1. CITY OF 1,000 TRADES
Birmingham has always been a hive of activity and was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, which was set in motion by the Lunar Society of Birmingham, a group of the greatest scientists, inventors and manufacturers of the time who met to exchange ideas and knowledge at Matthew Boulton’s home Soho House in Handsworth.
By 1791, Birmingham was being hailed as the first manufacturing town in the world, and after it gained city status in 1889, it was named the City of A Thousand Trades because of the huge variety of companies based here. It's also been called the Workshop of The World and the First City of the Empire.
It was at The Soho Manufactory, the first factory in the world - that assembly-line mass production was created by pioneering industrialist Matthew Boulton. It was built on Handsworth Heath in 1766 and it made a range of goods including buttons and buckles and was home to the first steam-powered mint. The Soho Mint opened in 1788 and used eight steam-driven machines designed by Boulton to strike up to 84 coins a minute.
The Czech composer Anton Dvorak ((1841-1904) came to Birmingham and said: "I'm here in this immense industrial city where they make excellent knives, scissors, springs, files and goodness knows what else, and, besides these, music too. And how well! It's terrifying how much the people here manage to achieve."
2. ECONOMIC CENTRE
Today, figures from Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that Birmingham is the largest centre in Great Britain for employment in the sectors of public administration, education and health, and the second largest centre outside London for employment in financial and other business services.
Four FTSE100 companies have their HQ in the Birmingham area - the largest concentration of such firms outside London and the South-East. Birmingham's wider metropolitan economy is the second largest in the UK with a GDP (gross domestic product - the value of all goods and services) of £68 billion.
According to the rankings of the Globalization & World Cities Research Network, Birmingham is a beta level city - the third highest ranking in the country after London and Manchester. Birmingham has the highest level of entrepreneurial activity outside London, with more than 16,000 business start-ups registered in 2013. The city is behind only London and Edinburgh for private sector job creation between 2010 and 2013.
3. MORE CANALS THAN VENICE
Birmingham has 35 miles of canal compared with 26 miles of canal in Venice. And the entire Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) is a network of waterways connecting Birmingham and the Black Country. The BCN comprises 114 miles of waterways less than the 174 miles it had at its peak in the 18th century. More cubic metres of water flow through Birmingham's canals than any other city in the world.
4. MORE TREES THAN PARIS
Birmingham has "nearly 600 parks and public open spaces" compared with 400 in Paris. Birmingham City Council gave a more exact number with a figure of 571 parks and open spaces with more than 3,500 hectares of public accessible space, and 250 miles of urban brooks and streams. Birmingham City Council estimates that there are six million trees in the city. The 2,400-acre Sutton Park in Sutton Coldfield is the largest Urban Park in Europe.
5. GERMAN MARKET
Birmingham's annual German market - officially the Frankfurt Christmas Market - is the largest outdoor Christmas market in the country and the biggest outside Germany and Austria. It attracts more than five million visitors, earning £90 million for the city, and is even bigger than the market staged in German capital Berlin.
Birmingham is the most culturally mixed city in the UK, with 33.3 per cent non-white according to 2007 figures, compared with London’s 30.7 per cent.
Outside London, Birmingham has the UK's largest Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist communities, the second largest Hindu community and the seventh largest Jewish community. The city's Sikh Vaisakhi celebrations are the largest in Europe.
8. TELEVISION & RADIO
Birmingham has a long tradition of TV and Radio production with many shows recorded in studios in Birmingham or filmed on location in the city, while others have been produced here but filmed elsewhere. Among the programmes to come from Birmingham are Doctors, Hustle, Crossroads, Boon, New Faces, Spitting Image, Pot Black, Gangsters, Dalziell and Pascoe and Tiswas, plus the game shows The Golden Shot, Bullseye and Blockbusters.The Archers, the world’s longest running radio soap, is recorded in Birmingham for BBC Radio 4.
9. ST PATRICK'S DAY PARADE
Birmingham's St Patrick's Day Parade is the third biggest in the world, after New York and Dublin with more than 80,000 people turning out to celebrate the occasion. Birmingham has a large Irish community dating back to the Industrial Revolution when Irish people, known as ‘Navvies’ moved here to work in the construction of canals, railways and factories and is estimated to have the largest Irish population in the UK. The city has the UK’s only Irish Quarter, centred on Digbeth and Deritend.
