City of Birmingham
—  City and Metropolitan borough  —
From top left: Birmingham City Centre from the west; Selfridges in the Bull Ring; Birmingham Town Hall; St Philip's Cathedral; the University of Birmingham; Alpha Tower.

Coat of Arms of the City Council
Nickname(s): "Brum", "The Second City", "City of a thousand trades", "Workshop of the World”
Motto: Forward
Birmingham shown within England and the West Midlands
Coordinates: 52°28′59″N 1°53′37″W / 52.48306°N 1.89361°W / 52.48306; -1.89361
Sovereign state United Kingdom United Kingdom
Constituent country England England
Region West Midlands
Ceremonial county West Midlands
Admin HQ The Council House
Founded 7th century
Municipal borough 1838
City 1889
 - Type Metropolitan borough
 - Body Birmingham City Council
 - Lord Mayor Anita Ward (L)
 - Council Leader Mike Whitby (C)
 - Council Control Conservative / Liberal Democrat Coalition
 - MPs Richard Burden (L)
Liam Byrne (L)
Jack Dromey (L)
Roger Godsiff (L)
John Hemming (LD)
Khalid Mahmood (L)
Shabana Mahmood (L)
Steve McCabe (L)
Andrew Mitchell (C)
Gisela Stuart (L)
 - Total 103.4 sq mi (267.77 km2)
Elevation 459 ft (140 m)
Population (2008 est.)
 - Total 1,036,900 (Ranked 1st)
 - Density 9,684/sq mi (3,739/km2)
 - Conurbation 2,284,093
 - Ethnicity
(2009 estimates[1])
68.0% White (63.3% White British)
19.7% South Asian
6.6% Black
3.1% Mixed Race
1.1% Chinese
1.5% Other
Time zone Greenwich Mean Time (UTC+0)
 - Summer (DST) British Summer Time (UTC+1)
Postcode B
Area code(s) 0121
ISO 3166 code GB-BIR
ONS code 00CN
OS grid reference SP066868

Birmingham (Listeni/ˈbɜrmɪŋəm/ bur-ming-əm, locally /ˈbɜrmɪŋɡəm/ bur-ming-gəm) is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 (2010 estimate),[2] and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a population of 2,284,093 (2001 census).[3] Birmingham's metropolitan area, which includes surrounding towns to which it is closely tied through commuting, is also the United Kingdom's second most populous with a population of 3,683,000.[4]

A medium-sized market town during the medieval period, Birmingham grew to international prominence in the 18th century at the heart of the Midlands Enlightenment and subsequent Industrial Revolution, which saw the town at the forefront of worldwide developments in science, technology and economic organisation, producing a series of innovations that laid many of the foundations of modern industrial society.[5] By 1791 it was being hailed as "the first manufacturing town in the world".[6] Birmingham's distinctive economic profile, with thousands of small workshops practising a wide variety of specialised and highly-skilled trades, encouraged exceptional levels of creativity and innovation, and provided a diverse and resilient economic base for an industrial prosperity that was to last into the final quarter of the 20th century.[7] Its resulting high level of social mobility also fostered a culture of broad-based political radicalism, that under leaders from Thomas Attwood to Joseph Chamberlain was to give it a political influence unparalleled in Britain outside London, and a pivotal role in the development of British democracy.[8]

Today Birmingham is a major international commercial centre, ranked as a beta− world city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network;[9] and an important transport, retail, events and conference hub. With a GDP of $90bn (2008 estimate, PPP), the economy of the urban agglomeration is the second largest in the UK and the 72nd largest in the world.[10] Birmingham's three universities and two university colleges make it the largest centre of higher education in the United Kingdom outside London,[11] and its major cultural institutions, including the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, enjoy international reputations.[12] The Big City Plan is a large redevelopment plan currently underway in the city centre with the aim of making Birmingham one of the top 20 most liveable cities in the world within 20 years.[13]

People from Birmingham are known as 'Brummies', a term derived from the city's nickname of 'Brum'. This may originate from the city's dialect name, Brummagem,[14] which may in turn have been derived from one of the city's earlier names, 'Bromwicham'.[15] There is a distinctive Brummie dialect and accent, both of which differ from the adjacent Black Country.



Some of the earliest evidence of settlement in Birmingham are artefacts dating back 10,400 years discovered near Curzon Street in the city centre.[16]

Joseph Bailey[17] finds the possible Roman name “Bremium”, for a military station on Icknield Street, not supported by the 14th century original of the Itinerary of Richard of Chichester though a later translation has this name. In the early 7th century,[18] Birmingham was an Anglo-Saxon farming hamlet on the banks of the River Rea.[19] The Domesday Book of 1086 introduced the Norman spelling Bermingeham, described as a small village, worth 20 shillings.[19][20] One version of the Saxon name is "Beorma inga ham", meaning farmstead of the sons (or descendants) of Beorma.[19] The other is Bromwicham, from the shrub, broom, wych – village, and ham – an abode. Bromicham is found in a Halesowen Church Warden’s ledger in 1498,[21] and survives in West Bromwich and Castle Bromwich. Leland, 1538, wrote of Bermingham’s “pretty street” entering via Deritend.[22] Bailey notes about 150 orthographical changes of the name.[23] Another historical source for this name states "Peter De Bermingham" was a French Merchant who set up a few homes and buissnesses on the empty site as it was near a natural crossing in the river. According to this source Bermingham grew into a village and lost it's "e" for an "I". Brummagem is the common modern nickname.

William Westley's 1731 map of Birmingham. The top of the map is oriented westwards.

