The above is a print of a Samuel Lines sketch of 1821, looking down Colmore Row on the right.
In those days Colmore Row led into Ann Street and remained that way until the building of the Council House in the 1870s.
This sketch was done before the Town Hall was built, and shows that the area around Bennett's Hill was still arable land.
Indeed, there was a legal restriction that expired in the 1830s to prevent building on that land.
Christ Church (which had been erected about 20 years before) stands in the middle distance.
The following picture from 1867 is of Ann Street is it swept down towards the Town Hall (1834). Ann Street was later re-aligned and integrated into Colmore Row.
The above is a sketch of the realigned Colmore Row as in the 1870s, after the Council House was built and much reconstruction.
The Town Hall and the spire of Christ Church can be seen in the very distance.
There follow three lists of prominent people in Business, Politics, Science, Technology, Arts and Sport born in, or strongly associated with, Birmingham.
To see a single list of all these names sorted by Activity and Era,
please click here.
Especially Prominent People in Business, Politics and Intelligentsia born in, or strongly associated with, Birmingham
Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdoch.
Leon David Abrams - 20th c. surgeon/inventor; Francis William Aston - 20th c. chemist/Nobel Prize winner; Thomas Attwood - 19th c. reforming politician/economist; Herbert Austin - 19th/20th c. automobile manufacturer; John Baskerville - 18th/19th c. printer; Edward White Benson - 19th c. Archbishop of Canterbury; Conway Berners-Lee - 20th c. mathematician/computer pioneer; father of
Tim Berners-Lee. Alfred Bird - 19th c. inventor/manufacturer; Matthew Boulton - 18th/19th c. pioneering industrialist; John Bright - 19th c. social reform campaigner, politician; Donald Eric Broadbent - 20th c. cognitive psychologist; John Cadbury - 19th c. chocolate businessman. Business developed by his sons George Cadbury and Richard Cadbury; Joseph Chamberlain - 19th/20th c. businessman, reforming local and national politician, as were his B'ham-born sons
Austin Chamberlain (Nobel Peace Prize winner) and Arthur Neville Chamberlain (prime minister, 1936-40). Peter Checkland - 20th c. management scientist; Carl Chinn - 20th/21st c. social historian; Jesse Collings - 19th/20th c. reforming politician; George Dawson - 19th c. preacher; George Dixon - 19th c. politician/educationalist. His son Arthur Stansfield Dixon became an important metal worker and architect; George Richards Elkington - 19th c. inventor/manufacturer; Edward Augustus Freeman - 19th c. historian and politician; Francis Galton - 19th c. anthropologist/inventor/explorer/scientist; Samuel Garbett - 18th c. merchant/politician; Joseph Gillott - 19th c. inventor/manufacturer; Roy Grantham - 20th c. trades unionist; John Hall-Edwards - 19th/20th c. radiography developer; John Hardman - 18th/19th c. metalworker/glassmaker; Derek Hathaway - 20th/21st c. businessman/philanthropist; Roy Hattersley - 20th c. politician; Denis Howell - 20th c. politician/football official; Simon Inglis - 20th c. historian/author; Alec Issigonis - 20th c. automobile designer. Digby Jones - 20th/21st c. businessman/politician; Sampson Lloyd II - 18th c. banker; Joseph Lucas - 19th c. founder of Lucas Industries; Herbert J Manzoni - 20th c. town planning engineer; Josiah Mason - 19th c. industrialist and educationalist; William Morgan - 19th c. slavery abolitionist; George Frederic Muntz - 19th c. industrialist/politician; William Murdoch - 18th/19th c. inventor; John Sutton Nettlefold - 20th c. social reformer; Cardinal John Henry Newman - 19th c. religious leader; Abraham Follett Osler - 19th c. pioneering meteorologist; Alexander Parkes - 19th c. inventor; Lewis Paul - 18th c. inventor; Richard Pearson - 18th/19th c. physician; Enoch Powell - 20th c. politician; Joseph Priestley - 18th c. scientist and philosopher; William Russell - 18th c. merchant/benefactor; Louisa Ryland - 19th c. benefactor; Clare Short - 20th/21st c. politician; Francis Alfred Skidmore - 19th c. high profile metalworker; William Joseph "Bill" Slim - 20th c. military commander; John Benjamin Stone - 19th c. politician/photographer; Joseph Sturge - 19th c. slavery abolitionist; John Taylor - 18th c. manufacturer/banker; William James "Will" Thorne - 19th c. trades unionist/MP; Julia Varley - 20th c. suffragette/trades unionist; James Watt - 18th/19th c. steam engine industrialist; David Wheeler - 20th c. computer expert; Joseph Powell Williams - 19th c. reforming politician; William Withering - 18th c. scientist; John Skirrow Wright - 19th c. social reformer; John Wyatt - 18th c. inventor; Malala Yousafzai - 21st c. campaigner;