Birmingham is the birthplace of Heavy Metal, with Black Sabbath and coming from Aston in Birmingham Tony Iommi learned to play guitar in a different way following an industrial accident that removed the tips of two of his fingers. He tuned the guitar down and relied on power chords, something guitarist Geezer Butler also did and together they produced the classic sound of Heavy Metal. Subsequent Heavy Metal bands Napalm Death and Godflesh also hail from Birmingham. Birmingham also boasts Dave Pegg (Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention), Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), and Blaze Bayley (Wolfsbane). Other music acts from Birmingham include ELO, Duran Duran, UB40, The Moody Blues, Fuzzbox, Ocean Colour Scene, The Move, Toyah Wilcox, Joan Armatrading, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Ruby Turner, Fine Young Cannibals, The Streets, Musical Youth, Jamelia and Pato Banton. Mother’s Club in Erdington was voted the world’s best rock venue in 1969 and 1970, with a Blue Birmingham Civic Society plaque unveiled in 2013 to commemorate the iconic venue where such acts as Pink Floyd, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Black Sabbath, The Who and Led Zeppelin played.
In the 1960s, Birmingham was the birthplace of modern Bhangra and is also the centre of the UK’s Asian music industry. Birmingham is the global centre of Bhangra music with almost 90 per cent of it made here.
In the classical world, Worcestershire-born composer Edward Elgar was the first conductor of the City of Birmingham Orchestra (later the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra: CBSO) when it was officially founded in November 1920. Elgar was also the first Professor of Music at Birmingham University. In 2002, the CBSO won the most prestigious Record of the Year prize at the Gramophone Awards, the classical counterpart to the Oscars. The CBSO’s most famous conductor is Sir Simon Rattle, for whom Symphony Hall was built, often cited as one of the best classical music concert halls in the world.
Oscar Deutsch, born in Balsall Heath and the son of a scrap metal dealer, opened the first ever Odeon cinema in Perry Barr in 1930. Deutsch was a master of marketing with Odeon standing for ‘Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation’.
Star City now has the UK’s largest cinema complex with thirty screens. Six screens are devoted to Asian films, making this the largest Bollywood movie centre in Europe. The Giant Screen cinema at Millennium Point has the largest screen in the Midlands (72ft wide, 40ft high) & the second largest in the UK.
The Electric Cinema in Station Street at the back of Birmingham’s revamped New Street Railway Station is the UK’s oldest working cinema dating from 1909.
As well as its famous waterways, Birmingham is home to the Gravelly Hill interchange, better known as Spaghetti Junction the best known motorway junction in the UK. The M6 passes through Birmingham on the longest bridge in the UK the Bromford Viaduct Birmingham was also the terminus for both of the world's first two long-distance railway lines – 1837’s 82-mile Grand Junction Railway & the 112-mile London and Birmingham railway of 1838 whose terminus at Curzon Street was the first railway station.New Street station is the busiest train station in the UK outside London In addition, the Number 11 Outer Circle bus route is the longest urban bus route in Europe, reaching a length of 28 miles.
Tennis originated in Birmingham when, in 1859, Harry Gem, Clerk to the Birmingham Magistrates, and his friend Augurio Perera, a Spanish merchant, combined elements of racquets and the Basque ball game Pelota on the lawn of Perera’s home at 8 Ampton Road, Edgbaston. The oldest surviving club Lawn Tennis club in the world is the Edgbaston Archery and Lawn Tennis Society, which pre-dates The All England Club by 3 weeks.
14. J.R.R. TOLKIEN
Acclaimed author JRR Tolkien, born in Bloemfontein South Africa, lived in Birmingham as a child variously in Kings Heath, Hall Green, Rednal and Edgbaston and attended King Edward’s School in New Street. Sarehole Mill, Moseley Bog, Perrott’s Folly, Edgbaston Waterworks Tower, Birmingham University Clock Tower and the nearby Lickey Hills in Birmingham inspired his famous works The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit.
The Jewellery Quarter is Europe’s largest concentration of jewellery businesses, and produces 40 per cent of jewellery made in the UK. It has the largest School of Jewellery in Europe, and the world’s largest Assay Office, which hallmarks about 12 million items a year. At its height in the early 1900s, the Jewellery Quarter employed more than 30,000 people. About 3,000 people work there today.