In 1166 the holder of the manor of Birmingham, Peter de Birmingham, was granted a royal charter to hold a market in his castle,[16][24] which in time became known as the Bull Ring, transforming Birmingham from a village to a market town. The de Birmingham family continued to be Lords of Birmingham until the 1530s when Edward de Birmingham was cheated out of its lordship by John Dudley.[25]

As early as the 16th century, Birmingham's access to supplies of iron ore and coal meant that metalworking industries became established.[26] By the time of the English Civil War in the 17th century, Birmingham had become an important manufacturing town with a reputation for producing small arms. 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 and the town prospered. Birmingham’s population grew from 15,000 in the late 17th century to 70,000 a century later.[27] During the 18th century, Birmingham was home to the Lunar Society, an important gathering of local thinkers and industrialists.[28]

Birmingham rose to national political prominence in the campaign for political reform in the early nineteenth century, with Thomas Attwood's Birmingham Political Union bringing the country to the brink of civil war and back during the Days of May that preceded the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832.[29] The Union's meetings on Newhall Hill in 1831 and 1832 were the largest political assemblies Britain had ever seen.[30] Lord Durham, who drafted the act, wrote that "the country owed Reform to Birmingham, and its salvation from revolution".[31]

By the 1820s, an extensive canal system had been constructed, giving greater access to natural resources to fuel to industries. Railways arrived in Birmingham in 1837 with the arrival of the Grand Junction Railway, and a year later, the London and Birmingham Railway. During the Victorian era, the population of Birmingham grew rapidly to well over half a million[32] and Birmingham became the second largest population centre in England. Birmingham was granted city status in 1889 by Queen Victoria.[33] Joseph Chamberlain, who was once mayor of Birmingham and later became an MP, and his son Neville Chamberlain, who was Lord Mayor of Birmingham and later the British Prime Minister, are two of the most well-known political figures who have lived in Birmingham. The city established its own university in 1900.[34]

Birmingham in 1886

Birmingham suffered heavy bomb damage during World War II's "Birmingham Blitz", and the city was extensively redeveloped during the 1950s and 1960s.[35] This included the construction of large tower block estates, such as Castle Vale. The Bull Ring was reconstructed and New Street station was redeveloped.

Birmingham remained by far Britain's most prosperous provincial city as late as the 1970s,[36] with household incomes exceeding even those of London and the South East,[37] but its economic diversity and capacity for regeneration declined in the decades that followed World War II as Central Government sought to restrict the city's growth and disperse industry and population to the stagnating areas of Scotland, Wales and Northern England.[38] These measures hindered "the natural self-regeneration of businesses in Birmingham, leaving it top-heavy with the old and infirm",[39] and the city became increasingly dependent on the motor industry. The recession of the early 1980s saw Birmingham's economy collapse, with unprecedented levels of unemployment and outbreaks of social unrest in inner-city districts.[40] In 1985, the city saw two major outbreaks of civil unrest which had fatal consequences. On 11 May that year, a 14-year-old spectator was crushed to death and many other people were injured in a riot between Birmingham City and Leeds United fans at a Football League game at St Andrew's stadium.[41] Four months later, two people died and dozens more were injured, with extensive damage being caused to vehicles and buildings, during three nights of rioting in the Handsworth district.[42]

In the decades following World War II, the ethnic makeup of Birmingham changed significantly, as it received waves of immigration from the Commonwealth of Nations and beyond.[43] The city's population peaked in 1951 at 1,113,000 residents.[32]

In recent years, Birmingham has been transformed, with the construction of new squares like Centenary Square and Millennium Place. Old streets, buildings and canals have been restored, the pedestrian subways have been removed, and the Bull Ring shopping centre[44] has been completely redeveloped. These were the first steps in the ambitious plans of Birmingham City Council for the redevelopment of Birmingham, which has become known as the Big City Plan.[45]


The Council House, headquarters of Birmingham City Council

Birmingham City Council is the largest local authority in the UK and the largest council in Europe[46] with 120 councillors representing 40 wards.[47] Its headquarters are at the Council House in Victoria Square. No single party is in overall control and the council is run by a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition led by Mike Whitby.

The city is also the seat of regional government for the West Midlands region of England as the home of the region's Government Office,[48] the regional development agency Advantage West Midlands,[49] and the West Midlands Regional Assembly.[50]

Birmingham's ten parliamentary constituencies are represented in the House of Commons by one Conservative, one Liberal Democrat and eight Labour MPs.[51] In the European Parliament the city forms part of the West Midlands European Parliament constituency, which elects six Members of the European Parliament.[49]

Birmingham was originally part of Warwickshire, but expanded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, absorbing parts of Worcestershire to the south and Staffordshire to the north and west. The city absorbed Sutton Coldfield in 1974 and became a metropolitan borough in the new West Midlands county. Up until 1986, the West Midlands County Council was based in Birmingham City Centre.

Law enforcement in Birmingham is carried out by West Midlands Police, whose headquarters are at Lloyd House in Birmingham City Centre. With 87.92 recorded offences per 1000 population in 2009–10, Birmingham's crime rate is above the average for England and Wales, but lower than any of England's other major core cities, and lower than many smaller cities such as Reading, Oxford, Cambridge or Brighton.[52] Fire and rescue services in Birmingham are provided by West Midlands Fire Service and emergency medical care by West Midlands Ambulance Service.


See also Constituent areas of Birmingham

Birmingham is located in the centre of the West Midlands region of England on the Birmingham Plateau – an area of relatively high ground, ranging around 500 to 1,000 feet (150–300 m) above sea level and crossed by Britain's main north-south watershed between the basins of the Rivers Severn and Trent. To the south west of the city lie the Lickey Hills,[53] Clent Hills and Walton Hill, which reach 1,033 feet (315 m) and have extensive views over the city.