Prominent People in the Arts, Entertainment and Media born in, or strongly associated with, Birmingham
Joan Armatrading - 20th/21st c. singer/songwriter; William Ashford - 18th/19th c. artist; Michael Balcon - 20th c. film producer; Granville Bantock - 19th/20th c. classical music composer; Joseph Barber - 18th/19th c. artist; Hilaire Pierre René Belloc - 19th/20th c. historian/writer; Leslie Webster Booth - 20th c. classical tenor; Anthony "Tony" Britton - 20th/21st c. TV and film actor; Edward Burne-Jones - 19th c. artist; Ian Campbell - 20th c. folk singer (the Ian Campbell Folk Group, with sister Lorna) and sons Ali Campbell and Robin Campbell of pop group UB40. Jasper Carrott (Bob Davis) - 20th/21st c. TV comedian; Barbara Cartland - 20th c. novelist; Lee Child (Jim Grant) - 20th/21st c. novelist; Adrian Chiles - 20th/21st c. TV personality; George Melville Cooper - 20th c. stage, film and TV actor; David Cox - 19th c. artist; Judith Cutler - 20th/21st c. novelist; Lindsey Davis - 20th/21st c. novelist; David Edgar - 20th/21st c. playwright; Norman Edwards - 20th c. sports cartoonist; Edward Elgar - 19th/20th c. classical music composer; Sid Field - 20th c. music hall, theatre and film comedian; Bernard Fleetwood-Walker - 20th c. artist; Tony Garnett - 20th/21st c. film and TV producer; Noele Gordon - 20th c. actress/TV presenter; Tony Hancock - 20th c. TV, film and radio comedian; David Harewood - 20th/21st c. film and TV actor; William Armfield Hobday - 18th/19th c. artist; Andrew Hunt - 19th c. artist; Raymond Huntley - 20th c. stage, film and TV actor; Thomas Henry Illidge - 19th c. artist; Barry Jackson - 20th c. theatre director; Samuel Johnson - 18th c. playwright and author; Ian Lavender - 20th/21st c. TV and film actor; Samuel Lines - 18th/19th c. artist; Hugh Manning - 20th c. TV and film actor; James Millar - 18th/19th c. artist; George Mogridge (Old Humphrey) - 19th c. writer; William "Bill" Morris - 20th/21st c. BBC producer/2012 Olympics chief; Henry Vollam Morton - 20th c. newspaper journalist; Stanley Myers - 20th c. musical composer; Nick Owen - 20th/21st c. TV personality; John Michael "Ozzie" Osbourne - 20th/21st c. musician/entertainer; Henry Albert Payne - 19th/20th c. artist; Augustus Pugin - 19th c. architectural designer; Simon Rattle - 20th c. classical music conductor; Adil Ray - 21st c. radio/TV presenter/entertainer; Terence Rigby - 20th/21st c. TV and film actor; Sax Rohmer (Arthur Ward) - 20th c. novelist; Victor Saville - 20th c. film director, producer and screenwriter; Martin Shaw - 20th/21st c. TV and film actor; Barbara Slater - 20th/21st c. TV sports producer; Bernard Sleigh - 20th c. artist; Thomas Barry Sullivan - 19th c. stage actor; George Thalben-Ball - 20th c. classical musician; J.R.R. Tolkien - 20th c. author; Kenneth Tynan - 20th c. playwright; Murray Walker - 20th/21st c. motorsports commentator; Julie Walters - 20th/21st c. TV and film actress; Carl Wayne (Colin Tooley) - 20th c. musician; Tom Webster - 20th c. cartoonist; Toyah Willcox - 20th c. singer/actress; Stephen "Steve" Winwood - 20th c. musician; John Wyndham - 20th c. author; Benjamin Zephaniah - 20th/21st c. poet;
Prominent People in Sport and Adventurist Activities born in, or strongly associated with, Birmingham
Sidney Solomon Abrahams - 20th c. champion athlete; Dennis Amiss - 20th c. test cricketer/cricket administrator; Keith Arkell - 20th/21st c. chess champion; Ian Bell - 21st c. test cricketer; Alfred Victor Blenkiron - 20th c. WW1 air ace (RFC/RAF); Ralph Broad - 20th c. saloon car racer/engineer; Russell Brookes - 20th c. car rally champion; Lisa Clayton - 20th c. circumnavigator; John Curry - 20th c. champion ice skater; John Devey - 19th/20th c. Aston Villa captain in league/cup double and club director; county cricketer; Albert James Enstone - 20th c. WW1 air ace (RNAS/RAF); Henry St John Fancourt - 20th c. pioneering naval aviator (WW1-WW2); Bernard Ford - 20th c. champion ice skater; Thomas Henry Gem - 19th c. co-inventor of modern tennis; Tommy Godwin - 20th c. cycling champion; Trevor Hampton - 20th c. RAF pilot/scuba diving developer; Ashia Hansen - 20th/21st c. champion athlete; Ann Haydon-Jones - 20th c. table-tennis/tennis champion; William Eric Hollies - 20th c. test cricketer; Jack Hood - 20th c. champion boxer; Sonia Lannaman - 20th c. champion athlete; Denise Lewis - 20th/21st c. champion athlete/TV personality; Nigel Mansell - 20th c. motor racing champion; William McGregor - 19th/20th c. founder of league football & football administrator; Anthony John Miles - 20th c. chess champion; Dennis Mortimer - 20th c. Aston Villa captain in League and European Cup success; Augurio Perera - 19th c. co-inventor of modern tennis; Johnny Prescott - 20th c. champion boxer; Edwin Prosser - 20th c. early enterprising aviator; Peter Radford - 20th c. champion sprinter; Daniel Wycliffe Sargent - 19th c. African explorer; Robert Henry Magnus Spencer Saundby - 20th c. aviator (WW1-WW2); Gladstone Small - 20th c. test cricketer; Alan Smith - 20th c. test cricketer/cricket administrator; Michael John Knight ("MJK") Smith - 20th c. test cricketer; Howard Spencer - 19th/20th c. Aston Villa and England captain and club director; Graham Paul Webb - 20th c. cycling champion; Bob Willis - 20th c. test cricketer;
