The history of Birmingham in England spans 1,400 years of growth, during which time it has evolved from a small 7th century Anglo Saxon hamlet on the edge of the Forest of Arden at the fringe of early Mercia to become a major city through a combination of immigration, innovation and civic pride that helped to bring about major social and economic reforms and to create the Industrial Revolution, inspiring the growth of similar cities across the world.
The last 200 years have seen Birmingham rise from market town into the fastest-growing city of the 19th century, spurred on by a combination of civic investment, scientific achievement, commercial innovation and by a steady influx of migrant workers into its suburbs. By the 20th century Birmingham had become the metropolitan hub of the United Kingdom's manufacturing and automotive industries, having earned itself a reputation first as a city of canals, then of cars, and most recently as a major European convention and shopping destination renowned for the large-scale reinvention of its international image.
By the beginning of the 21st century, Birmingham lay at the heart of a major post-industrial metropolis surrounded by world-class educational, manufacturing, shopping, sporting and conferencing facilities.
The oldest human artefact found within Birmingham is the Saltley Handaxe: a 500,000 year old brown quartzite hand axe about 100 millimetres (3.9 in) long, whose discovery in the gravels of the River Rea at Saltley in 1892 provided the first evidence of lower paleolithic human habitation of the English Midlands, an area previously thought to have been sterile and uninhabitable before the end of the last glacial period. Similarly-aged axes have since also been found in Erdington and Edgbaston, and bioarchaeological evidence from boreholes in Quinton, Nechells and Washwood Heath suggests that the climate and vegetation of Birmingham during this interglacial period were very similar to those of today.
The area became uninhabitable with the advancing glaciation of the last ice age, and the next evidence of human habitation within Birmingham dates from the mesolithic period. A 10,400 year old settlement – the oldest within the city – was excavated in the Digbeth area in 2009, with evidence that hunter-gatherers with basic flint tools had cleared an area of forest by burning. Flint tools from the later mesolithic period – between 8000 and 6000 years ago – have been found near streams in the city, though these probably represent little more than hunting parties or overnight camps.
The oldest man-made structures in the city date from the Neolithic era, including a possible cursus identified by aerial photography near Mere Green, and the surviving barrow at Kingstanding. Neolithic axes found across Birmingham include examples made of stone from Cumbria, Leicestershire, North Wales and Cornwall, suggesting the area had extensive trading links at the time.
Stone axes used by the area's first farmers over 5,000 years ago have been found within the city and the first bronze axes date from around 4,000 years ago. Pottery dating back to 2700BC has been found in Bournville.
The most common prehistoric sites in Birmingham are burnt mounds – a form characteristic of upland areas and possibly formed by the heating of stones for cooking or steam bathing purposes. Forty to fifty have been found in the Birmingham area, all but one datable to the period 1700-1000 BC. Burnt mound sites such as that discovered in Bournville also show evidence of wider settlements, with clearances in the woodland and grazing animals. Possible bronze age settlements with later iron age farmsteads have been discovered at Langley Mill Farm in Sutton Coldfield.
In Roman times, the paved Roman road called Icknield Street passed through what is now the Birmingham area, and a large military fort and marching camp, Metchley Fort, existed on the site of the present Queen Elizabeth Hospital near what is now Edgbaston in southern Birmingham. The fort was constructed soon after the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43. In AD 70, the fort was abandoned only to be reoccupied a few years later before being abandoned again in AD 120. Remains have also been found of a civilian settlement, or vicus, alongside the Roman fort. Excavations at Parson's Hill in Kings Norton and at Mere Green have revealed a Roman kiln site.
Although no archeological evidence has been found, the presence of the Old English prefix wīc- in Witton (wīc-tūn) suggests that it may also have been the site of a significant Romano-British vicus or settlement, which would have been adjacent to the crossing of the River Tame by Icknield Street at Perry Barr.
A preserved length of Icknield Street exists in Sutton Park. Another Roman road in Birmingham is the Chester Road in north Birmingham. It was originally known as 'Ridgeway' and has since developed into a major road through Erdington and Sutton Coldfield.
Remains dating to the Roman period have also been discovered at 25 different locations throughout the modern Birmingham area.
Until the Middle Ages, the Birmingham area was a sparsely populated backwater, due to Bunter Pebble, a poor quality soil which made agriculture unproductive. The manors in the surrounding areas, which were later to become suburbs of Birmingham, were located amongst areas of good soil for agriculture. Much of the area was covered by the once-vast Forest of Arden.