The City of Birmingham forms a conurbation with the largely residential borough of Solihull to the south east, and with the city of Wolverhampton and the industrial towns of the Black Country to the north west. Together these make up the West Midlands Urban Area, which covers 59,972 ha (600 km2; 232 sq mi) and has a population of 2,284,093 (2001 Census).[3] Beyond the urban area, Birmingham's metropolitan area – the surrounding area to which it is closely economically tied through commuting – has a population of 3,683,000 (2001 Census) and includes the former Mercian capital of Tamworth and the cathedral city of Lichfield in Staffordshire to the north; the industrial city of Coventry and the Warwickshire towns of Nuneaton, Warwick and Leamington Spa to the east; and the Worcestershire towns of Redditch and Bromsgrove to the south west.[4]

Much of the area now occupied by the city was originally a northern reach of the ancient Forest of Arden, whose former presence can still be felt in the city's dense oak tree-cover and in the large number of districts such as Moseley, Saltley, Yardley, Stirchley and Hockley with names ending in "-ley": the Old English -lēah meaning "woodland clearing".[54]

View across the city from the Lickey Hills, with Longbridge in the foreground.


Geologically, Birmingham is dominated by the Birmingham Fault which runs diagonally through the city from the Lickey Hills in the south west, passing through Edgbaston, the Bull Ring to Erdington and Sutton Coldfield in the north east.[55] To the south and east of the fault the ground is largely softer Mercia Mudstone Group (formerly known as Keuper Marl), interspersed with beds of Bunter pebbles and crossed by the valleys of the Rivers Tame, Rea and Cole along with their tributaries.[56] Much of this would have been laid down during the Permian and Triassic periods.[55] To the north and west of the fault, varying from 150 to 600 feet (45–180 m) higher than the surrounding area and underlying much of the city centre, lies a long ridge of harder Keuper Sandstone.[57][58]


The climate in Birmingham is classified as a temperate maritime climate, like much of the British Isles, with average maximum temperatures in summer (July) being around 21.5 °C (70.7 °F); and in winter (January) around 6.5 °C (43.7 °F).[59] Extreme weather is rare but the city has been known to experience tornados – the most recent being in July 2005 in the south of the city, damaging homes and businesses in the area.[60]

Occasional summer heatwaves, such as the one experienced in July 2006, have become more common in recent years. The Absolute maximum temperature, set during August 1990, is 34.9 °C (94.8 °F)[61] Winters had become milder since the 1990s with snow becoming much less frequent, although this seems to have been reversed in the last couple of years with the winter of 2009–10 being the coldest for some 30 years. Similar to most other large cities, Birmingham has a considerable 'urban heat island' effect.[62] During the coldest night recorded in Birmingham (14 January 1982), for example, the temperature fell to −20.8 °C (−5.4 °F) at Birmingham Airport on the city's eastern edge, but just −12.9 °C (8.8 °F) at Edgbaston, near the city centre.[63]

Relative to other large UK conurbations, Birmingham is a snowy city due to its inland location and comparatively high elevation.[63] For the period 1961-1990 Elmdon averaged 13.0 days of snow lying[64] annually (Compared to 5.33 at London Heathrow),[65] this despite Elmdon being one of the less elevated and thus less snow prone part of the city. Snow showers often pass through the city via the Cheshire gap on North Westerly airstreams, but can also come off the North Sea from North Easterly airstreams.[63]

For the Period 1971-2000, the warmest day of the year on average is 28.8 °C (83.8 °F)[66] and the coldest night typically falls to −9 °C (15.8 °F).[67] Some 11.2 days of the year should rise to a temperature of 25.1 °C (77.2 °F) or above[68] and 51.6 nights report an air frost.[69]

Climate data for Birmingham Elmdon, 99m asl, 1971-2000, extremes 1901- (sunshine 1961-1990)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 15.0
Average high °C (°F) 6.6
Average low °C (°F) 1.2
Record low °C (°F) −20.8
Precipitation mm (inches) 66.21
Sunshine hours 49.7 60.0 101.5 129.2 178.0 186.2 181.0 166.8 134.3 97.2 64.2 46.9 1,395
Source no. 1: Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute[70]
Source no. 2: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration[71]


There are over 8,000 acres (3,237 ha) of parkland open spaces in Birmingham.[72] The largest of the parks is Sutton Park covering 2,400 acres (971 ha) making it the largest urban nature reserve in Europe.[73] Birmingham Botanical Gardens are a Victorian creation, with a conservatory and bandstand, close to the city centre. The Winterbourne Botanic Garden, maintained by the University of Birmingham, is also located close to the city centre.

Birmingham has many corridors of wildlife that lie in both informal settings such as the Project Kingfisher and Woodgate Valley Country Park and in a selection of parks such as Handsworth Park and Small Heath Park. The City's horticultural training facility at King's Heath Park is paired up with Pershore College. More traditional environmental concerns are constantly raised by volunteer pressure group Birmingham Friends of the Earth. That group advocate sustainable travel such as local rail revival, walking and cycling, reduction in energy demand and waste generally, and the development of environmental technologies in the city.


Religion Percentage of
Buddhist 0.3%
Christian 59%
Hindu 2%
Jewish 0.2%
Muslim 14.3%
Sikh 2.9%
No religion 12.4%
No answer 8.4%

Birmingham is the most populous British city outside London, with 1,028,700 inhabitants according to 2009 estimates.[2] Birmingham's metropolitan area is also the United Kingdom's second most populous with a population of 3,683,000.[4] At the time of the 2001 UK Census, Birmingham's population was 977,087,[74] having fallen since reaching a peak of 1,112,685 in the 1951 Census.[75]

High density canalside apartments in Birmingham City Centre

The population density is 9,451 inhabitants per square mile (3,649/km²) compared to the 976.9 inhabitants per square mile (377.2/km²) for England. Females represented 51.6% of the population whilst men represented 48.4%. More women were 70 or over.[76] 60.4% of the population was aged between 16 and 74, compared to 66.7% in England as a whole.[77]

The ONS estimates that, in 2007, 62.1% of the population was White British, 2.4% White Irish, 2.2% Other White, 21% Asian, 6.7% Black, 1.2% Chinese, 3.2% of mixed race and 1.2% of other ethnic heritage.[78] 57% of primary and 52% of secondary pupils are from non-white British families.[79] 16.5% of the population was born outside the United Kingdom.