16. FOOD & DRINK
Birmingham has four Michelin-starred restaurants, more than any other city in the UK outside London. Glynn Purnell, Adam Stokes,Luke Tipping and Richard Turner are the Chef Patrons.
Birmingham is the birthplace in 1977 of the Balti - a type of curry served in a metal bowl (karahi) & home to the Balti Triangle, an area encompassing Sparkbrook, Balsall Heath and Moseley, where there are more than 100 Asian restaurants. Well-known food brands that originated in the city include Bird's Custard, Typhoo tea, Cadbury's chocolate and HP Sauce. Alfred Bird created Bird’s Instant Custard in 1837 as his wife was allergic to eggs used to thicken earlier versions of the dessert.
In 1863, William Sumner published A Popular Treatise on Tea and in 1870 started a grocery/pharmacy business with his son John in High Street, Birmingham. It was in 1903 that John’s son, John Sumner Jr, created Typhoo Tea - taking the name from the Chinese word for doctor after his sister said she had found relief for her indigestion by drinking a brew made from the tiniest particles of tea leaf, rather than the usual large leaf variety. Sumner Jr sold the tea pre-packaged rather than loose. Typhoo became one of the largest makers of teabags in the UK.
Chocolate giant Cadbury began when John Cadbury opened a grocery shop in Bull Street Birmingham in 1824. Among the products he sold cocoa and drinking chocolate which he prepared using a pestle and mortar. It was in 1831 that he started the Cadbury manufacturing business in a warehouse in Crooked Lane. In 1847, it moved into a larger factory in Bridge Street and when that site became too small, a new works was built at Bournville. The Quaker company produced its first chocolate bars in 1897 and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk in its purple wrapper is an icon.
17. UNIVERSITIES & EDUCATION
Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe with 25 year olds and under accounting for nearly 40 per cent of its population. Birmingham has five universities: Aston, Birmingham, Birmingham City University, Newman University College & University College Birmingham. Birmingham University was founded by Joseph Chamberlain and was the first ‘Redbrick’ University. The region as a whole produces over 111,000 graduates each year making it the second largest student area in the UK. In 2011 Birmingham had more than 78,000 students living in the city during term-time more than any other city in the UK outside London. The national educational charity University of the First Age was founded in Birmingham by Professor Tim Brighouse in 1996. Birmingham Business School founded in 1902 is the oldest graduate-level business school in the UK.
18. MUSEUMS AND ART
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery holds the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world as well as Europe's finest collections of ceramics and fine metalwork. Also on display there is the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found. It consists of more than 3,500 items with over 5kg of gold, 1.4kg of silver and 3,500 cloisonné garnets. BMAG also contains the largest complete bronze sculpture of its kind in the world in the Sultanganj Buddha found in the North Indian town of Sultangani during the construction of the East Indian Railway & dates from 700-800 AD. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts has been described as one of the finest small art galleries in the world. Birmingham Science Museum Think-tank, has the world's oldest working steam engine and the UK's first purpose-built digital planetarium.
19. THE POSTAL SYSTEM/STAMPS
20. DNA & SCIENCE
In 1962, the physicist and molecular biologist Maurice Wilkins received a Nobel Prize for his work revealing the structure of DNA as one of the three (the others being James Watson and Francis Crick) who became known as the Code Breakers. Wilkins was brought up in Birmingham and educated at King Edward’s School, going on to develop wartime radar screens at Birmingham University before his involvement in genetics research. Wilkins, Crick and Watson were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. The former Forensic Science Service, which was based on Birmingham Business Park in Marston Green, pioneered the use of large-scale DNA Profiling. It set up the world’s first DNA database in April 1995.
21. THE LIBRARY OF BIRMINGHAM
The new Library of Birmingham which cost £189million is the largest public library in the UK, the largest public cultural space in Europe and the largest regional library in Europe.
22. BANKS & BUILDING SOCIETIES
England’s first municipal bank was set up in Birmingham. The Birmingham Corporation Savings Bank later Birmingham Municipal Bank was set up to raise money for the First World War effort. It opened on September 29, 1916. The Midland Bank and Lloyds Bank were also founded in Birmingham. The world’s first building society - Ketley’s Building Society - was founded in Birmingham in 1775 by Richard Ketley who was the landlord of The Golden Cross pub.