Archaeological evidence from the Anglo Saxon era in Birmingham is slight: a bronze spear found in Edgbaston, some pottery from King's Norton and a glass beaker found in Longbridge being among the few notable artefacts. Documentary records of the era are limited to seven Anglo-Saxon charters detailing the outlying areas of King's Norton, Yardley, Duddeston and Rednal. Place name evidence, however, suggests that it was during this period that many of the settlements that were later to make up the city, including Birmingham itself, were established.
The name "Birmingham" comes from the Old English Beormingahām, meaning the home or settlement of the Beormingas – a tribe or clan whose name literally means "Beorma's people" and which may have formed an early unit of Anglo-Saxon administration. Beorma, after whom the tribe was named, could have been its leader at the time of the Anglo-Saxon settlement, a shared ancestor, or a mythical tribal figurehead. Place names ending in -ingahām are characteristic of primary settlements established during the early phases of Anglo-Saxon colonisation of an area, suggesting that Birmingham was probably in existence by the early seventh century at the latest. Surrounding settlements with names ending in -tūn (farm), -lēah (woodland clearing), -worð (enclosure) and -field (open ground) are likely to be secondary settlements created by the later expansion of the Anglo-Saxon population, in some cases possibly on earlier British sites.
The site of Anglo-Saxon and Domesday Birmingham is not known. The traditional view – that it was a village based around the crossing of the River Rea at Deritend, with a village green on the site that became the Bull Ring – has now largely been discredited, and not a single piece of Anglo-Saxon material was found during the extensive archeological excavations that preceded the redevelopment of the Bull Ring in 2000. Other locations have been suggested including the Broad Street area; Hockley in the Jewellery Quarter; or the site of the Priory of St Thomas of Canterbury, now occupied by Old Square. Alternatively early Birmingham may have been an area of scattered farmsteads with no central nucleated village, or the name may originally have referred to the wider area of the Beormingas' tribal homeland, much larger than the later manor and parish and including many surrounding settlements. Analysis of the pre-Norman linkages between parishes suggests that such an area could have extended from West Bromwich to Castle Bromwich, and from the northern boundaries of Northfield and King's Norton to the southern boundaries of Sutton Coldfield.
During the early Anglo-Saxon period the area of the modern city lay across a frontier separating two peoples. Birmingham itself and the parishes in the centre and north of the area were probably colonised by the Tomsaete or "Tame-dwellers", who were Anglian tribes who migrated along the valleys of the Trent and the Tame from the Humber Estuary and later formed the kingdom of Mercia. Parishes in the south of the current city such as Northfield and King's Norton were colonised during a later period by the Hwicce, a Saxon tribe whose migration north through the valleys of the Severn and Avon followed the West Saxons' victory over the Britons at the Battle of Dyrham in 577. The exact boundary between the two groups may not have been precisely defined, but is likely to be indicated by the boundaries of the later dioceses of Lichfield and Worcester established after the seventh century conversion of Mercia to Christianity.
The late seventh century saw the kingdom of Mercia expand, absorbing the Hwicce by the late eighth century and eventually coming to dominate most of England, but the growth of Viking power in the later ninth century saw eastern Mercia fall to the Danelaw, while the western part, including the Birmingham area, came to be dominated by Wessex. During the tenth century Edward the Elder of Wessex reorganised western Mercia for defensive purposes into shires based around the fortified burhs established by his sister Æthelflæd. The Birmingham area again found itself a border region, with the parish of Birmingham forming part of the Coleshill Hundred of newly-created Warwickshire, but other areas of the modern city falling within Staffordshire and Worcestershire.
After the Norman conquest of England the area passed into the hands of the Norman De Birmingham family (sometimes spelt De Bermingham) who became lords of the manor from which they took a surname. Birmingham was recorded as a minor village in the Domesday Book of 1086 which stated:
"There was land for six ploughs, but only three plough teams were used, there were the families of five villeins [i.e tenants of the Lord] and four bordars [i.e farmers]; woodland half a league by two furlongs [2778 by 402 m], no mill, no meadow and a total value of only 20 shillings [£1]."
