Birmingham has seen 1400 years of growth, during which time it has evolved from a small 7th century Anglo Saxon hamlet on the edge of the Forest of Arden at the fringe of early Mercia to become a major city. A combination of immigration, innovation and civic pride helped to bring about major social and economic reforms and to create the Industrial Revolution, inspiring the growth of similar cities across the world.
The last 200 years have seen Birmingham rise from market town into the fastest-growing city of the 19th century, spurred on by a combination of civic investment, scientific achievement, commercial innovation and by a steady influx of migrant workers into its suburbs. By the 20th century Birmingham had become the metropolitan hub of the United Kingdom's manufacturing and automotive industries, having earned itself a reputation first as a city of canals, then of cars, and most recently as a major European convention and shopping destination.
By the beginning of the 21st century, Birmingham lay at the heart of a major post-industrial metropolis surrounded by significant educational, manufacturing, shopping, sporting and conferencing facilities.
Birmingham’s population grew from 15,000 in the late 17th century to 70,000 a century later; its metal and gun-making trades expanded, fine jewellery was made alongside cheaper lines, and its brass buttons and trinkets served a world market. The engineers James Watt (inventor of the steam engine), Matthew Boulton, and William Murdock (pioneers in steam engine development), the chemist Joseph Priestley, and the printer John Baskerville all lived in the city at that time and greatly contributed to the technological progress of Birmingham and the country. Boulton’s Soho Manufactory, which developed the steam engine for industrial use, became famous throughout Europe.
It was not until after the Reform Act of 1832 that Birmingham elected its own members to Parliament, and the city was not incorporated until 1838. In that same year, rail links to Liverpool and London were completed. In 1873 the rich local industrialist Joseph Chamberlain became the city’s mayor, and during his three-year tenure he initiated important reforms, among them sweeping slum and city-centre redevelopment schemes. Birmingham became a British pioneer in town-planning schemes (1911), one-way-traffic experiments (1933), and municipal airports (1939). Wartime industrial activity and heavy bombing left the city exhausted in 1945, but it eventually began razing slums and bombed-out areas in the central districts and replacing them with tall blocks of apartments and office buildings. A new inner ring road system, a rebuilt central train station, and new shopping and commercial complexes were part of the city’s post war transformation. There is also a network of canals in the north western and southern parts of the city.
Birmingham remains the chief centre of Britain’s light and medium industry and is still sometimes described as “the city of 1,001 different trades.” The key to its economic success was the diversity of its industrial base, though it has been principally concerned with the metal and engineering trades. The largest single industry in terms of employment is the production of motor vehicles. Bicycles and motorcycles are made in the area, though the bicycle trade has declined. The city is also one of the main centres of the machine-tool industry. Since the 1970s, however, the city’s service sector has grown to rival the manufacturing sector.
Birmingham is set to be one of the fastest growing economies by the end of 2020 according to a new report by Irwin Mitchell. The law firm’s latest , reveals that GVA is expected to grow by 1.2% across the city in the year to Q4 2020, taking the total value of the economy to £28.3bn.
According to the report, which has been produced by the Centre for Economics & Business Research (Cebr), Birmingham continues to be boosted by its technology industry.
The study points to the recently announced virtual reality hub which is to be opened by Birmingham City University following an investment of £3.4m and highlights the willingness of organisations to invest in the thriving city and support the region’s booming tech sector.
Birmingham is forecast to see the strongest house price and rental value growth over the next 5 years, compared to the rest of UK Cities, with year on year growth expected from 2022 - 2025. Going into 2021, house prices will continue their current strong growth across the UK until the stamp duty holiday is removed, as the reports predict.
For Birmingham, house prices and rental values will remain flat in 2021 with house prices predicted to be up 4% and rental value increasing by 3.5% in 2022. The city is also seeing a growing housing shortfall. However, Birmingham City Council is seeking to accelerate the regeneration of council owned assets to deliver a new mixture tenure housing solutions including private sale, build to rent, student accommodation and later living solutions.
Birmingham has invested heavily in its arts and culture for decades - more than £3 billion over the last 25 years and now more than £80 million annually. The artistic strengths of Birmingham and the region are unrivalled: the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Birmingham Royal Ballet; the region's great galleries - the Barber Institute, the Ikon Gallery, the New Art Gallery Walsall; and impressive venues that include the world acclaimed Symphony Hall, the Hippodrome Theatre and The Drum, one of the UK's biggest African, Asian and Caribbean Arts centres.
Birmingham's cultural diversity is reflected in the arts: the city is the centre of the Asian music industry, the UK centre for Garage Music and the base for the UK's first South Asian Music Performance and Dance company, SAMPAD.