Victoria Cross Holders Born (strictly) in Birmingham
William Amey - Nov 4, 1918 at Landrecies, France; James Cooper - May 7, 1867 at Little Andaman, Bay of Bengal; Norman Augustus Finch - April 22/23, 1918 at Zeebrugge, Belgium; Albert Gill - July 27, 1916 (d) at Delville Wood, France; Herbert James - June 28, 1915 at Gallipoli; John Patrick Kenneally (né Leslie Jackson) - April 28&30, 1943 at Djebel Bou Azoukaz, Tunisia; Alfred Joseph Knight - Sep 20, 1917 at Ypres, Belgium; George Ravenhill - Dec 15, 1899 at Colenso, South Africa; Thomas George Turrall - July 3, 1916 at La Boiselle, France; Arthur Vickers - Sep 25, 1915 at Hulloch, France; Samuel Wassall - Jan 22, 1879 at Isandhlwana, Zululand, Africa; Alfred Wilcox - Sep 12, 1918 at Laventie, France;
Foreign Connections in Birmingham
Elihu Burritt (USA) - 19th c. writer/diplomat; Washington Irving (USA) - 19th c. writer/diplomat;
Famous Businesses at some time Based in Birmingham
Accles and Pollock (aircraft components), Austin Car Company, W & T Avery (weighing scales), Bird's Custard, Brylcream Men's Hair Products, BSA Motorcycles, Cadbury's Chocolate, Chad Valley Toy Company, Dunlop Tyres, Guest Keen & Nettlefolds (engineering), Hercules bicycles, HP Sauce, IMI Munitions, Jaguar Car Company, Lucas Industries, Philips bicycles, Rover and Land Rover Car Company, Rudge bicycles, Singer Car Company, Tetley Tea, Velocette (motorcycles), Webley & Scott (firearms), Wolesley Motors.
The Jewellery Quarter.
Major aircraft production centres at Castle Bromwich and Longbridge in World War Two.
Two of Britain's big four banks were founded in Birmingham - Lloyds (1765) and Midland (1836).
The Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings near Bromsgrove is really worth visiting
Photo by Jimmy Guano, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Birmingham_Skyline_from_Edgbaston_Cricket_Ground.jpg
In less than 200 years, Birmingham grew from a town of some 12,000 to a city of half-a-million people in 1901. In that time it had expanded to become an industrial giant. By 1931, the population had exceeded the million mark.
By the year 2000, of the 4,000 inventions copyrighted in the UK, 2,800 came from within a 35-mile radius of Birmingham. Peter Colegate of the Patent Office stated that "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."
This was the city of my upbringing. I left in 1968, but returned to live here in 2008, exactly forty years on. Physically, it has changed a great
deal since I left, and much of it is a lot for the better. But as for the people, Carl Chinn tells the story of
BRUMMIES (click here).
Birmingham's History and Traditions
1086 Birmingham mentioned in Domesday Book.
ca.1154 The king grants the right to hold a weekly market in Birmingham. It becomes a busy little market town.
1250 The people of Birmingham are given the right to hold an annual fair.
1368 The Old Crown public house in Deritend is believed to have been constructed as a guildhall. If so, it is Birmingham's first school.
1380 Birmingham is becoming known for its metalworking industry.
1500 Birmingham has a population of about 1,500.
1552 King Edward's School is founded.
1560 The population has risen to around 2,000. There is still a wool industry in Birmingham and a leather industry but metalworking is fast becoming the most important industry.
1635 Aston Hall is completed.
1642 Royalists sack Birmingham but defeated at Kings Norton.
1643 Royalists victory at Camp Hill and again sack the town. Parliamentarians attack Aston Hall.
1650 The population of Birmingham is about 5,000.
1695 Birmingham gains its first fire engine.
1715 St Phillips Church is built.
1720 The population of Birmingham is about 12,000.
1746 Acquisition of land enables the construction of the Jewellery Quarter.
1750 The population of Birmingham is about 24,000.
1769 A canal is built from Wednesbury to Birmingham. A body of men called Street Commissioners are given power to clean and light (with oil lamps) the streets of Birmingham.