Birmingham 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 royal charter to hold a market, which in time became known as the Bull Ring. At the time of the Domesday survey, Birmingham was far smaller than other villages in the area, most notably Aston. Other manors recorded in the Domesday survey were Sutton, Erdington, Edgbaston, Selly, Northfield, Tessall And Rednal. A settlement called "Machitone" was also mentioned in the survey. This was to later become Sheldon.
The Manor of Birmingham was located at the foot of the eastern side of the Keuper Sandstone ridge. It would have been, at the time of the Domesday survey, a small house. However, it later developed into a timber-framed house surrounded by a moat fed by the River Rea.
The key moment in the transformation of Birmingham from the small and purely rural agricultural manor of the Domesday Book took place in 1166, with the purchase by Peter de Birmingham of a royal charter from Henry II permitting him to hold a weekly market "at his castle at Birmingham" and to charge tolls on its traffic – one of the earliest of the two thousand such charters that would be granted in England in the two centuries up to 1350. This may have recognised a market that was already taking place, as lawsuits of 1285 and 1308 both upheld the claim that the Birmingham market had been held without interruption since before the Norman conquest, but its significance remains, as Peter followed the investment in the charter with the deliberate creation of a planned market town.
This era saw the laying out of the triangular marketplace that became the Bull Ring; the selling of burgage plots on the surrounding frontages granting privileges in the market and freedom from tolls; the diversion of local trade routes towards the new site and its associated crossing of the River Rea at Deritend; the rebuilding of the Birmingham Manor House in stone and probably the first establishment of the parish church of St Martin in the Bull Ring. By the time Peter's son William de Birmingham sought confirmation of the market's status from Richard I twenty three years later, its location was no longer "his castle at Birmingham", but "the town of Birmingham".
The following period was one of rapid expansion in highly favourable economic circumstances. The Birmingham market was the earliest to be established on the Birmingham Plateau – an area which accounted for most of the doubling or tripling of the population of Warwickshire between 1086 and 1348 as population growth nationally encouraged the settlement and cultivation of previously marginal land. Surviving documents record the widespread enclosure of wasteland and clearing of woodland in King's Norton, Yardley, Perry Barr and Erdington during the thirteenth century, a period over which the cultivated area of the manor of Bordesley also increased two-fold. Demand for agricultural trade was further fuelled by the increasing requirement for rents to be paid in cash rather than labour, leading tenant farmers to sell more of their produce, but it would be almost a century before Solihull, Halesowen and Sutton Coldfield provided the market at Birmingham with any competition. By then the success of Birmingham itself provided the model, with tenure at Solihull explicitly being granted "according to the liberties and customs merchant of the market of Birmingham".
Within a century of the 1166 charter Birmingham had grown into a prosperous town of craftsmen and merchants. The signing of Letters patent indicate visits by the King to Birmingham in 1189, 1235 and 1237, and two burgesses were summoned to represent the town in Parliament in 1275. This event was not repeated until the nineteenth century, but established Birmingham as a town of comparable significance to older Warwickshire towns such as Alcester, Coleshill, Stratford-upon-Avon and Tamworth. Fifty years later the lay subsidy rolls of 1327 and 1332 show Birmingham to have overtaken all of these towns to become the third largest in the county, behind only Warwick itself and the major medieval urban centre of Coventry – at the time the fourth largest town in England.
Birmingham's market is likely to have remained primarily one for agricultural produce throughout the medieval period. The land of the Birmingham Plateau, particularly the unenclosed area of the manor of Birmingham to the west of the town, was more suited to pastoral then arable agriculture and excavated animal bones indicate that cattle were the dominant livestock, with some sheep but very few pigs. References in 1285 and 1306 to stolen cattle being sold in the town suggest that the size of the trade at this time was sufficient for such sales to go unnoticed. Trade through Birmingham diversified as a merchant class arose, however: mercers and purveyors are mentioned in early thirteenth century deeds, and a legal dispute involving traders from Wednesbury in 1403 reveals that they were dealing in iron, linen, wool, brass and "calibe" (possibly fur) as well as cattle in the town.
By the fourteenth century Birmingham seems to have been established as a particular centre of the wool trade. Two Birmingham merchants represented Warwickshire at the council held in York in 1322 to discuss the standardisation of wool staples, and others attended the Westminster wool merchants assemblies of 1340, 1342 and 1343, a period when at least one Birmingham merchant was trading considerable amounts of wool with continental Europe. Aulnage records for 1397 give some indication of the size of Birmingham's textile trade at the time, the 44 broadcloths sold being a tiny fraction of the 3,000 sold in the major textile centre of Coventry, but making up almost a third of the trade of the rest of Warwickshire.