Birmingham is a city of world cultures: over the decades, successive waves of new people have emigrated to the region from across the globe, bringing with them new talents and skills.The mix of heritage and cultures of these people has formed the distinctiveness of the West Midlands.
Today, Birmingham is the most culturally mixed city in the UK, a fact which is reflected in many of the region's strengths.
Birmingham's historic Jewellery Quarter is now the largest jewellery making centre in Europe, while Birmingham's School of Jewellery is the first purpose-built jewellery school to be established in Europe for over 20 years. We are now about to witness the regeneration of Birmingham's Eastside, which includes a vast new creative district, a home for media companies and artists that will continue Birmingham's great creative economy.
There are more acres of parks and open space in Birmingham than any other UK city, there are eleven National Nature Reserves in the region and the city's Parks Department is blooming having won 14 consecutive Gold Medals at the Chelsea Flower Show. British Waterways promotes Birmingham as Britain's Canal City, with an Inland Waterways Festival taking place in and around the National Indoor Arena.
The region was once home to William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Birmingham and the West Midlands continues to be a hot-bed of talent, a small selection of famous actors and entertainers with roots in the region include: Frank Skinner, Lenny Henry, Jasper Carrot, Julie Walters, Cat Deeley, Tony Hancock, Robbie Williams, Pete Waterman, Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin, Goldie, Neil Morrissey.
Oscar Deutsch opened his first Odeon cinema in Birmingham. Now Star City has the UK's largest cinema complex with 30 screens. Six screens are devoted to Asian films, making this the largest Bollywood movie centre in Europe. The Star City complex will soon also boast the UK's largest casino with 40 gaming tables.
Birmingham is the centre of the UK's Asian music industry, producing almost 90 per cent of bhangra music.
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, with little surviving from its early history. As it has expanded, it has acquired a variety of architectural styles.
Birmingham is a young city, having grown rapidly as a result of the Industrial Revolution starting in the 18th century. There are very few buildings remaining in Birmingham prior to this. Further loss has been demonstrated through the effects of war and redevelopment, especially following World War II. Industrialisation and planning policies have also led to Victorian buildings being demolished but the prosperity brought with it led to some of the city's grandest buildings being constructed, although in turn many of these are being or have been demolished.
Although place-name evidence indicates that Birmingham was established by the early 7th century, the exact location of the Anglo-Saxon settlement is uncertain and no known trace of it survives. The modern settlement of Birmingham was established by Peter de Birmingham in 1166 as a planned town around the triangular marketplace that would become the Bull Ring.
Birmingham began to expand during the 18th century due to the Industrial Revolution and the prosperity that it brought with it. The expansion of the town's industry brought industrialists to the town, and they constructed their own houses as well as modifying existing ones. Communities within Birmingham's boundaries also began to expand, resulting in the construction of houses and public facilities such as churches.
The financial benefits of the Industrial Revolution provided Victorian Birmingham with an extensive building programme, with the construction of elaborate churches and public buildings. The use of neoclassical architecture was carried on into this era.
The early 1890s saw a sudden change in Birmingham's dominant architectural style, as High Gothic gave way to a distinctive local school of Arts and Crafts architecture. Buildings came increasingly to be designed in an understated style that limited ornament and was based on traditional forms of local vernacular architecture.
Birmingham's industrial importance in World War II led to heavy and destructive bombing raids during the Birmingham Blitz. This claimed many lives and many buildings too, but the planned destruction that took place in post-war Birmingham was also extensive
The architecture produced following World War II was met with mixed reaction due to its mix of concrete ring roads, shopping centres and tower blocks, giving Birmingham a 'concrete jungle' tag. Demand for offices had also changed since the Victorian era, with large office blocks being preferred by companies over small office buildings.
New projects and redevelopment schemes are planned for the city as part of Birmingham City Council's Big City Plan including:
- The new Library of Birmingham
New Street station refurbishment
Eastside City Park
The new Museum Quarter
New hotels, offices, public squares, restaurants and bars
Library of Birmingham
Built on the site of a car park, and has quickly become a city landmark. The exterior of the library is clad in metal geometric shapes, linking to the cladding of The Selfridges Building. The interior revolves around a huge circular stairwell, which is definitely worth exploring.
The Selfridges Building
Costing around £40 million to construct, The Selfridges Building is unmistakable. The building is clad in 15,000 aluminium disks, giving it a futuristic exterior. Inside, the Selfridges department store offers retail and dining outlets.
Millennium Point and the Eastside building mark the beginning of the redevelopment of Birmingham Eastside, implemented by the Big City Plan alongside the current plans for the HS2 development. Millennium Point houses Birmingham ThinkTank and an IMAX screen, while both buildings are sites for Birmingham City University facilities, with a second phase of build currently in construction.