1773 The Birmingham Assay Office opens for the first time at the King's Head Inn at New Street.
1779 A General Hospital is built in Birmingham.
1801 The population of Birmingham is about 73,000.
1818 The streets of Birmingham first lit by gas.
1821 Census reveals population has reached over 100,000.
1832 Birmingham obtains its first two MPs, Thomas Attwood and Joshua Scholefield. The Botanical Gardens open.
1834 A new Town Hall is built in Birmingham, designed by Hansom of later 'Hansom Cab' fame. A new and grand Market Hall is also built in the Bull Ring.
1837 The first trains run between Birmingham and Liverpool.
1838 Birmingham becomes a Municipal Borough and is connected to London by railway via the new New Street Station.
William Scholefield becomes the town's first mayor, his father (Joshua) having been one of Birmingham's first two MPs in 1832.
1838 King Edward's School (1552) moves into a Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin designed building on New Street.
1841 St Chad's Cathedral is built, designed by Pugin.
1861 A by-law says that all new houses in Birmingham must be connected to a sewer.
1866 First lending and reference library fully opened adjacent to the Town Hall.
1871-72 There is a smallpox epidemic in Birmingham.
1873 Horse drawn trams begin running in Birmingham.
1874 Another smallpox epidemic strikes Birmingham.
1878 Work begins on the flagship Corporation Street, built over many run down buildings and streets.
The work was mostly completed by the middle 1880s.
1881 The Council House is built.
1882 Birmingham gains an electricity supply.
1882 Opening of replacement lending and reference library following a hugely destructive fire in 1876.
1883 Smallpox strikes Birmingham again.
1885 Museum and Art Gallery opened.
1889 Birmingham becomes a county borough and in 1896 is made a city.
1890 The first electric trams run in Birmingham.
1891 Balsall Heath, Harborne, Saltley and Ward End embraced as part of Birmingham.
1900 Birmingham University is founded with its roots going back to 1828.
1901 Census reveals population has reached over 500,000.
1905 St Phillips Church becomes Birmingham Cathedral.
1906 The expansion of the city and its population called for a new way to provide fresh water.
The issue was solved by the supply of water from the Elan Valley in Wales via a gravitational system.
1911 Various adjacent areas embraced as part of Birmingham, including Aston, Handsworth and Yardley.
1928 to 1931 Further expansion including Perry Barr and Sheldon.
1931 Census reveals population has reached over 1,000,000. It has been a little higher than this level ever since.
1939 (Jul) Birmingham Airport opened at Elmdon, weeks before the outbreak of WW2 during which the airport was requisitioned by the military.
1940 (Aug) to 1943 (Apr) Persistant bombing of Birmingham in WW2, killing more than 2,000 people and destroying much property.
The destruction paved the way for much re-development of inner areas from the late 1950s and in particular an inner ring road system that was fully opened by 1971.
1953 After a gradual running down, the final cessation of tram and trolleybus services takes place: with the low cost of oil, reliance is now placed on internal-combustion buses.
1954 A survey shows that more than 20% of the homes in Birmingham are unfit for human habitation.
1964 The Bull Ring shopping centre opens following the destruction of the medieval Bull Ring market area and bomb-damaged market hall.
1965 Birmingham Rotunda opens.
1966 Aston University is formed from the existing Colleges of Advanced Technology.
1967 Construction of BT communications tower completed.
1969 Birmingham Central Mosque opened. It is the second purpose built in the UK and one of the largest mosques in Western Europe.
1974 New Central Library opens in Chamberlain Square.
1974 Local government reorganisation nationally sees Birmingham become a metropolitan district within the West Midlands County Council authority.
1986 West Midlands County Council abolished and Birmingham returns to unitary status. Some services continue to be operated on a West Midlands-wide basis.
1987 Pavilions Shopping Centre opens.
1991 The International Conference Centre and Indoor Arena opens, as does the Birmingham Symphony Hall.
1999 Metro tram service introduced to Wolverhampton from Snow Hill. Service loop extension from Snow Hill and around Bull Street complex to become available 2015.
2000 Mailbox Shopping Centre opens.
2001 Millennium Point opens.
2003 New Bull Ring shopping centre opens.
2013 The first part of a re-developed New Street Railway Station opens.
2013 New Central Library opens, in Broad Street: the largest public library in Europe.
2014 (Nov) It was announced Birmingham was to create a combined authority with the four neighbouring boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton, as well as inviting Coventry and Solihull to join. The authority is expected to be formed in 2015 in a bid to gain greater devolved powers from the government
John Leland, who travelled around England in the 1530s and 1540s and who recorded his observations on what he had seen around the country, described Birmingham thus:
Before I arived in Birmingham I came through an attractive street of houses inhabited by smiths and cutlers wich, as I remember, was called Dyrtey [Deritend]. It is a hamlet or chapelry of [Aston] parish, and is completely separate from the parish of Birmingham; a brook markes the boundary between them. At one end of Deritend is a private chapel and timber dwelling house, close to the bank of the brook. This flows down towards the right as one crosses the ford next to the bridge ... Above Deritend the brook divides into two streams, which rejoin a short distance below the bridge. [From Deritend through Digbeth] Birmingham's beauty lies in a single street, which runs for a quarter of a mile up the side of a modest hill, beginning almost at the left bank of the brook. It is a good market town, right on the border of Warwickshire in this direction, and so far as I could see it has only one parish church [St. Martin's]. In the town are many smiths who make knives and all kinds of cutting tools for a living, also many lorimers who make bits, and a great many nailers. ...