Birmingham was also situated on several significant overland trade routes. By the end of the thirteenth century the town was an important transit point for the trade in cattle along drovers' roads from Wales to Coventry and the South East of England. Exchequer accounts for 1340 record wine imported through Bristol being unloaded at Worcester and transported by cart to Birmingham and Lichfield. This was the route of the ancient Upper Saltway from Droitwich, shown on the Gough Map of the mid fourteenth century and described by the contemporary Ranulf Higdon as forming part of one of the "Four Great Royal Roads" of England, running from Worcester to the River Tyne.
The de Birmingham family were active in promoting the market, whose tolls would have formed an important part of the income from the manor of Birmingham, by then the most valuable of their estates. The establishment of a rival market at Deritend in the neighbouring parish of Aston had led them to acquire the hamlet by 1270, and the family is recorded enforcing the payment of tolls by traders from King's Norton, Bromsgrove, Wednesbury, and Tipton in 1263, 1308 and 1403. In 1250 William de Birmingham gained permission to hold a fair for three days about Ascensiontide. By 1400 a second fair was being held at Michaelmas and in 1439 the then lord negotiated for the town to be free of the presence of royal purveyors.
Archaeological evidence of small-scale industries in Birmingham appears from as early as the twelfth century, and the first documentary evidence of craftsmen in the town comes from 1232, when a group of burgesses negotiating to be released from their obligation to help with the Lord's haymaking are listed as including a smith, a tailor and four weavers. Manufacturing is likely to have been stimulated by the existence of the market, which would have provided a source of raw materials such as hides and wool as well as a demand for goods from prosperous merchants in the town and from visitors from the countryside selling produce. By 1332 the number of craftsmen in Birmingham was similar to that of other Warwickshire towns associated with industry such as Tamworth, Henley-in-Arden, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Alcester.
Analysis of craftsmen's names in medieval records suggests that the major industries of medieval Birmingham were textiles, leather working and iron working, with archaeological evidence also suggesting the presence of pottery, tile manufacture and probably the working of bone and horn. By the thirteenth century there were tanning pits in use in Edgbaston Street; and hemp and flax were being used for making rope, canvas and linen. Kilns producing the distinctive local Deritend Ware pottery existed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and skinners, tanners and saddlers are recorded in the fourteenth century. The presence of slag and hearth bloom in pits excavated behind Park Street also suggests the early presence of working in iron. The borough rentals of 1296 provide evidence of at least four forges in the town, four smiths are mentioned on a poll tax return of 1379 and seven more are documented in the following century. Although fifteen to twenty weavers, dyers and fullers have been identified in Birmingham up to 1347, this is not a significantly greater number of cloth-workers than that found in surrounding villages and at least some of the cloth sold on the Birmingham market had rural origins. This was the first local industry to benefit from mechanisation, however, and nearly a dozen fulling mills existed in the Birmingham area by the end of the fourteenth century, many converted from corn mills, but including one at Holford near Perry Barr that was purpose-built in 1358.
While most manufactured goods would have been produced for a local market, there is also some evidence that Birmingham was already a specialised and widely-recognised centre of the jewellery trade during the medieval period. An inventory of the personal possessions of the Master of the Knights Templar in England at the time of their suppression in 1308 includes twenty two Birmingham Pieces: small, high value items, possibly jewellery or metal ornaments, that were sufficiently well-known to be referred to without explanation as far away as London. In 1343 three Birmingham men were punished for selling base metal items while asserting they were silver, and there is documentary evidence of goldsmiths in the town in 1384 and 1460 – a trade that could not have been supported purely through local demand in a town of Birmingham's size.
The growth of the urban economy of thirteenth and early fourteenth century Birmingham was reflected in the development of its institutions. St Martin in the Bull Ring was rebuilt on a lavish scale around 1250 with two aisles, a clerestory and a 200 ft high spire, and two chantries were endowed in the church by wealthy local merchants in 1330 and 1347. The Priory of St Thomas of Canterbury is first recorded in 1286, and by 1310 had received six major endowments of land totalling 60 acres and 27 smaller endowments. The Priory was reformed in 1344 after criticism by the Bishop of Lichfield and a chantry was established in its chapel. St John's Chapel, Deritend was established around 1380 as a chapel of ease of the parish church of Aston, with its priest supprted by the associated Guild of St John, Deritend, which also maintained a school. The parish of Birmingham gained its own religious guild with the foundation in 1392 of the Guild of the Holy Cross, which provided a social and political focus for the elite of the town as well as supporting chaplains, almshouses, a midwife, a clock, the bridge over the River Rea and "divers ffoule and daungerous high wayes".