23. HEALTH & MEDICINE
William Withering, a physician at Birmingham General Hospital, discovered the use of digitalis an extract from the foxglove plant as a heart drug and in 1785 published a paper on his findings. A member of the Lunar Society of distinguished scientists, he lived at Edgbaston Hall and later in Sparkbrook where he died in 1799.
In Birmingham on January 11, 1896, John Hall-Edwards was the first man to use X-rays under clinical conditions by taking an X-ray image - or radiograph - of a needle embedded in someone’s hand. On February 14, 1896, he was the first to use X-rays in a surgical operation. He also took the first X-ray of the human spine.
Birmingham surgeon Dr Joseph Sampson Gamgee invented the surgical dressing called Gamgee Tissue - cotton wool between two layers of gauze - in 1880. His name became an inspiration for The Hobbit character Sam Gamgee in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
Birmingham University’s Rupert Billingham and Peter Medawar set out the key procedures and principles of skin grafting.In 1950, the first hole-in-the-heart surgery was carried out at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, and in 1960 it was announced that Queen Elizabeth Hospital surgeon Leon Abrams had fitted the first variable-pace pacemaker In 1952, a team of researchers in Birmingham made the link between wheat gluten and coeliac disease and developed gluten-free diets.
24. FOOTBALL AND SPORT
Birmingham businessman and Aston Villa FC Chairman Sir William McGregor founded the Football League, the world’s first football league competition. In 1888 that he suggested that 10 or 12 of England’s top clubs get together to arrange fixtures and the English Football League was born.in Birmingham and the city is where the FA Cup was made. The very first trophy had been produced in Sheffield but was stolen from a display window in Birmingham in 1895 after Aston Villa had won the cup. The second trophy - and the oldest one surviving today - was a replica of the first and made by Vaughton’s of Birmingham, which still exists in Well Street.Birmingham was first British city to be named National City of Sport by the Sports Council and held the IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championships at the National Indoor Arena in 2003.
Of the 4,000 inventions copyrighted in the UK a year, 2,800 come from the Birmingham area. Peter Colegate of the Patent Office said: "Every year, Birmingham amazes us by coming up with thousands of inventions. It is impossible to explain but people in the area seem to have a remarkable ability to come up with, and have the dedication to produce, ideas." Among the inventions to come from Birmingham are James Watt’s paper copier the smoke detector, household vacuum cleaner and mass spectrometer.
It was in 1856 that Alexander Parkes created the first viable man-made plastic which he named eponymously ‘Parkesine’. This led to the development of celluloid film also by Parkes so indirectly Birmingham could be said to have created the world-wide medium of film and the film and cinema industry as well as the large-scale production of chemicals and the chemical industry.
In 1929, Brylcream was created by County Chemicals at the Chemico Works in Bradford Street, Birmingham. Joseph Priestley who was a prominent member of Birmingham’s Lunar Society and an Unitarian preacher whose inflammatory sermons advocating Revolution earned him the name: ‘Gunpowder Joe’ was the first man to isolate Oxygen in 1787.
Birmingham surgeon John Wright experimented with electricity in his spare time and discovered a process for coating metal objects in gold and silver. Wright’s associates George Elkington and Henry Elkington were awarded the first patents for electroplating in 1840. These two founded the electroplating industry in Birmingham and the technique spread across the world.
The world’s first pneumatic tyre was made by John Boyd Dunlop in 1888. He sold the rights to Harvey du Cross Jr who founded the Dunlop Rubber Company in 1889. The former tyre manufacturing plant Fort Dunlop was built-in 1916 and was at one time the largest factory in the world, employing more than 3,200 people. In 1922, Dunlop invented a tyre that lasted three times longer than any other, and Dunlop tyres have helped many drivers and their cars to victory at the Grand Prix, Le Mans, Formula 1 and British and world speed records.
It was in Birmingham that William Murdock discovered the use of gas for street lighting. In 1798, he used gas to provide internal lighting for Soho Foundry a factory making James Watt’s steam engines and in 1802 he lit the outside of the building in a public display that amazed local residents. In 1806, Birmingham inventor Joseph Pemberton lit the outside of his own factory with gas and this eventually led to the first public street lighting by gas which was in London in 1807. It was in 1818 that Birmingham had its first street lighting by gas, with the lights made in Gas Street off Broad Street.
Words and photos supplied by Keith Bracey, Birmingham History Buff.