Britain’'s second city has a long history as a leading centre of trade and market innovation. Its earliest transformation, in the 1200’s, from an agriculturally insignificant village into one of the greatest industrial cities in the world, earned it a reputation as ‘The city of a thousand trades’.
Birmingham’s importance has been forged and fashioned by its own people. Despite its height above sea level (500+ feet) at the centre, it was never a site of strategic defensive importance, and has no surviving castle nor port nor significant natural waterway. The Gas Street basin and canals complex of the area was a man-made venture of the 18th century. The city emerged solely as a result of its ability to craft, manufacture, and trade goods.
The following text provides a summary of the city's history ("History & Traditions")
and main civic buildings ("Civic Buildings"), and includes hyperlinks to pages
that provide expansion on some topics.
Birmingham expanded rapidly between 1889 and 1911 by acquiring adjacent areas, as discussed below. The expansion
continued later in the 20th century.
Birmingham Diagrams and Maps (loaded in a new window)...
Small farming settlements existed in the Birmingham area since the Bronze Age.
In Roman times, the Icknield Street Roman road passed through what is now the Birmingham area, and a large military fort and marching camp existed in what is now southern Birmingham.
Remains have also been found of a Roman setllement named Vicus in the Birmingham area alongside the Roman fort.
Until the Middle Ages, the Birmingham area was a sparsely populated backwater, due to poor quality soil which made agriculture unproductive.
Much of the area was covered by the once-vast Forest of Arden.
Birmingham probably came into being as a small Anglo-Saxon village.
The name 'Birmingham' is derived from the Saxon name Beormaham. At some point 'ing' (people) was interjected. The meaning is a hamlet or village of Beorma's people, Beorma probably being a local Saxon tribal leader.
After the Norman conquest of Britain the area passed into the hands of the de Birmingham family (usually spelt de Bermingham) who established a small farming estate.
Birmingham was recorded as a minor village in the Domesday Book (1086) which stated that
there was land for six ploughs, but only three plough teams were used, there were the families of five villiens and four borders; woodland half a league by two furlongs, had no mill nor meadow.
It also stated that there was a manor, worth 20s, around a fifth of
the value of neighbouring manors Aston and Northfield. The manor house
was surrounded by a moat, which explains the origins of today's
'Moat Lane' and Birmingham City Council's 'Manor House' offices in the area.
Around the year 1154, lord of the estate Peter de Birmingham obtained a charter to hold a market. The market transformed Birmingham from a tiny, undistinguished farming village into a thriving centre of trade.
The market came to be called the Bull Ring. Located at a crossing point on the River Rea, Birmingham was at a focal point for trackways in the area, and for this reason attracted much trade, which in turn attracted skilled craftsmen to set up business there.
Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the growth of
Birmingham continued steadily.
The growth of Birmingham is indicated by the poll tax return of 1327, where the number of taxpayers in the town was third only to Warwick and Coventry in Warwickshire.
The de Birminghams retained control of the area until 1527, when John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland gained control of the town.
The area is now hugely changed of course, but Digbeth is marked on the map, and still exists. There is a pub (The Crown) from the 14th century still in Digbeth.
St Martin's in the Bull Ring
The parish church of Birmingham, or "The Cathedral of the Bull Ring", as some would say. The first church was probably Norman, but was rebuilt in the 13th century.
As it stands today, most of the church dates from the late 19th century, though inside you can see effigies of the de Berminghams, who were Lords of the Manor.
There are windows by Burne-Jones and William Morris inside.
From at least the 13th century, St Martin's church has been at the centre
of the area now known as the Bull Ring, and it is almost certain that there
was a church on the site when Henry II granted a charter for a market.
The church was first mentioned in a written source of 1263. However in around 1290, a member of the de Bermingham family built a new church. Unfortunately, the church was built of red sandstone, a very soft material that weathered badly.
This meant that by 1690 there was serious deterioration of the building's fabric.
To try to combat the deterioration, the whole building (the tower included though not the spire) was encased in three thicknesses of red brick.
It was to stay like this for the next 200 or so years, but even that did
not stop the erosion of the sandstone.
Consequently, in 1873, the church, apart from the previously restored tower and spire, was rebuilt, and stands to this day.
This church was designed by Birmingham architect Alfred Chatwin.
Until the 17th century, St. Martin's was the only Birmingham church, and the population
subsequently grew so quickly that church facilities were rapidly in short supply!
St. Philip's church (in Colmore Row) was consecrated in 1720 and became St. Philip's (Birmingham) Cathedral in the late 19th c.
The Market and the Bull Ring
The site of the Bull Ring, beneath the St Martin’s Church, has always been the city’s historic market centre.
