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BIRMINGHAM

Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the English West Midlands. It is considered by some to be the UK's "second city". It has the largest local authority in the United Kingdom, and is the second largest by urban area population. It is also one of England's core cities.

The City of Birmingham has a population of 991,900 (2003 estimate). Along with Wolverhampton, Solihull and the towns of the Black Country, Birmingham forms the largest part of a large conurbation; the "West Midlands conurbation", which has a population of 2,275,000.

The metropolitan area of which Birmingham is part is defined by the government as the West Midlands county, which also includes the city of Coventry and has a population of 2,575,000, but in practice includes parts of the surrounding counties of Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire. Based upon commuting and economic influence, the metropolitan area effecitvely extends over much of the West Midlands 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 an ethnically and culturally diverse city. Around 30% of Birmingham's population is of non-white ethnicity; 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.

History

The main article is at History of Birmingham; the following is a summary.

Birmingham has a recorded history going back 1000 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.

The Birmingham Canal Navigations between the International Convention Centre (left) and Brindleyplace (right) in central Birmingham.

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 by Queen Victoria 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".

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 much-derided 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 British Commonwealth and beyond.

Economy

New Street in central Birmingham

Main articles: Economy of Birmingham, Birmingham transport history

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 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, 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. However, the future for the former looks bleak, as MG Rover 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.

The city's present day 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 of a thousand trades" include Bakelite, Bird's Custard, Brylcreem, BSA, Cadbury's chocolate, Chad Valley toys, Halfords, HP Sauce, Typhoo Tea and Valor.

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 part of HSBC) 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.

Architecture

Main article: Architecture of Birmingham

City of Birmingham Council House, with Dhruva Mistry's 'The River' in the foreground (commonly known as 'the floozie in the jacuzzi')

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's in the Bullring, 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, and Perrott's Folly in Ladywood (which is said to have later inspired J. R. R. Tolkien).

The Victorian era saw extensive building 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. Saint Chad's Cathedral, built in 1839 by Augustus Pugin, was the first Roman Catholic Cathederal 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.

The new Selfridges building

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.