|Even back in the middle ages Birmingham was
developing as a centre of industry. Metalwork has long been just one of
the inhabitants' many skills, no doubt assisted by the seemingly endless
quantities of coal and iron to hand. Over the centuries, craftsmen and
their small workshops concentrated in the town and its reputation grew.
In the late 18th century, the Lunar Society met in Birmingham; a group of the finest minds of the time, dedicated to tackling scientific and philosophical questions. It included amongst its subscribers, James Watt, Matthew Boulton and Joseph Priestley, who between them devised steam engines, discovered oxygen and dreamt up Unitarianism.
The canal system developed in the late 18th century, further enhancing trade, and suddenly Birmingham began producing guns, jewellery, pins, screws and buckles by the narrowboat-load. By 1790, the population had soared to 90,000 and the city had become one of Britain's most important trade centres. This period is encapsulated in the modern sculpture Forward.
In 1838 Robert Stephenson engineered the London-Birmingham railway line, which would supersede the canal trade-link to the capital. The subsequent plummeting of transport costs and resulting explosion in trade resulted in a population boom - 296,000 inhabitants by 1860.
More recently, Birmingham has become known for the 'Spaghetti Junction' - an infamously complex motorway system on the city's periphery. It has also developed an excellent reputation for the arts, with the Barber Institute, the Rep Theatre and in particular, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which flourished under the baton of premier conductor Simon Rattle. The modern Symphony Hall is famed for having the best acoustics in Europe. The Catholic Cathedral of St.Chad's also boasts one of the best mechanical action organs in Western Europe.
The entire city centre has undergone a facelift, with a renovated City Hall, Victoria Square and new pedestrian areas; the canals have once again become an important feature with the Gas Street Basin Development and Brindleyplace belying Birmingham's reputation for being a dull, industrial, urban sprawl. It is also home to Edgbaston Cricket ground where Warwickshire CCC won a number of trophies in the mid-1990s. Gastronomically, Birmingham is renowned for its baltis and for being the home of Cadbury's confectionery - chocolate lovers can even visit the factory!
Birmingham was put on the global map with the European Summit in 1994, hosted at the International Conference Centre as was the G8 Summit in 1998, attended by President Clinton, Prime Minister Blair and their foreign counterparts. After years of being the butt of jokes from other British cities, Birmingham now rightly holds its head high on the national and international stage.