In the 12th century, a charter was granted to allow Peter de Bermingham, the lord
of the manor of Berm, to hold a weekly market every Thursday at his
manor, and levy tolls on goods and produce sold therein.
The geographical location of Birmingham, standing on the river Rea at the only good crossing in the area, combined
with this market charter were crucial factors in the early development of Birmingham.
From this time on, the town grew and flourished as craftsmen and traders began to settle in Birmingham to be near the market.
The name 'The Bull Ring' came about in the 16th century when a man called John Cooper was given the right to bait bulls at a site opposite St Martins Church.
At the time, this was one of the most popular sports, and the activity continued on the site until 1798, when it ceased to be held in the Bull Ring, instead being staged at Handsworth, which was outside the boundaries of Birmingham at that time.
As the town grew, the markets, at its very core continued to flourish.
The 19th century Bull Ring consisted of shops as well as markets.
The place was alive with people trading in all manner of goods.
Even as a child in the late 1940s, I remember well the traditional street entertainments that still took
place in the open market. These included a dancing bear and an escapologist
who got out of a chained, padlocked, sack. The picture (above) of St. Martin's
and the Bull Ring market was taken at about the same time - in the late 1940s or early 1950s.
In 1809, a statue of Lord Nelson was opened in the Bull Ring, in memory
of the men who died in the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson had made a visit to the (then) town in 1802.
In 1834 the original Market Hall was built in the Bull Ring, with enough room
for 600 stalls. The building was a magnificent hall, which overlooked the
street traders and barrow boys. Gas lighting was installed to allow trade
to continue after dusk.
My paternal great-grandfather, William Lerwill, sold his clocks here in the later part of the
19th c. His older two sons were also greatly involved in his business of clock-making, and the
third son was the one who had the task of taking the goods by cart from Milk Street to
market in the 1890s, before he joined up as a regular soldier.
The market hall was bombed and gutted in 1940 by a German
incendiary bomb. It remained in use however, although roofless, until the
first redevelopment of the Bull Ring (see below under Regeneration) swept it away in the early 1960s.
By the 1950’s the old Bull Ring site seemed to have everything, from shops like Chapmans selling birds, the Army & Navy store, and the largest Woolworths of its day.
Beginnings of Industrialisation
From the 16th century onwards, Birmingham became a centre of many metalworking industries, with a skilled population of ironmongers. Birmingham also became a centre of arms manufacturing, with guns and swords being produced in the town.
Birmingham's inland location, away from any major transport links, meant that its manufacturers had to produce goods of high quality and value to compensate the high cost of transport. This gave Birmingham a reputation for quality.
The armarments trade was greatly helped by the English Civil War: In 1642, Birmingham was sacked by the royalist forces lead by Prince Rupert. Following this, Birmingham allied itself with the Parliamentarian cause and Birmingham manufacturers supplied the Roundheads with much of their weaponry. Reputedly, 15,000 swords were produced in Birmingham for Oliver Cromwell's forces.
The Industrial Revolution
Birmingham's skilled workforce, and the fact that Birmingham was located near the coalfields of northern Warwickshire and Staffordshire, meant that the town grew rapidly during the Industrial revolution. By the mid 18th century, Birmingham had become the largest town in Warwickshire.
In the late 18th and early 19th century, Birmingham became a centre of the canal system for transportation, which greatly aided its industrial growth. They still exist though mainly for leisure these days. Birmingham is reputed to have more canals than Venice!
During that time Matthew Boulton, James Watt, William Murdoch, Joseph Priestley and others formed the Lunar Society.
Those "others" included Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of the evolution theorist, Charles Darwin.
The Lunar Society of Birmingham was a dinner club and informal learned society of prominent figures in the Midlands Enlightenment, including industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals. These men came from far and wide in the Midlands to meet regularly between 1765 and 1813 to exchange views and collaborate with each other on various topics. At first called the Lunar Circle, "Lunar Society" became the formal name by 1775. The name came about by the fact that their meetings were held monthly on the night of the new moon - the light from which would aid their travel.
In the 1830s the Grand Junction Railway (linking onwards to Liverpool and Manchester) and the London and Birmingham Railway were built and shortly aftwerwards, Birmingham New Street station became the hub of the national railway network.
Due to its growing size, in the 1830s Birmingham was incorporated as a borough and gained Parliamentary representation, following abolition of the rotten boroughs.
During the 19th century, Birmingham's population grew rapidly and by the middle of that century Birmingham had become the second-largest population centre in Britain. Birmingham became known as the "city of a thousand trades" because of the wide variety of goods manufactured there.
The "Jewellery Quarter" centred on Hockley (north Birmingham) became especially famous.
It was also during the 19th century that Birmingham gained its reputation as a grim industrial city, but the poorer areas have now largely been rebuilt and the city is a very popular tourist attraction. The city's many canals (numbering more than Venice) help to provide fascination for the city.
In 1873, Joseph Chamberlain became mayor of the (then) town. Under his leadership, the council introduced many innovative civic improvements. The town council purchased the city's gas and water works which improved the lighting and provided clean drinking water to the town,
and pioneered slum-clearance schemes.