Although medieval Birmingham was never incorporated as a self-governing entity independent of its manor, the Borough – the built-up area – was governed separately from the Foreign – the open agricultural area to the west – from at least 1250. The burgesses of the town elected the two bailiffs; the "commonalty of the town" is first recorded in 1296 and a pavage grant of 1318 was made out not to the Lord of the Manor but to "to the bailiffs and good men of the town of Bermyngeham". The town thus remained free of the restrictive trade guilds of fully chartered boroughs, but was free also from the constraints of a strict manorial regime. Economic success also saw the town expand. New Street is first recorded in 1296, Moor Street was created in the late thirteenth century and Park Street in the early fourteenth. Population growth was driven by immigrants attracted by the opportunity of establishing themselves as traders, free from duties of agricultural labour. Analysis of rentals suggest that two-thirds came from within ten miles of the town, but others came from further afield, including Wales, Oxfordshire, Lincolnshire, Hampshire and even Paris. There is also some evidence that the town may have had a Jewish population before the Edict of Expulsion of 1290.
If the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were a period of growth for the town, however, this ceased during the fourteenth century in the face of a series of calamities. The manorial court records of nearby Halesowen record a "Great Fire of Birmingham" between 1281 and 1313, an event possibly reflected in late thirteenth century pits containing large quantities of charcoal and charred and burnt pottery found beneath Moor Street. Famines of 1315 to 1322 and the Black Death of 1348-50 halted the growth in population and the decline in archaeological evidence of pottery from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries may indicate a prolonged period of economic hardship.
The Tudor and Stuart eras marked a period of transition for Birmingham. In the 1520s it was still the third largest town in Warwickshire, with a population of about 1,000 little changed from that two centuries earlier. Despite a series of plagues throughout the seventeenth century, by 1700 Birmingham's population had increased fifteen-fold and the town was the fifth-largest in England and Wales, with a nationally-important economy based on the expanding and diversifying metal trades, and a reputation for political and religious radicalism firmly established by its role in the English Civil War.
The principal institutions of medieval Birmingham collapsed within eleven years between 1536 and 1547. The Priory of St Thomas was suppressed and its property sold at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, with the Guild of the Holy Cross, the Guild of St John and their associated chantries also being disbanded in 1547. Most significantly, the de Birmingham family lost possession of the manor of Birmingham in 1536, probably as a result of a feud between Edward de Birmingham and John Sutton, 3rd Baron Dudley. After brief periods in the possession of the crown and the Duke of Northumberland, the manor was sold in 1555 to Thomas Marrow of Berkswell. With the government of Birmingham remaining essentially manorial, the district was to be an area of weak lordship – with a consequent high degree of economic and social freedom – throughout the following centuries.
The period was also one of significant cultural development. Although the dissolution of the Guild of St John in Deritend saw the closure of its associated school, the former hall of the Guild of the Holy Cross in New Street, together with property worth £21 per year from its estate, was saved for the establishment of King Edward's Free Grammar School in 1552. John Rogers, born in Deritend in 1500, became the town's first notable literary figure when he compiled and partially translated the Matthew Bible, the first complete authorised edition of the Bible to appear in the English language. The first Birmingham library had been established by 1642, the same year that Nathaniel Nye – the town's first known scientist – published his New Almanacke and Prognostication calculated exactly for the faire and populous Towne of Birmicham in Warwickshire. Finally 1652 marks the first record of a Birmingham bookseller and the first Birmingham-published book: The Font Guarded, by the local puritan Thomas Hall.
From the 16th century onwards, Birmingham became a centre of many metalworking industries, with a skilled population of ironmongers. Birmingham was located near sources of iron ore, and coal and also several streams which could power bellows. These natural advantages ensured that Birmingham developed into a metalworking and manufacturing centre.
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 goods a reputation for quality.
Birmingham soon became a centre of arms manufacturing, with guns and swords being produced. By the mid-17th century Birmingham had grown into an important manufacturing town with a population of around 5,500.
