Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the English West Midlands. It is considered by some to be the UK's "second city". It has the largest local authority in the United Kingdom, and is the second largest by urban area population. It is also one of England's core cities.
The City of Birmingham has a population of 991,900 (2003 estimate). Along with Wolverhampton, Solihull and the towns of the Black Country, Birmingham forms the largest part of a large conurbation; the "West Midlands conurbation", which has a population of 2,275,000.
The metropolitan area of which Birmingham is part is defined by the government as the West Midlands county, which also includes the city of Coventry and has a population of 2,575,000, but in practice includes parts of the surrounding counties of Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire. Based upon commuting and economic influence, the metropolitan area effecitvely extends over much of the West Midlands region.
The city is commonly known by its nickname Brum (from the local name Brummagem), and its people as Brummies. Birmingham is home to the distinctive Brummie accent and dialect.
Birmingham is an ethnically and culturally diverse city. Around 30% of Birmingham's population is of non-white ethnicity; at the time of the 2001 census, 70.4% of the population was White (including 3.2% Irish), 19.5% Asian or Asian British, 6.1% Black or Black British, 0.5% Chinese, and 3.5% of mixed or other ethnic heritage.
The main article is at History of Birmingham; the following is a summary.
Birmingham has a recorded history going back 1000 years. In this time, it has grown from a tiny Anglo-Saxon farming village into a major industrial and commercial city.
The Birmingham area was occupied in Roman times, with several military roads and a large fort. Birmingham started life as a small Anglo-Saxon hamlet in the Early Middle Ages. It was first recorded in written documents by the Domesday Book of 1086 as a small village, worth only 20 shillings.
In the 12th century, Birmingham was granted a charter to hold a market, which in time became known as the Bull Ring. As a convenient location for trade, Birmingham soon developed into a small but thriving market town.
By the 16th century, Birmingham's access to supplies of iron ore and coal meant that metalworking industries became established. In the 17th century, Birmingham became an important manufacturing town with a reputation for producing small arms. Birmingham manufacturers supplied Oliver Cromwell's forces with much of their weaponry during the English Civil War. Arms manufacture in Birmingham became a staple trade and was concentrated in the area known as the Gun Quarter.
During the Industrial Revolution (from the mid 18th century onwards), Birmingham grew rapidly into a major industrial centre. Unlike many other English industrial cities such as Manchester, industry in Birmingham was based upon small workshops rather than large factories or mills.
The Birmingham Canal Navigations between the International Convention Centre (left) and Brindleyplace (right) in central Birmingham.
From the 1760s onwards, a large network of canals were built across Birmingham and the Black Country, to transport raw materials and finished goods. By the 1820s an extensive canal system had been constructed; Birmingham is often described as having more miles of canals than Venice.
Railways arrived in Birmingham in 1837, with the opening of the Grand Junction Railway and later the London and Birmingham Railway the railways soon linked Birmingham to every corner of Britain. New Street Station was opened as a joint station in 1854. And this was soon followed by the Great Western Railway's Snow Hill station.
During the Victorian era, the population of Birmingham grew rapidly to well over half a million and Birmingham became the second largest population centre in Britain. It became known as the "City of a thousand trades" due to the wide array of industries located there. Birmingham's importance led to it being granted city status by Queen Victoria in 1889.
Birmingham suffered heavy bomb damage during World War II, and partly as a result of this the city centre was extensively re-developed during the 1950s and 1960s, with many concrete office buildings, ring-roads, and now much-derided pedestrian subways. As a result, Birmingham gained a reputation for ugliness and was frequently described as a "concrete jungle".
In recent years however, Birmingham has been transformed, the city centre has been extensively renovated and restored with the construction of new squares, the restoration of old streets, buildings and canals, the removal of much-derided pedestrian subways, and the demolition and subsequent redevelopment of the Bull Ring shopping centre, which now includes the architecturally unique Selfridges building.