The administrative centre of West Midlands, Birmingham is considered by many to be Britain’s second capital. Ethnically and culturally diverse, the city has a recorded history going back nearly 15 centuries, in the course of which it has developed from a tiny Anglo-Saxon farming village into a major industrial and trade centre.
Birmingham was established in the 6th Century as an Anglo-Saxon hamlet upon the river Rea. Its name derives from an ancient phrase, Beorma ingas ham, meaning ‘home of the people of Beorma.’ The Domesday Book of 1086 lists it as a tiny village, worth no more than 20 shillings. It developed over time, and in the 12th Century, it was granted a town charter. Nearly four hundred years later, iron ore and coal were discovered in the area, and metalworking industries were firmly established.
By the 17th Century, Birmingham had evolved into a major manufacturer of small arms, an industry that was to become its staple trade. It concentrated in the area referred to as the Gun Quarter. During the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham flourished like never before and developed rapidly into an important industrial centre. Unlike other industrial cities such as Manchester, the industry in Birmingham was based upon small manufacturers rather than big factories and large-scale enterprises. At that time, the city was also home to the Lunar Society, a prominent association of thinkers and industrialists.
By the 1820s, an impressive network of canals had been constructed across Birmingham and the Black Country in order to facilitate the transportation of raw materials and ready goods. It’s often said that the total length of Birmingham’s canals surpasses that of Venice. During the reign of Queen Victoria, the population of Birmingham grew fast to well over half a million, and Birmingham became the second-largest in terms of population in Britain.
During World War II, the city suffered disastrous bombings. The reconstruction wasn’t too successful; in the decades following the war, Birmingham came to be known as the dull and grey Concrete Jungle, an image that the modern incarnation of the city is hard at work to change. Of particular note are the redeveloped Bull Ring and New Street Station. New squares, such as Centenary Square and Millennium Place, add a modern touch to the ever-developing city. The old buildings and canals are continuously being restored, and the green areas expanded.
Although Birmingham’s importance as an industrial centre has declined, the city remains a national centre of commerce. Annual surveys invariably list it as one of the top places in the UK and Europe in which to locate a business. The diverse spirit of the city also makes it a fascinating place to live in. Birmingham boasts its very own, specific local feel. Informally referred to by its popular nickname, Brum (from the dialect name ‘Brummagem’), it has its own distinctive Brummie dialect and accent.