60.3% of households were found to be owner occupied and 27.7% were rented from either the city council, housing association or other registered social landlord. The remaining 11.8% of households were rented privately or lived rent free.[77]

The Bimingham Larger Urban Zone, a Eurostat measure of the functional city-region approximated to local government districts, has a population of 2,357,100 in 2004.[80] In addition to Birmingham itself, the LUZ includes the Metropolitan Boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull and Walsall, along with the districts of Lichfield, Tamworth, North Warwickshire and Bromsgrove.[81]


Colmore Row in Birmingham's Business District.

With a city GDP of $90bn (2008 est., PPP), the urban agglomeration around Birmingham has the second-largest economy in the United Kingdom and the 72nd-largest in the world.[10] Although the city grew to prominence as a manufacturing and engineering centre, its economy today is dominated by the service sector, which in 2008 accounted for 86% of its employment.[82] Birmingham is the largest centre for employment in public administration, education and health in Great Britain,[83] and after Leeds and Glasgow it is the third-largest centre for employment in banking, finance and insurance outside London.[84] It is ranked as a beta- world city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network.[9]

Two of Britain's largest banks were founded in Birmingham – Lloyds Bank (now Lloyds Banking Group) in 1765[85] and the Midland Bank (now HSBC Bank) in 1836[86] – as well as Ketley's Building Society, the world's first building society, in 1775.[87] In 2010, Cushman & Wakefield stated that Birmingham was the third best place in the United Kingdom to locate a business, and the 18th best in Europe.[88]

Tourism is also an increasingly important part of the local economy. With major facilities such as the International Convention Centre and National Exhibition Centre the Birmingham area accounts for 42% of the UK conference and exhibition trade.[89] The city's sporting and cultural venues attract large numbers of visitors.

The city's three Universities, (Aston University, University of Birmingham and Birmingham City University) and two University colleges have over 65,000 students and employ around 15,000 staff, making a significant contribution to the city's economy as well as its research and innovation base.

With an annual turnover of £2.43bn, Birmingham city centre is the UK's third largest retail centre,[90] with the country's busiest shopping centre – the Bullring[91] – and the largest department store outside London – House of Fraser on Corporation Street.[92] The City also has one of only four Selfridges department stores, and the second largest branch of Debenhams in the country.[91] In 2004 the city was ranked as the third best place to shop in the United Kingdom, behind the West End of London and Glasgow, being described as a "world-class shopping centre".[93]

Manufacturing accounts for 10% of employment in Birmingham, a figure below the average for Great Britain as a whole.[82] Despite the decline of manufacturing in the city several significant industrial plants remain, including Jaguar Cars in Castle Bromwich and Cadbury Trebor Bassett in Bournville.

Although the city has seen economic growth greater than the national average in the 21st century[94] the benefits have been uneven, with commuters from the surrounding area obtaining many of the more skilled jobs. The two parliamentary constituencies with the highest unemployment rates in the UK – Ladywood and Sparkbrook and Small Heath – are both in inner-city Birmingham.[95] Growth has also added to stresses on the city's transport. Many major roads and the central New Street railway station operate over capacity at peak times. In 2011 it was announced that Birmingham will become an enterprise zone, which will help small businesses in the region to increase economic growth.[96]



Black Sabbath, a pioneering band in heavy metal music, was formed in Birmingham.

Birmingham has had a vibrant and varied musical history over the last century. Birmingham bands have made a major contribution to the musical culture of the United Kingdom, with many contemporary bands citing Birmingham bands as a major influence. In the 1960s, the "Brum Beat" era featured blues and early progressive rock bands, such as The Moody Blues and Velvett Fogg. The city is often described as the birthplace of heavy metal music,[97] with pioneering metal bands from the late 1960s and 1970s such as Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, as well as two members of Led Zeppelin, having come from Birmingham. The next decade saw the influential metal band Napalm Death arise from the city.

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 such bands as Steel Pulse, UB40, Musical Youth, Beshara and The Beat, expounding racial unity with politically leftist lyrics and multiracial line-ups, mirroring social currents in Birmingham at that time. Seminal 1980s pop band Duran Duran are also from Birmingham.

Birmingham has also produced a number of popular bands and musicians including Ocean Colour Scene, The Spencer Davis Group, The Streets, and The Twang. Musicians Jeff Lynne, Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, John Lodge, Roy Wood, Joan Armatrading, Toyah Willcox, Denny Laine, Sukshinder Shinda, Steve Winwood, Jamelia and Fyfe Dangerfield all grew up in the city.

Jazz has a following in the city, with the Harmonic Festival, the Mostly Jazz Festival and the annual International Jazz Festival running alongside the year-round contemporary programme presented by promoters and development agency Birmingham Jazz, directed by Tony Dudley-Evans. The musician-led Cobweb Collective also present regular jazz sessions in several venues around the city.

The internationally-renowned City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's home venue is Symphony Hall. There is a City Organist; since 1834 only seven men have held this position. The current holder, Thomas Trotter, has been in post since 1983.[98] Weekly recitals have been given since the organ in Birmingham Town Hall was opened.[99]

The Birmingham Triennial Music Festivals took place from 1784 to 1912. Music was specially composed, conducted or performed by Mendelssohn, Gounod, Sullivan, Dvořák, Bantock and Edward Elgar, who wrote four of his most famous choral pieces for Birmingham. Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius had its début performance there in 1900. Composers born in the city include Albert William Ketèlbey and Andrew Glover.

Birmingham's other city-centre music venues include The National Indoor Arena, which was opened in 1991, 02 Academy on Bristol Street, which opened in September 2009 replacing the 02 Academy in Dale End, The CBSO Centre, opened in 1997, HMV Institute in Digbeth and the Adrian Boult Hall, which was built along with Paradise Forum and Birmingham Central Library, at Birmingham Conservatoire.

