Industrial city and administrative headquarters of West Midlands metropolitan county, central England, second-largest city in the UK, 177 km/110 mi northwest of London; population (2001) 970,900. It is a major manufacturing, engineering, commercial, and service centre. The city's concert halls, theatres, and three universities also make it an important cultural and educational centre. Its chief products are motor vehicles, vehicle components and accessories, machine tools, aerospace control systems, weapons, electrical equipment, plastics, chemicals, food, chocolate (Cadbury), jewellery, and glass.
History After the Norman Conquest, Birmingham passed into the possession of the Bermingham family, and it was mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086), valued at 20 shillings. By the end of the 13th century, a market town had grown up around the Bull Ring, the meeting point of several roads. It remained in the hands of the Bermingham family until 1527, when John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, gained control of the town. In the English Civil War Birmingham supported the Parliamentarians, and it was sacked by the Royalist general Prince Rupert in 1643. The plague of 1665 caused many deaths in the city. During the 19th century Birmingham was a centre of religious Nonconformity, supporting the movements of Unitarianism, Wesleyan Methodism, and Baptism. The chemist and Unitarian minister Joseph Priestley preached at the chapel known as the New Meeting from 1780. In 1832 the city played an important part in the agitation leading to the Reform Acts. Further disturbances took place in 1839 in support of Chartism, a radical democratic movement. Birmingham was not represented in parliament until 1832. It became a borough, electing its first town council in 1838, and it was made a city in 1889. In 1911 the boundaries were extended to include the borough of Aston Manor and other districts.
Features Birmingham has many exhibition facilities, including the National Exhibition Centre, the National Indoor Arena, and the International Convention Centre. The city has an international airport. There are many miles of restored canal walks, with Birmingham known as ‘Britain's Canal City’. The Birmingham Mint (1850) is the oldest continuously operating mint in the country, and is still the biggest private mint in the UK. Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens, a unique example of a garden in the English baroque style, has been restored to the period 1680–1740. The Jewellery Quarter is still the centre of the country's jewellery trade and a rare example of a working Victorian district. The ‘Millennibrum Project’, started in 2000, involved the creation of an ongoing multimedia archive of local communities. The Millennium Point science, technology, and entertainment complex opened in 2001. Public monuments include tributes to Joseph Priestley, Thomas Attwood, Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdoch, and Horatio Nelson.
Culture and education The Birmingham Town Hall (1834) is a concert venue and was home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra until the Symphony Hall (1991), with a capacity of over 4,000, was built. Other musical institutions include the Birmingham Royal Ballet (based in London until 1990 as the Sadlers Well's Royal Ballet); Birmingham Conservatoire, now part of the University of Central England; the repertory theatre founded in 1913 by Barry Jackson; and the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. The city's international Dance Festival was launched in 2008. Galleries include the Barber Institute of Fine Arts (1932); the City Museum and Art Gallery (1885), containing a fine Pre-Raphaelite collection; and the Victorian Gas Hall, which displays temporary art exhibitions. Birmingham and Midland Museum of Transport, the regional transport museum, holds the largest collection of preserved Midland Red vehicles and a unique collection of milk floats and bread vans. Universities include the University of Birmingham (1900), Aston University (1966), and the University of Central England (1992).
Industrial history Birmingham was known from early times as a centre for the manufacture of swords, firearms, and jewellery. In the 14th century it was notable for its ironwork, and the city supplied large quantities of weapons to the Parliamentary forces of Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War. From the 1750s Birmingham also became known for the manufacture of jewellery, its silversmiths and goldsmiths being concentrated into one area of the city. However, the metal trade was the basis of the city's rapid expansion during the Industrial Revolution. Matthew Boulton and James Watt established the Soho Manufactory in Birmingham to produce steam engines. Other pioneers of industry and science in the city included the printer John Baskerville, the chemist Joseph Priestley, and William Murdoch, the first person to develop gas lighting on a commercial scale. It was a centre for munitions manufacture during both world wars, but high-tech and service industries have gradually overtaken the city's traditional but declining metal industry. Birmingham's industrial heritage is illustrated at the Millennium Point (2001), with exhibits including working steam, gas, and hot-air engines, and the oldest working steam engine in the world, made by Boulton and Watt in 1779. The Jewellery Quarter Discovery Centre illustrates the growth and decline of the trade.
Redevelopment Much of the city was rebuilt between 1875 and 1882. In the 1870s and 1880s a major slum improvement scheme and extensive rebuilding were initiated by Joseph Chamberlain, mayor of the city 1873–75. After the end of World War II, a programme of rebuilding and modernization altered the city's landscape.
The Inner Ring Road, constructed in the 1940s, later enclosed the cylindrical Rotunda office block, and the Bull Ring shopping and office complex designed by Sydney Greenwood. Built between 1961 and 1964 on the site of the old town centre, the Bull Ring was one of the first inner-city shopping precincts with multi-level shops, offices, and car parks. ‘Spaghetti Junction’, a complex multi-level motorway intersection, was constructed at Gravelly Hill, 3 km/2 mi northeast of the city centre, the first sections being opened from 1968. Much of the cramped industrial housing was demolished, and areas of the city were redeveloped with high-rise blocks and shopping centres. The Bull Ring Shopping Centre was rebuilt in 2003 and the Rotunda was refurbished and converted into luxury apartments in 2008.
Architectural features The town hall in Victoria Square, an imitation of a Roman temple, was built between 1831 and 1835 and serves as a concert venue. More recent buildings include the 150m/492 ft-high British Telecom (BT) tower and the Central Library (1974). Aston Hall (1618–35) in Aston Park, to the northeast of the city centre, is a Jacobean mansion furnished as a private house of the Jacobean period.
Churches St Philip's was built as a parish church (1709–25) by Thomas Archer, in the English baroque style. It was extended in the 1880s when four chancel windows with stained glass were added by Edward Burne-Jones, who was born nearby. It became a cathedral in 1905. St Martin's Church, the only parish church in Birmingham until 1715, was rebuilt on a 14th-century plan between 1873 and 1875. The Roman Catholic cathedral of St Chad (1839–41), designed by Augustus Pugin, was the first Roman Catholic cathedral to be built in England after the Reformation.
Suburbs To the southwest of the city centre is Bourneville, a worker's village with some 8,000 houses, constructed in the 1890s by George and Richard Cadbury. The Cadbury World Museum, an exhibition centre, is sited here. Edgbaston was first developed in the 1790s as a residential estate, and includes Cannon Hill Park, Midland Arts Centre, Edgbaston Cricket Ground, and Birmingham University. It is also the site of the botanical gardens, and King Edward VI's school, which was originally founded in 1552 and moved here in 1936.
Libraries The principal libraries are the Birmingham Library (private), founded in 1779, greatly enlarged in 1798 by Joseph Priestley, and now associated with the Birmingham and Midland Institute; the Central Reference Library, including the Shakespeare Memorial Library and the Birmingham Collection; the Commercial and Patents Library; and the Central Lending Library.
Parks Birmingham has about 1,700 ha/4,200 acres of parks and open spaces. They include Lickey Hills (212 ha/523 acres), Cannon Hill (32 ha/79 acres), Highbury (29 ha/72 acres), Handsworth (26 ha/64 acres), and Aston (20 ha/49 acres). Sutton Park, in the residential suburb of Sutton Coldfield, has been a public country recreational area since the 16th century.
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