The armaments trade was greatly stimulated by the English Civil War. In 1642, the townsfolk refused to support the King and manufactured thousands of swords to Parliament, in revenge Birmingham was plundered by the royalist forces led by Prince Rupert following the Battle of Camp Hill. Birmingham manufacturers supplied the Roundheads with much of their weaponry. Reputedly, 15,000 swords were produced in Birmingham for Oliver Cromwell's forces.
By the late 17th century, gun making in Birmingham became concentrated in an area called the Gun Quarter. By the end of the century 200 muskets a month were being produced in Birmingham for the government. In the latter half of the century Birmingham's population expanded rapidly; by 1700 it had grown to over 15,000.
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. By the mid-18th century, Birmingham had become the largest town in Warwickshire. In the latter half of the 18th century, Birmingham's population tripled from 24,000 in 1750, to 74,000 in 1800.
During this time, Birmingham was home to Matthew Boulton, James Watt, William Murdoch, Joseph Priestley who, with others, formed the highly influential Lunar Society. Joseph Priestley's presence in Birmingham resulted in the Priestley Riots of 1791 in which his home, as well as other individual's properties, was burned down by a mob.
During their time in Birmingham, Boulton, Watt and Murdoch were instrumental in innovations such as the development of the steam engine and gas lighting, and Birmingham found itself at the forefront of industrial technology.
The first map of Birmingham was produced in 1731 by William Westley, though the year before, he produced the first documentation of a newly constructed square named Old Square. It became one of the most prestigious addresses in Birmingham. This was not the first map to show Birmingham, something that had been done in 1335, albeit showing Birmingham as a small symbol. Birmingham was again surveyed in 1750 by S. Bradford.
Until the 1760s, Birmingham's local government system, consisted of manorial and parish officials, most of whom served on a part-time and honorary basis. However this system proved completely inadequate to cope with Birmingham's rapid growth. In 1768, Birmingham gained a rudimentary local government system, when a body of "Commissioners of the Streets" was established, who had powers to levy a rate for functions such as cleaning and street lighting. They were later given powers to provide policing and build public buildings.
From the 1760s onwards, Birmingham became a centre of the canal system. The canals provided an efficient transport system for raw materials and finished goods, and greatly aided the town's industrial growth.
The first canal to be built into Birmingham, was opened in November 1769 and connected Birmingham with the coal mines at Wednesbury in the Black Country. Within a year of the canal opening, the price of coal in Birmingham had fallen by 50%.
The canal network across Birmingham and the Black Country expanded rapidly over the following decades, with most of it owned by the Birmingham Canal Navigations Company. Other canals such as the Birmingham and Worcester Canal the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal and the Warwick and Birmingham Canal (now the Grand Union) and the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal linked Birmingham to the rest of the country. By 1830, some 160 miles of canal had been constructed across the Birmingham and Black Country area.
Due to Birmingham's vast array of industries, it was nicknamed "workshop of the World". The expansion of the population of the town and the increased prosperity led to it acquiring a library in 1779, a hospital in 1766 and a variety of recreational institutions.
Printing of Birmingham's first newspaper, the Birmingham Journal, commenced in 1732 by Thomas Warren, however ceased in 1741. The Birmingham Chronicle began printing in 1769 and survives for a longer period.
In 1802, Nelson and the Hamiltons visited Birmingham. Nelson was fêted, and visited Matthew Boulton on his sick-bed at Soho House, before taking a tour of the Soho Manufactory and commissioning the Battle of the Nile medal. In 1809, a statue of Horatio Nelson by Richard Westmacott Jr. was erected by public subscription. It still stands, in the Bull Ring, albeit on a 1960s plinth.
The Birmingham manor house and its moat were demolished and removed in 1816. The site was constructed upon to create the Smithfield Markets, which concentrated various marketing activities upon one area close to the Bull Ring which had developed into a retail-led area.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Birmingham had a population of around 74,000. By the end of the century it had grown to 630,000. This rapid population growth meant that by the middle of the century Birmingham had become the second largest population centre in Britain.
Railways arrived in Birmingham in 1837 with the opening of the Grand Junction Railway which linked Birmingham with Manchester and Liverpool. The following year the London and Birmingham Railway opened, linking to the capital. This was soon followed by the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway and the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway.
These all initially had separate stations around Curzon Street. However, in the 1840s, these early railway companies had merged to become the London and North Western Railway and the Midland Railway respectively. The two companies jointly constructed Birmingham New Street Station which was opened in 1854, and Birmingham became a central hub of the British railway system.