Theatre and performing arts

Birmingham's leading producing theatre is the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, which was founded by Barry Jackson in 1913 to "serve an art instead of making that art serve a commercial purpose".[100] The Rep pioneered innovations such as the performance of Shakespeare in modern dress,[101] and launched the careers of performers including Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Peggy Ashcroft, Paul Scofield and Albert Finney.[102] Other theatre companies in Birmingham include the experimental Stan's Cafe, the politically radical Banner Theatre, the Birmingham Stage Company and the Maverick Theatre Company. The Alexandra Theatre and the Birmingham Hippodrome host large-scale touring productions, while professional drama is performed on a wide range of stages across the city, including the Old Rep, the Crescent Theatre, the Custard Factory, the Old Joint Stock Theatre, the Blue Orange Theatre, The Drum in Aston and the mac in Cannon Hill Park.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet is one of the United Kingdom's three major ballet companies, and the only one based outside London.[103] It is resident at the Birmingham Hippodrome and tours extensively nationally and internationally. The company's associated ballet school – Elmhurst School for Dance in Edgbaston – is the oldest vocational dance school in the country.[104]

The Birmingham Opera Company under artistic director Graham Vick has developed an international reputation for its avant-garde productions,[105] which often take place in factories, abandoned buildings and other found spaces around the city.[106] In 2010 it was described by The Guardian as "far and away the most powerful example that I've experienced in this country of how and why opera can still matter."[107] More conventional seasons by Welsh National Opera and other visiting opera companies take place regularly at the Birmingham Hippodrome.[108]


Literary figures associated with Birmingham include Samuel Johnson who stayed in Birmingham for a short period and was born in nearby Lichfield. Arthur Conan Doyle worked in the Aston area of Birmingham whilst poet Louis MacNeice lived in Birmingham for six years. American author Washington Irving produced several of his most famous literary works whilst staying in Birmingham such as Bracebridge Hall and The Humorists, A Medley which are based on Aston Hall. Influential poets associated with Birmingham include Roi Kwabena, who was the city's sixth poet laureate,[109] and Benjamin Zephaniah, who was born in the city.

Writer W. H. Auden grew up in the Harborne area of the city. Author J. R. R. Tolkien was brought up in Birmingham with many locations in the city such as Moseley bog, Sarehole Mill and Perrott's Folly supposedly being the inspiration for various scenes in The Lord of the Rings. Other famous residents include the award winning political playwright David Edgar.

Birmingham has a vibrant contemporary literary scene, with local authors including David Lodge, Jim Crace, Jonathan Coe, Joel Lane and Judith Cutler.[110] The city's leading literary publisher is the Tindal Street Press, whose authors include prize-winning novelists Catherine O'Flynn, Clare Morrall and Austin Clarke.[111]

Birmingham is the home of the UK's longest-established local science fiction group, launched in 1971 (although there were earlier incarnations in the 1940s and 1960s) and which organises the annual science fiction event Novacon.

Art and design

Rhyl Sands (ca. 1854), Oil on Canvas, by David Cox

The influence of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and the Birmingham School of Art made Birmingham an important centre of Victorian art, particularly within the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements.[112] Major figures included the watercolourist David Cox, whose later works make him an important precursor of impressionism;[113] the Pre-Raphaelite and symbolist Edward Burne-Jones; Walter Langley, the first of the Newlyn School painters;[114] and Joseph Southall, leader of the group of artists and craftsmen known as the Birmingham Group.

The Birmingham Surrealists were among the "harbingers of surrealism" in Britain in the 1930s and the movement's most active members in the 1940s,[115] while more abstract artists associated with the city included Lee Bank-born David Bomberg and CoBrA member William Gear. Birmingham artists were prominent in several post-war developments in art: Peter Phillips was among the central figures in the birth of Pop Art;[116] John Salt was the only major European figure among the pioneers of photo-realism;[117] and the BLK Art Group used painting, collage and multimedia to examine the politics and culture of Black British identity. Contemporary artists from the city include the Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing and the Turner Prize shortlisted Richard Billingham and John Walker.[118]

Birmingham's role as a manufacturing and printing centre has supported strong local traditions of graphic design and product design. Iconic works by Birmingham designers include the Baskerville font,[119] Ruskin Pottery,[120] the Acme Thunderer whistle,[121] the Art Deco branding of the Odeon Cinemas[122] and the Mini.[123]

Museums and galleries

Birmingham has two major public art collections. Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is best known for its works by the Pre-Raphaelites, a collection "of outstanding importance".[124] It also holds a significant selection of old masters – including major works by Bellini, Rubens, Canaletto and Claude – and particularly strong collections of seventeenth century Italian Baroque painting and English watercolours.[124] Its design holdings include Europe's pre-eminent collections of ceramics and fine metalwork.[124] The Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Edgbaston is one of the finest small art galleries in the world,[125] with a collection of exceptional quality representing Western art from the thirteenth century to the present day.[126]

The council also owns other museums in the city such as Aston Hall, Blakesley Hall, the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Soho House, and Sarehole Mill, a popular attraction for fans of J. R. R. Tolkien. The Birmingham Back to Backs are the last surviving court of back-to-back houses in the city.[127] Cadbury World is a museum showing visitors the stages and steps of chocolate production and the history of chocolate and the company. The Ikon Gallery hosts displays of contemporary art, as does Eastside Projects.

Thinktank is Birmingham's main science museum, with an IMAX cinema, a planetarium and a collection that includes the Smethwick Engine, the world's oldest working steam engine.[128] Other science-based museums include the National Sea Life Centre in Brindleyplace, the Lapworth Museum of Geology at the University of Birmingham and the Centre of the Earth environmental education centre in Winson Green.

