Weekly City Spotlight: Birmingham


Birmingham is situated in the West Midlands, approximately 100 miles north of London, and is the second most populated city in Britain, with London being the first. The Domesday Book lists Birmingham as a small manor in 1086, valued at 20 shillings.  In 1889, Birmingham was granted city status.  Previously, the presence of an Anglican cathedral in a town was a prerequisite of gaining city status.  However, this connection with the Anglican diocese stopped when Birmingham, which didn’t have a cathedral at the time, was awarded city status due to the size of its population and its local government history. Some years later in 1905, St Philip’s parish church became a cathedral.

From Midlands Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution
In the 18th century Birmingham gained international recognition with the Midlands Enlightenment part of the Age of Enlightenment. Out of this cultural and intellectual movement the likes of the Lunar Society of Birmingham was formed which included intellectuals, philosophers and industrialists many of whom had influence on an international level.  Ahead of their time, many of the members were involved in science, technology and economics, and worked together on theories with their American and European counterparts.  Birmingham became world renowned for innovation with the resulting significant developments across many scientific fields, as well as innovation in the areas of technology and medicine.

The Industrial Revolution which began around 1760 meant that the progress made in the above fields could be used to introduce new processes for production and manufacturing.  Machines were made to significantly improve efficiency and increase production.  The introduction of improved energy sources meant that coal replaced wood, and steam power was used more frequently.  Leading edge technology was introduced and Birmingham became recognised as a significant hub of manufacturing around the world. The network of canals that Birmingham is famous for, were also constructed in the late 1760’s and early 1770’s.  The canals enabled factories access to the coals mines and reservoirs as well as providing a transportation method for their products.

John Cadbury was born in 1802, and opened his first shop in 1824 in Birmingham. His grocery shop sold a variety of goods including coffee, tea, cocoa and drinking chocolate, and together with his brother Benjamin they moved the business forward. With a Royal Warrant awarded in 1854, the brothers supplied chocolate and cocoa to Queen Victoria.
In time Richard and George Cadbury, John’s sons, joined the business.  Following significant growth, an estate in Bournville was built to provide housing for Cadburys workers. In 1866, Cadbury Cocoa Essence was sold to the public for the first time.  Cadburys went on to offer a wide range of confectionary products, the Dairy Milk brand dates back to 1905, and remains hugely popular today.

Popular Culture
Birmingham is famous for the wide range of restaurants and cuisine it offers.  Known as the Balti Belt or Balti Triangle, following the invention of the Balti dish in Birmingham, it boasts a wide range of Asian restaurants together with many shops selling jewellery and fabrics. Michelin stars are in abundance with the restaurants such as Simpsons, Purnells and Turners.

Films & TV
Oscar Deutsch, born in Birmingham in 1893, was the founder of Odeon Cinemas with the first cinema being opened in Dudley in 1928.  By 1937, 250 Odeon cinemas were in operation throughout the UK.

Films shot in Birmingham include Turbulence (2011) and Tormented (2009).

With the BBC operating from 2 bases in Birmingham, many programmes have been filmed there.  Programmes such as Doctors are currently filmed in Birmingham, and it was also the home of programmes including Tiswas and Crossroads which were filmed many years ago.  There are many independent television production companies based in Birmingham responsible for shows such as Embarrassing Bodies and The Gadget Show.

Annie Murray, whose mother was from the Midlands, has written many books set in Birmingham, these include Birmingham Rose, Birmingham Blitz, Water Gypsies and more recently, The Women of Lilac Street set in Birmingham in the 1920’s.

Social Media
Further information can be found about Birmingham through its official tourism website VisitBirmingham as well as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube accounts.

Famous Faces
Ozzy Osbourne – The Prince of Darkness himself was born in Birmingham on the 3rd December 1948.  Ozzy famed for his heavy metal music was part of the band Black Sabbath and also had a successful solo career.

Kenny Baker – Famous for playing R2D2 in the Star Wars movies, Kenny was born 24th August 1934, he has starred in many films including Timebandits, Flash Gordon and Labyrinth.
Neville Chamberlain – former Conservative Prime Minster from May 1937 until 1940, Arthur Neville Chamberlain was born March 18 1869, in Birmingham.

Tony Hancock – Born 12 May 1924, the comic genius actor Tony Hancock was born in Birmingham, a huge star both on radio and TV, programmes such as Hancocks Half Hour which featured the likes of Sid James and Kenneth Williams kept a nation entertained.

Selfridges and The Bullring – originally where the market was held in the middle ages, the bullring offers shoppers a fantastic experience, with the huge range of shops within the East and West Mall, with an underground passageway connected the two.  The addition of the iconic Selfridges building, the exterior of which is made up of aluminium discs on a background of blue, has come to be instantly recognisable and associated with Birmingham following its completion in 2003.

Soho House – The home of Matthew Boulton, a Lunar Society founder, this stately Georgian building was frequently used for the Lunar Society Meetings.  Today, it is home to the Sidereal Clock constructed by Matthew Boulton, as well as displays of silver and ormolu.

St Martins Church – is situated between the Bullring and market areas, this beautiful church was built in 1873, following the demolition of the previous church on the site which dated back to the 13th century, during which the tower and spire were preserved. The church has 16 bells and Revd. Canon Stewart W. Jones is the Rector.