Also in the 1830s, due to its growing size and importance, Birmingham was granted Parliamentary representation by the Reform Act of 1832. The new Birmingham constituency was created with two MPs representing it. Thomas Attwood and Joshua Scholefield both Liberals, were elected as the Birmingham's first MP's.
In 1838, local government reform meant that Birmingham was one of the first new towns to be incorporated as a municipal borough by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. This allowed Birmingham to have its first elected town council. The council initially worked alongside the existing Street Commissioners, until they were wound up in 1851.
Birmingham's growth and prosperity was based upon metalworking industries, of which many different kinds existed.
Birmingham became known as the "City of a thousand trades" because of the wide variety of goods manufactured there — buttons, cutlery, nails and screws, guns, tools, jewellery, toys, locks, and ornaments were amongst the many products manufactured.
For most of the 19th century, industry in Birmingham was dominated by small workshops rather than large factories or mills. Large factories became increasingly common towards the end of the century when engineering industries became increasingly important.
The industrial wealth of Birmingham allowed merchants to fund the construction of some fine institutional buildings in the city. Some buildings of the 19th century included: the Birmingham Town Hall built in 1834, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens opened in 1832, the Council House built in 1879, and the Museum and Art Gallery in the extended Council House, opened in 1885.
The mid-19th century saw major immigration into the city from Ireland, following the Great Irish Famine (1845-1849).
As in many industrial towns during the 19th century, many of Birmingham's residents lived in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. During the early to mid 19th century, thousands of back-to-back houses were built to house the growing population, many of which were poorly built and badly drained, and many soon became slums.
In 1851, a network of sewers was built under the city which was connected to the River Rea, although only new houses were connected to it, and many older houses had to wait decades until they were connected.
Birmingham gained gas lighting in 1818, and a water company in 1826, to provide piped water, although clean water was only available to people who could pay. Birmingham gained its first electricity supply in 1882. Horse-drawn trams ran through Birmingham from 1873, and electric trams from 1890.
Between 1873 and 1876, Joseph Chamberlain served as mayor of the town. Under his leadership, Birmingham was transformed, as the council introduced one of the most ambitious improvement schemes outside London. The council purchased the city's gas and water works, and moved to improve the lighting and provide clean drinking water to the city, income from these utilities also provided a healthy income for the council, which was re-invested into the city to provide new amenities.
Under Chamberlain, some of Birmingham's worst slums were cleared. And through the city-centre a new thoroughfare was constructed, Corporation Street, which soon became a fashionable shopping street. He was instrumental in building of the Council House and the Victoria Law Courts in Corporation Street. Numerous public parks were also opened. The improvements introduced by Chamberlain were to prove the blueprint for municipal government, and were soon copied by other cities. Although he resigned as mayor to become an MP, Chamberlain took close interest in the city for many years after he resigned.
Birmingham's water problems were not fully solved through the creation of reservoirs in Walmley Ash, fed by Plants Brook. Other larger reservoirs were constructed at Witton Lakes and Brookvale Park Lake to help ease the problems. The problems were finally solved, however, by Birmingham Corporation Water Department with the completion of a 73 mile long Elan aqueduct was built to a reservoir in the Elan Valley in Wales; this project was approved in 1891 and completed in 1904.
Birmingham's boundaries were expanded at several times during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Birmingham was incorporated as a municipal borough in 1838. The borough initially included the parishes of Birmingham and Edgbaston and part of the parish of Aston. In 1889, the municipal borough of Birmingham was reconstituted as a county borough.
It was expanded in 1891 under the City of Birmingham Extension Order by adding Harborne from Staffordshire and Balsall Heath from Worcestershire, as well as Saltley, a further part of Aston parish. Quinton in Worcestershire was added in 1909.
1911 saw a large expansion with the addition of Aston Manor and Erdington from Warwickshire, Handsworth from Staffordshire, and Yardley and part of Kings Norton and Northfield from Worcestershire. The remainder of Kings Norton and Northfield were added in 1912. Perry Barr in Staffordshire was added in 1928. In 1931, parts of the parishes of Minworth, Castle Bromwich, Sheldon and a tiny part of Solihull were added, including the area of Castle Vale, then known as Berwood.
