the first and second world wars lead to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment being created who went on to win many awards for bravery.

1st September 1939 - Approximately 75,000 Birmingham schoolchildren were evacuated to make way for the Battle of Britain. On 8th August 1940 the first air-raid on Birmingham took place over Erdington. Due to her massive industrial and military significance a D-notice was served over Birmingham during the Nazi Blitz. This meant that during Birmingham's 27 enemy air raids an official request by the Government to news editors not to publish such reports left the city's bereaved quite indignant and bitter.

Over 2,000 women, children and elderly were killed and 3,000 more were seriously injured in the air raids. Many of the attacks were aimed at the thousands of factories that manufactured weapons of war including the Castle Bromwich aeroplane factory that mass produced the Spitfire fighter aircraft. The longest raid took place on 11th December and lasted 13 hours, King George VI inspected damage the next day. To this day no memorial exists in the city to commemorate the innocent civilians who died in the air raids.

Longbridge car plant and B.S.A. were turned into massive war machines during the first and Second World War.

May 1945 - victory in Europe celebrations took place in all corners of the city.

Famous residents

Neville Chamberlain, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ozzy Osbourne are amongst the many famous names associated with Birmingham.

For a full list see Famous people from Birmingham.

Nearby places

Twin towns and partner cities

(see twin towns)

See also

External links

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