Nightlife and festivals

Nightlife in Birmingham is mainly concentrated along Broad Street and into Brindleyplace. Outside the Broad Street area are many stylish and underground venues. The Medicine Bar in the Custard Factory, hmv Institute, Rainbow Pub and Air are large clubs and bars in Digbeth. In the Chinese Quarter are areas such as the Arcadian and Hurst Street Gay Village, that abound with bars and clubs. Summer Row, The Mailbox, O2 Academy in Bristol Street, St Philips/Colmore Row, St Paul's Square and the Jewellery Quarter all have a vibrant night life. There are a number of late night pubs in the Irish Quarter.[129] Outside the city centre are Moseley and Star City entertainment complex on the former site of Nechells Power Station.[130]

O2 Academy in Bristol Street

Birmingham is home to many national, religious and spiritual festivals including a St. George's Day party. The Birmingham Tattoo is a long-standing military show held annually at the National Indoor Arena. The Caribbean-style Birmingham International Carnival takes place in odd numbered years. Birmingham Pride takes place in the gay village and attracts up to 100,000 visitors each year. From 1997, the city hosted an annual arts festival ArtsFest, the largest free arts festival in the UK. In December 2006, the City Council announced that it would no longer hold Artsfest.[131] The city's largest single-day event is its St. Patrick's Day parade (Europe's second largest, after Dublin).[132] Other multicultural events include the Bangla Mela and the Vaisakhi Mela. The Birmingham Heritage Festival is a Mardi Gras style event in August. Caribbean and African culture are celebrated with parades and street performances by buskers.

Other festivals in the city include Moseley Folk Festival (since 2006), which takes place in Moseley private park and mixes new with established folk acts, the Birmingham International Jazz Festival, Birmingham Comedy Festival (since 2001), which has been headlined by such acts as Peter Kay, The Fast Show, Jimmy Carr, Lee Evans and Lenny Henry and Off The Cuff Festival established in 2009. The biennial International Dance Festival Birmingham started in 2008, organised by DanceXchange and involving indoor and outdoor venues across the city. During the Christmas seaon Birmingham is also host to the Frankfurt Christmas Market, held annually since 2001. Modelled on its German counterpart it has become the UK’s largest outdoor Christmas market, and is the largest German market outside of Germany and Austria,[133] attracting over 2.8 million visitors in 2009, and 3.1 million the following year proving its popularity.[134]


17 & 19 Newhall Street in Birmingham's characteristic Victorian red brick and terracotta

Birmingham is chiefly a product of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries; its growth began during the Industrial Revolution. Consequently, relatively few buildings survive from its earlier history, and those that do are protected. There are 1,946 listed buildings in Birmingham and thirteen scheduled ancient monuments.[135] Birmingham City Council also operate a locally listing scheme for buildings that do not fully meet the criteria for statutorily listed status.

Traces of medieval Birmingham can be seen in the oldest churches, notably the original parish church, St Martin in the Bull Ring. A few other buildings from the medieval and Tudor periods survive, among them the Lad in the Lane[136] and The Old Crown, the 15th century Saracen's Head public house and Old Grammar School in Kings Norton[137] and Blakesley Hall.

A number of Georgian buildings survive, including St Philip's Cathedral, Soho House, Perrott's Folly, the Town Hall and much of St Paul's Square. The Victorian era saw extensive building across the city. Major civic buildings such as the Victoria Law Courts (in characteristic red brick and terracotta), the Council House and the Museum & Art Gallery were constructed.[138] St Chad's Cathedral was the first Roman Catholic cathedral to be built in the UK since the Reformation.[139] 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.[140]

Selfridges, by architects Future Systems.

Postwar redevelopment and anti-Victorianism resulted in the loss of dozens of Victorian buildings like Birmingham New Street Station, and the old Central Library.[141] In inner-city areas too, much Victorian housing was redeveloped. Existing communities were relocated to tower block estates like Castle Vale.[142]

Birmingham City Council now has an extensive tower block demolition and renovation programme. There has been much construction in the city centre in recent years, including the award-winning[143] Future Systems' Selfridges building in the Bullring Shopping Centre, the Brindleyplace regeneration project and the Millennium Point science and technology centre. Funding for many of these projects has come from the European Union; the Town Hall for example received £3 million in funding from the European Regional Development Fund.[144]

Highrise development has slowed since the 1970s and mainly in recent years because of enforcements imposed by the Civil Aviation Authority on the heights of buildings as they could affect aircraft from the Airport (e.g. Beetham Tower).[145]


Birmingham Airport

Partly because of its inland central location, Birmingham is a major transport hub on the motorway, rail, and canal networks.[146] The city is served by a number of major motorways and probably the best known motorway junction in the UK: Spaghetti Junction.[147]

The National Express Group headquarters are located in Digbeth, in offices above the newly developed Birmingham Coach Station, which forms the national hub of the company's coach network.

Birmingham Airport, located six miles east of the city centre in the neighbouring borough of Solihull, is the sixth busiest by passenger traffic in the United Kingdom, and the second busiest outside the London area.[148] It is a major base for airlines including Flybe, Ryanair, Bmibaby, Monarch Airlines and Thomson Airways; and is connected by flag carrier airlines to major international hubs including Dubai, New York-Newark, Frankfurt, Munich Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam.[149]

Local public transport is by bus, local train and tram. Bus routes are mainly operated by National Express West Midlands, which accounts for over 80% of all bus journeys in Birmingham, however, there are around 50 other, smaller registered bus companies.[150] The number 11 outer circle bus routes are the longest urban bus routes in Europe, being 26 miles (42 km) long[151] with 272 bus stops.[152]

The city's main railway station, Birmingham New Street, is the busiest in the United Kingdom outside London, used by over 40.1 million people annually.[153] Birmingham Snow Hill station, another major railway station in the city centre, is also the terminus for the Midland Metro which operates between the station and Wolverhampton, also serving the nearby towns of Bilston, Wednesbury and West Bromwich.[154] Another city centre station, Birmingham Moor Street (its terminal platforms having been restored) became (5th September 2011) the city's third main line station, with express trains to London Marylebone (Chiltern Railways). There are plans to extend the Midland Metro route further into Birmingham city centre.[155] Birmingham has a large rail-based park and ride network that feeds the city centre.

Birmingham is also notable for its extensive canal system, and the city is often noted for having more miles of canal than Venice. The canals fed the industry in the city during the Industrial Revolution. Canalside regeneration schemes such as Brindleyplace have turned the canals into tourist attractions.