Birmingham was reconstituted on April 1, 1974, under the Local Government Act 1972, as a metropolitan district, which covered both the former county borough of Birmingham, and the municipal borough of Sutton Coldfield. *
During the 20th century, Birmingham's population continued to increase and also peaked.
In 1918, the Birmingham Civic Society was founded to bring public interest to bear upon all proposals put forward by public bodies and private owners for building, new open spaces and parks, and any and all matters concerned with the amenities of the city. The society set about making suggestions for improvements in the city, sometimes designing and paying for improvements themselves and buying a number of open spaces and later gifting them to the city for use as parks.
In 1936, King Edward's Grammar School on New Street was demolished and moved to Edgbaston. The school had been on that site for 384 years. The site was later transformed into an office block which was destroyed in the bombing of the Second World War. It was later rebuilt and named "King Edward's House". It is used as an office block and on the ground floor as shops and restaurants.
In the First and Second World Wars, the Longbridge car plant switched to production of munitions and military equipment, from ammunition, mines and depth charges to tank suspensions, steel helmets, Jerricans, Hawker Hurricanes, Fairey Battle fighters and Airspeed Horsa gliders, with the mammoth Avro Lancaster bomber coming into production towards the end of WWII. The Spitfire fighter aircraft was mass produced at Castle Bromwich by Vickers-Armstrong throughout the war.
Birmingham's industrial importance and contribution to the war effort may have been decisive in winning the war. The city was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe during the Birmingham Blitz in World War II. By the war's end 2,241 citizens had been killed by the bombing and over 3,000 seriously injured. 12,932 buildings were destroyed (including 300 factories) and thousands more damaged. The air raids also destroyed many of Birmingham's fine buildings. The council declared five redevelopment areas in 1946:
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 run by the National Trust).
Due largely to bomb damage, the city centre was also extensively re-built under the supervision of the city council's chief engineer Henry Manzoni during the postwar years. He was assisted by the City Architect position which was held by several people. Emblematic of this was the new Bull Ring Shopping Centre. Birmingham also became a centre of the national motorway network, with Spaghetti Junction. Much of the re-building of the postwar period would in later decades be regarded as mistaken, especially the large numbers of concrete buildings and ringroads which gave the city a reputation for ugliness.
In 1974, 21 people were killed and 182 people were injured when two city-centre pubs were bombed by the IRA.
In the same year 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. It was also finally removed from Warwickshire.
There were further waves of immigration from Ireland in the 1950s and 1980s as emigrants sought to escape the economic deprivation and unemployment in their homeland. There remains a strong Irish tradition in the city, most notably in Digbeth's Irish Quarter and in the annual St Patrick's Day parade, claimed to be the third-largest in the world after New York and Dublin.
In the years following World War II, a major influx of immigrants from the Commonwealth of Nations 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.
On the other hand, some arts prospered, such as the formation of the influential musical group Black Sabbath, which was formed by Birmingham natives.
Tension between ethnic groups and the authorities led to the Handsworth riots in 1981 and 1985. October 2005 saw the 2005 Birmingham riots in the Lozells and Handsworth regions of the city, with street battles between black and Asian gangs, caused by an unsubstantiated rumour resulting in two deaths and much damage.
The Birmingham City Council, further to the Local Strategic Partnership 'Be Birmingham', continue to strive towards a better, more united Birmingham.
In the 1970s and 1980s, manufacturing industry in Birmingham went into decline, mainly through competition from foreign competitors, and by the early 1980s unemployment rates in Birmingham were amongst the highest in the country. The City Council undertook a policy of diversifying the city's economy into service industries, retailing and tourism to lessen the dependence upon manufacturing. A number of initiatives were undertaken to make the city more attractive to visitors.
In the 1970s, the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) was built, 10 miles (16 km) 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. The area around Broad Street, including Centenary Square, the ICC and Brindleyplace, was extensively renovated at the turn of 2000. In 1998, a G8 summit was held in Birmingham, and US president Bill Clinton was clearly impressed by the city.
In September 2003, the Bullring shopping complex was opened following a three year project. In 2003, the city failed in its bid to become the 2008 European Capital of Culture, under the banner "Be in Birmingham 2008".
Birmingham continues to develop, following the removal of the Inner Ring Road, which acted as a 'concrete collar' preventing the expansion of the city centre, a massive urban regeneration project known as the Big City Plan in in progress. For example, in the city's new Eastside district which is undergoing work which is expected to total £6 billion.