He was instrumental in providing a healthy income for the council and in the building of the Council House and the Victoria Law Courts in Corporation Street. Numerous public parks were also opened mostly as a result of bequests of lands from prominent personages, such as the Calthorpe family. The improvements introduced by Chamberlain were to prove the blueprint for municipal government, and were soon copied by other cities.
Birmingham became a county borough in 1889, and a city in 1896.
Between 1889 and 1911 the boundaries of Birmingham were expanded to include the formerly separate towns of Aston, Edgbaston, Erdington, Handsworth, King's Norton, Northfield and Yardley, some of which had been part of Staffordshire and Worcestershire.
In 1974, as part of a local government reorganisation, Birmingham expanded again, this time taking over the borough of Sutton Coldfield to the north. Birmingham lost its county borough status and instead became a metropolitan borough under the new West Midlands County Council. This situation was partially reversed in 1986 when Birmingham regained its unitary status as a council.
During the 20th century, Birmingham's population continued to increase.
In the First and Second World Wars, the Longbridge car plant built everything imaginable from ammunition to tank suspensions, steel helmets, Jerricans, Hawker Hurricane fighters, Fairey Battle light bombers, Horsa gliders (as used in the D-Day landings, Pegasus Bridge and Arnhem), mines and depth charges, with the mammoth Avro Lancaster bomber coming into production towards the end of WWII. The Spitfire fighter aircraft was mass produced for the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, at Castle Bromwich.
The Castle Bromwich airfield was the home of Battle of Britain anniversary air displays until 1958,
when the land became utilised for the purposes of Castle Vale housing estate.
The city was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe during World War II, in a failed attempt to break the morale of the city's workers and reduce its vital industrial capacity. By the war's end over 5,000 citizens were killed or seriously injured, and over 6,000 homes were destroyed. Many of Birmingham's fine buildings were also destroyed in the air raids. It has been argued that Britain may have lost the war had it not been for Birmingham's industrial might. However, not-far-away Coventry (also a great engineering and industrial centre) also suffered greatly from the bombings, and both cities and their people (and the whole West Midlands area) take great credit in being able to continue their massive contribution to the war effort.
In the postwar years, a massive program of slum clearances took place, and vast areas of the city were re-built, with overcrowded "back to back" housing being replaced by high rise blocks of flats (the last remaining block of four back to backs have become a museum). The city centre was also extensively re-built, especially the Bull Ring Shopping Centre. Birmingham also became a centre of the national motorway network, with Spaghetti Junction
being a famous linkage between the M6, M5, Aston Expressway and other main roads.
In 1974, two city-centre pubs were bombed by the IRA, with consequential mortalities.
In the years following World War II a major influx of immigrants from the British Commonwealth changed the face of Birmingham, with large communities from Southern Asia and the Caribbean settling in the city, turning Birmingham into one of the UK's leading multicultural cities. As of 2001, 29.7% of the city's population was made up of ethnic minority communities. Amongst the largest minority communities, 10.6% of Birmingham residents are Pakistani, 5.7% are Indian, 6.1% are Black Caribbean or African, and 2.9% are of mixed race.
Since the early 1980s, Birmingham has seen a new wave of migration, this time from communities which do not have Commonwealth roots, including people from Kosovo and Somalia.
Sport is mainly represented by Aston Villa (at Villa Park, or - as once called - Aston Lower Grounds)
and Birmingham City (originally called Small Heath Alliance) in soccer,
Moseley in Rugby Union and Birchfield Harriers is famous in athletics' circles.
Warwickshire County Cricket Club has its headquarters at Edgbaston, and is a perpetually recognised test match ground.
Also at Edgbaston is the Tally Ho! lawn tennis club.
It's not a well-known fact that music has been taken very seriously in Birmingham over the years. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (for example) has for many years been recognised as a leading British orchestra. But not only classical music has been represented, but various forms of popular music also. The once-famous Moody Blues and UB40 were but two of many pop groups originating from Birmingham - as did the Spencer Davis R & B group. And then there was my own particular love of the 1960s - the Ian Campbell Folk Group, including the incomparable Dave Swarbrick. Click here for more information about the Ian Campbell Folk Group. Their wonderful folk music at the Jug o' Punch - and Ian Campbell himself was a fine writer of songs - lit up my Thursday nights!
Brummagem - a centre of wonderful diversity:
'A true Brummie wears a Shamrock in his Turban.'
In the 1970s, the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) was built, 10 miles southeast of the centre, close to Birmingham International Airport. Although it is actually just inside neighbouring Solihull, it was instigated, and largely owned, by Birmingham Council, and is thought by most people to be in the city. It has been expanded several times since then.
The International Convention Centre (ICC) opened in central Birmingham in the early 1990s.
A massive new Central Reference Library was completed in the 1970s (but replaced by another even bigger library in 2013), and the nearby area around Broad Street, including the canal network, Centenary Square, the ICC and Brindley Place, was extensively renovated at the turn of the Millennium.
In 1998 a G8 summit was held in Birmingham, and US president Bill Clinton was clearly impressed by the city. He famously had a drink in a canalside pub - though he never paid for his beer!