Tertiary education

Birmingham is home to three universities: the University of Birmingham, Aston University and Birmingham City University; and two university colleges: Newman University College[156] and University College Birmingham.[157] The Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham School of Acting and Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, all now part of Birmingham City University, offer higher education in specific arts subjects. The range of universities and colleges means that there are over 65,000 higher education students in Birmingham, making it the UK's second largest student city to London.

The Birmingham Business School, established by Sir William Ashley in 1902, is the oldest graduate-level business school in the United Kingdom.[158] Other business schools in the city include Aston Business School and Birmingham City Business School. The College of Law, the largest providor of vocational legal training in Europe,[159] maintains a large campus in the Jewellery Quarter.[160]

Birmingham is also an important centre for religious education. St Mary's College, Oscott is one of the four seminaries of the Catholic Church in England and Wales;[161] Woodbrooke is the only Quaker study centre in Europe;[162] and Queen's College is an ecumenical theological college serving the Church of England, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church.

Birmingham Metropolitan College is one of the largest further education colleges in the country,[163] formed through a series of mergers between smaller colleges.

Primary and secondary education

Birmingham City Council is England's largest local education authority, directly or indirectly responsible for 25 nursery schools, 328 primary schools, 77 secondary schools[164] and 29 special schools.[165] and providing around 3,500 adult education courses throughout the year.[166]

Most of Birmingham's state schools are community schools run directly by Birmingham City Council in its role as local education authority (LEA). However, there are a large number of voluntary aided schools within the state system.

Since the 1970s, most secondary schools in Birmingham have been 11-16/18 comprehensive schools, while post GCSE students have the choice of continuing their education in either a school's sixth form or at a further education college. Birmingham has always operated a primary school system of 4–7 infant and 7–11 junior schools. Joseph Chamberlain College is the only sixth form college in Birmingham and Solihull to have been awarded both Beacon Status and an overall OFSTED grade 1 (Outstanding).[167]

King Edward's School, founded in 1552, is the oldest and perhaps the most prestigious independent school in the city. Other notable independent schools in the city include the Birmingham Blue Coat School and Edgbaston High School for Girls. The seven schools of The King Edward VI Foundation are known nationally for setting very high academic standards and all the schools consistently achieve top positions in national league tables.[168]

Birmingham Central Library is the largest non-national library in Europe.[169] There are 41 local libraries in Birmingham, plus a regular mobile library service.[170] The library service has 4 million visitors annually,[171]


Statue of Charles Gore, first Bishop of Birmingham, in front of St Philip's Cathedral

Although Christianity is the largest religion within Birmingham, with 59% of residents stating that they were Christian in the 2001 Census, the city's religious profile is highly diverse: outside London, Birmingham has the United Kingdom's largest Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist communities; its second largest Hindu community; and its seventh largest Jewish community.[172]

St Philip's Cathedral was upgraded from church status when the Anglican Diocese of Birmingham was created in 1905. There are two other cathedrals: St Chad's, seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham, and the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and St Andrew. The Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Midlands is also based at Birmingham, with a cathedral under construction. The original parish church of Birmingham, St Martin in the Bull Ring, is Grade II* listed. A short distance from Five Ways the Birmingham Oratory was completed in 1910 on the site of Cardinal Newman's original foundation.

The oldest surviving synagogue in Birmingham is the 1825 Greek Revival Severn Street Synagogue, now a Freemason's Lodge hall. It was replaced in 1856 by the Grade II* listed Singers Hill Synagogue. Birmingham Central Mosque, one of the largest in Europe, was constructed in the 1960s.[173] During the late 1990s Ghamkol Shariff Masjid was built in Small Heath. Much more recently Darul Barakaat Mosque was built in the Bordesley Green area by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.[174] The Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha Sikh Gurdwara was built on Soho Road in Handsworth in the late 1970s and the Buddhist Dhammatalaka Peace Pagoda near Edgbaston Reservoir in the 1990s.


Aston Villa vs. Birmingham City in the Second City derby at Villa Park.

Birmingham has played an important part in the history of sport. The Football League – the world's first league football competition – was founded by Birmingham resident and Aston Villa director William McGregor, who wrote to fellow club directors in 1888 proposing "that ten or twelve of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home-and-away fixtures each season".[175] The modern game of tennis was developed between 1859 and 1865 by Harry Gem and his friend Augurio Perera at Perera's house in Edgbaston,[176] with the Edgbaston Archery and Lawn Tennis Society remaining the oldest tennis club in the world.[177] The Birmingham and District Cricket League is the oldest cricket league in the world,[178] and Birmingham was the host for the first ever Cricket World Cup, a Women's Cricket World Cup in 1973.[179] Birmingham was the first city to be named National City of Sport by the Sports Council.[180] Birmingham was selected ahead of London and Manchester to bid for the 1992 Summer Olympics,[181] but was unsuccessful in the final selection process, which was won by Barcelona.[182]

Today the city is home of two of the country's oldest professional football teams: Aston Villa F.C., who were founded in 1874 and play at Villa Park; and Birmingham City F.C., who were founded in 1875 and play at St Andrew's. Rivalry between the clubs is fierce and the fixture between the two is called the Second City derby.[183] Villa currently play in the Premier League, and have been League champions on seven occasions and European Champions in 1982. Birmingham City currently play in the Championship, the second tier of English football, but are the holders of the Football League Cup. Another Premier League club West Bromwich Albion F.C. play just outside the city boundaries at The Hawthorns.

Six times County Championship winners Warwickshire County Cricket Club play at Edgbaston Cricket Ground, which also hosts test cricket and one day internationals. The venue was the scene of the highest ever score by a batsman in first-class cricket, when Brian Lara scored 501 not out for Warwickshire in 1994.[184] Birmingham has a professional Rugby Union club, Moseley R.F.C., who play at Billesley Common. A second professional club, Birmingham & Solihull R.F.C., play at Damson Park in the neighbouring borough of Solihull.

