A Brief History Of Birmingham

Jun 19, 2018

Bull Rings, Brummies and roads shaped like pasta; as the UK’s second largest city Birmingham has a home in the nation’s hearts.

The Midlands city was once the capital of British industry and infrastructure, though the mighty Brum has more humble beginnings that stretch back as far as the Anglo era.

There is evidence to suggest some kind of Roman settlement once occupied the lands that would eventually become Birmingham, most probably some form of fort or military outpost. The first signs of Birmingham in a more recognisable form did not occur until the Anglo-Saxon era, however.

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The name ‘Birmingham’ comes from the word ‘Beormingham’, or Beorma’s People, a local tribe that inhabited the area during the Saxon era. The village is said to have sprung up on the land that would eventually become the Bull Ring market.

In the early Middle Ages, Birmingham cemented its place as a Midlands market town, with various trade routes being redirected through the area. As such, Birmingham grew exponentially. Larger and more permanent buildings were erected around the Bull Ring Market and much of the surrounding woodland was converted into arable farms.

Medieval Birmingham became a centre for wool trade, with much of the wares peddled on the local markets. By the mid 16th century, the town population had reached around 2,000 and was on its way to becoming one of the largest towns in the country.

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New industries came to the fore as the years went by, with leather tanning and metalworking adding to Birmingham’s burgeoning importance.

The 18th century saw Birmingham emerge as a leading light in developments in science, technology, medicine, philosophy and natural history under the movement of the Midlands Enlightenment. By this time, the town was amongst the nation’s largest, with a population of near 74,000.

As the Industrial Revolution swept across the country, like many towns Birmingham saw conditions generally improving for the mainly impoverished populace. Running water and sewer systems improved hygiene, whilst new hospitals, churches and a Town Hall added to the town centre.

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Other industries, such as jewellery and chocolate, became the backbone of Birmingham’s work life. The world famous Cadbury chocolate first opened its doors as a small store in 1824, before moving to the self-built model village of Bourneville.

Canals and railway networks connected industrious Birmingham to other key cities such as Manchester and London and brought in a huge influx of new residents. To accomodate such a large populace, thousands of tightly cramped back-to-back houses were erected, many poorly built and sanitised, turning certain corners of the city into sprawling slums.

Birmingham’s industrial importance made it a primary target for Luftwaffe bombers during WWII, with 2241 citizens losing their lives during the Blitz. For much of the war years, the city’s factories were transformed into places of military and munitions production.

Though the war years brought a lot of business to Birmingham, general conditions did not improve, with a 1954 study finding that almost a quarter of all housing in the city was unfit for human habitation. This eye-opening stat led to a program of redevelopment and improvement across the city centre.

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High-rise flats replaced the dilapidated back-to-backs, the station was rebuilt and the new Bull Ring Shopping Centre brought new retail and shopping opportunities to the high street.

Like many of the UK’s largest cities, industry came to a grinding half in the latter half of the 20th century as cheap goods from abroad replaced manufacturing at home. Retail and tourism became the leading industries within the city after an unhealthy period of large-scale unemployment.

Improvements continued into the 21st century, with Birmingham becoming one of the UK’s largest and most diverse shopping destinations.

PS: Now that you know a little more about Birmingham’s history, why not check out our 10 favourite fascinating facts about Brum?

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