In September 2003, after a year long redevelopment project, the new Bull Ring shopping complex was opened. In 2003, the city failed in its bid to become the 2008 European Capital of Culture, under the banner "Be in Birmingham 2008".
The 1960s had seen the first redevelopment of the Bull Ring. Work began on
this development in 1961, and three years and eight million pounds
later the new centre was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh.
The development was a massive undertaking, covering 23 acres,
with 350,000 sq feet of retail trade area. It was described as 'the ultimate shopping experience', and the biggest indoor shopping mall outside of
America. It contained high street names, as well as independent shops,
an indoor market and the 'Bull Ring Outdoor Market'.
In 1964, the Rotunda was added to the city centre development.
Originally meant to be 11 storeys, it ended up as 25. One of the most
famous landmarks of the Birmingham skyline, the Rotunda has been both celebrated and berated. It is a true love it or hate it figure.
A few years ago the Rotunda was threatened with demolition. Thankfully however, it survived, and will continue to dominate the skyline of the city
centre for many years to come.
By the 1980’s, and despite its trading history, Birmingham had little to offer in terms of the burgeoning growth of new generation retailers and department stores. The old Bull Ring shopping centre was tired and jaded, and the city had only one department store - a retail offer which was not on a par with Birmingham’s growing status as a leading centre for business and culture.
The latest redevelopment of the 40-acre Bull Ring site by The Birmingham Alliance is another milestone in the city’s history of innovation. The 110,000 square metres' scheme has been cited as the catalyst for Birmingham’s transformation into a world class retail capital - bringing modern, retail space into the city with department stores for Debenhams and Selfridges, over 140 shops, cafes and restaurants, 3,000 new car parking spaces, new open spaces, walkways and performance areas, and iconic new architecture.
Drawing on Birmingham’s historic street patterns, the Bull Ring is composed of a series of traditional streets, squares and open spaces, which once again link New Street and High Street to St Martin’s Church, the open markets, Digbeth and beyond. The Bull Ring provides a gateway to the east side of the city where plans are in place to regenerate the area and create a public park and learning quarter.
As part of the Bull Ring development existing landmarks such as the Rotunda, the old Moor Street Station, and St Martins Church have been cleaned and restored, and long lost historic Birmingham street names, going back as far as the 18th century, have been reintroduced.
A new pedestrian walkway next to St Martin’s Queensway has been called ‘Swan Passage’ after the nearby ancient route of ‘Swan Alley’, which appears on the 1731 plan of the city. Other names to reappear include Jamaica Row and Spiceal Street which first appeared in 1795.
2. Civic Buildings
Designed by the architect Hansom, who also designed the Hansom cab. Work started in 1832 and the Town Hall was opened on September 19, 1834 although it was not finished properly until 1849 and the later stages of its construction were carried out under the direction of another architect, Charles Edge. It opened its doors not only for renowned classical composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Elgar, but also for leading jazz musicians, pop and folk groups.
A modern development built in Broad Street,
it is now the foremost accommodation in Birmingham for the CBSO (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra),
which has had many fine conductors and musicians.
Built between 1874 and 1879 on what was once Ann Street, and designed by Yeoville Thomason, the Council House is now a Grade II listed building, used for all Council and most Committee meetings. The front, facing Victoria Square, has a pediment showing Britannia receiving the manufacturers of Birmingham.
Before it was built the town council met at such places as the Public Offices in Moor Street, and even at a public house.
The town argued long and hard whether the finished building should be called The Municipal Hall, Council House, or Guildhall. The total cost was £163,000. Behind it stands the Museum and Art Gallery, built by the same architect in 1881-5.
I worked at the Council House for several years in the early 1960s, occupying a semi-basement office to the right of the photo. It is a building with an undoubted atmosphere and pride in Birmingham's past - particularly with the names of the Chamberlains etched in the Lord Mayors' roll.
City Museum and Art Gallery
Prominent collection of pre-Raphaelite and other paintings, silverware, sculpture, metalwares, glass, ceramics, wooden objects, ethnographical, archaeological and natural history collections, and the Light on Science interactive gallery.
The new library in Broad Street on the left replaced the one in Chamberlain Square opposite the Council House, in 2013. The old one was built in the 1970s. The new library is the largest public library in Britain and it is a marvellous repository and centre for research.
See a flythrough of the latest central library.
To contact the Library, and for information concerning local research, please click here.
In Centenary Square, Broad Street, Baskerville House was designed by T Cecil Howit, and built in 1939.
Once a city administrative centre (once part of what was planned as 'the Civic Centre', in which Baskerville House was planned to be one of twin buildings)
it is to be redeveloped as a hotel. Most notable is the full height entrance porch with a pair of Ionic columns surmounted by roof level semicircular arch, The sides of the building boast similar Ionic columns.
3. The Rep
"The Rep" - the Birmingham Repertory Company - was established in 1913 by Sir Barry Jackson,
and until 1971 was housed in their Station Street theatre, adjacent to New Street Station.
1971 saw the re-housing of The Rep in their Broad Street building, near to Baskerville House (above).