Two major championship golf courses lie on the city's outskirts. The Belfry near Sutton Coldfield is the headquarters of the Professional Golfers' Association[185] and has hosted the Ryder Cup more times than any other venue.[186] The Forest of Arden Hotel and Country Club near Birmingham Airport is also a regular host of tournaments on the PGA European Tour, including the British Masters and the English Open.[187]

The AEGON Classic is, alongside Wimbledon and Eastbourne, one of only three UK tennis tournaments on the WTA Tour.[188] It is played annually at the Edgbaston Priory Club, which in 2010 announced plans for a multi-million pound redevelopment, including a new showcase centre court and a museum celebrating the game's Birmingham origins.[189]

The Alexander Stadium will be the headquarters of UK Athletics from October 2011.[190] It is one of two British venues to host fixtures in the elite international IAAF Diamond League[191] and is the home of Birchfield Harriers, which has many international athletes amongst its members. The National Indoor Arena hosted the 2007 European Athletics Indoor Championships and 2003 IAAF World Indoor Championships, as well as hosting the annual Aviva Indoor Grand Prix – the only British indoor athletics fixture to qualify as a IAAF Indoor Permit Meeting[192] – and a wide variety of other sporting events. A fifty-metre Olympic sized swimming pool is planned for Ladywood.[193] Professional boxing, hockey, skateboarding, stock-car racing, greyhound racing and speedway also takes place within the city.

Food & drink

The fruit and vegetable section of the Birmingham Wholesale Markets

Birmingham's development as a commercial town was originally based around its market for agricultural produce, established by royal charter in 1166. Despite the industrialisation of subsequent centuries this role has been retained, and the Birmingham Wholesale Markets remain the largest combined wholesale food markets in the country,[194] selling meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and flowers and supplying fresh produce to restaurateurs and independent retailers as far as 100 miles away.[195]

Birmingham is the only English city outside London to have three Michelin starred restaurants: Simpson's in Edgbaston, Turners in Harborne and Purnell's in the city centre.[196]

Birmingham based breweries included Ansells, Davenport's and Mitchells & Butlers.[197] 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[citation needed]). The city has a plethora of nightclubs and bars, notably along Broad Street.[198]

The Wing Yip food empire first began in the city and now has its headquarters in Nechells.[199] The Balti, a type of curry, was invented in the city, which has received much acclaim for the 'Balti Belt' or 'Balti Triangle'.[200] Famous food brands that originated in Birmingham include Typhoo tea, Bird's Custard, Cadbury's chocolate and HP Sauce.


Birmingham has several major local newspapers – the daily Birmingham Mail the now weekly Birmingham Post, and the weekly Sunday Mercury, all owned by the Trinity Mirror who also own What's On magazine, a fortnightly listings title which has been running for 30 years. Forward (formerly Birmingham Voice) is a freesheet produced by Birmingham City Council, which is distributed to homes in the city. Birmingham is also the hub for various national ethnic media and the base for two regional Metro editions (east and west Midlands).

Birmingham has a long cinematic history.

The Electric Cinema on Station Street is the oldest working cinema in the UK,[201] and Oscar Deutsch opened his first Odeon cinema in Perry Barr during the 1920s. Birmingham-born architect Harry Weedon collaborated with Oscar Deutsch to design over 300 cinemas across the country, most in the distinctive Art Decostyle.[202] An IMAX cinema is located at Millennium Point in the Eastside.[203] Birmingham has also been the location for films including Felicia's Journey of 1999, which used locations in Birmingham that were used in Take Me High of 1973 to contrast the changes in the city.[204]

The Mailbox, headquarters of BBC Birmingham.

As well as being the location for television dramas, Birmingham is also a national hub for television broadcasting. The BBC has two facilities in the city. The Mailbox, in the city centre, is the location for the national headquarters of BBC English Regions,[205] the headquarters of BBC West Midlands and the BBC Birmingham network production centre, which were previously located at the Pebble Mill Studios in Edgbaston. The BBC Drama Village, based in Selly Oak, is a production facility specialising in television drama.[206]

Central/ATV studios in Birmingham were the location for the recording of many programmes for ITV including Tiswas and Crossroads until the complex was closed.[207] When Central TV moved to its current Gas Street studios, it was also the main hub for CITV until CITV was moved to Manchester in 2004. All of ITV Central's output from Birmingham now consists of the West and East editions of the regional news programme Central Tonight.

The city is served by numerous national and regional radio stations, as well as local radio stations. These include brmb, 102.2 Capital FM Birmingham, Heart West Midlands, Kerrang! Radio, BBC WM, New Style Radio 98.7FM and Smooth Radio's West Midlands News & Admin Team.[208] The Archers, the world's longest running radio soap, is recorded in Birmingham for BBC Radio 4.[209]

Science and invention

Birmingham has been the location for some of the most important inventions and scientific breakthroughs. Local inventions and notable firsts include: gas lighting, custard powder, Brylcreem, the magnetron, the first ever use of radiography in an operation,[210] Lewis Paul and John Wyatt's first cotton Roller Spinning machine and the UK's first ever hole-in-the-heart operation, at Birmingham Children's Hospital.[211]

Among the city's notable scientists and inventors are Matthew Boulton, proprietor of the Soho engineering works, Sir Francis Galton, originator of eugenics and important techniques in statistics, Joseph Priestley, chemist and radical and James Watt, engineer and inventor who is associated with the steam engine. Many of these scientists were members of the Lunar Society, which was based in the city.[212]

Twin cities

Birmingham has six twin cities, which Birmingham City Council refers to as "international partner cities".[213] They are:

There are also Treaties of Friendship between Birmingham and Guangzhou in China,[213][218] and between Birmingham and Mirpur in Azad Kashmir from where about 90,000 Birmingham citizens originate.[219]

Birmingham, Alabama, USA, is named after the city and shares an industrial kinship.[220]

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