Welcome to Birmingham, the UK’s second city. It’s a city of mixed cultures, creeds and lifestyles and has recently become the fashionable place to set up a business or to hold a conference but still retains pride in being a city built on industry. Listed below are the most important and well-known areas of Birmingham, encompassing business, baltis and entertainment!
Bournville – Chocolate, cricket and manicured lawns – is there anything else needed for a better world? The village is truly beautiful and inhabitants have to adhere to the rules of the Bournville Village Trust, eg keep a tidy, well-kempt garden in order to keep the area this way. What’s more, because of the Methodist origins of the Cadbury family who founded this suburb, there is not one pub to be found here. Here you can find, however, Cadbury World with its history of chocolate, work reforms and idealism. Quite a family oriented area, though literally thousands of visitors pass through here.
City Centre – The place to dine, shop, visit the theatres, clubs etc. The city is now majorly pedestrianised and has everything within easy walking distance. At the Chamberlain Square end, students, trendies and clever types sit on the steps outside the library chatting, eating or swotting for exams. The popular Birmingham Art Gallery shows its scrubbed façade and imposing doors to the world, containing works by Rodin, some major pre-Raphaelites and a breathtaking selection of Japanese armour. The glorious Town Hall and Council House face outwards to Victoria Square where the statue fondly known by all Brummies as ‘the Floozie in the Jacuzzi’ takes centre stage on the steps that lead down to the centre. At the other end of Birmingham are the two ever-popular markets. Bull Ring Market is where the cheapest fruit, veg and bric-a-brac can be bought. Check out the Bull Ring before it is demolished to become an indoor market. The Rag Market with its textiles and household goods is very popular amongst the elderly, true Brummies and poor students. Broad Street, with its hotels, pubs, clubs etc, leads to the canals; Birmingham has more canals than Venice as any local will only too readily point out. Along with numerous theatres, the ICC and the Symphony Hall can be found here, facing a square whose pavement is designed to look like a Persian carpet. Also, there are two cathedrals, both of which are beautiful, although St Philip’s is probably the easiest to find.
Digbeth – The Sanctuary nightclub is down here as is the coach station (you may think this is not much to recommend the place and you’d be right). However there are a few massive cash and carrys that are open to the public. Recently, a bit of cash trickled into this area and the Custard Factory was born – this is a venue for younger people to eat, drink and watch/perform drama, music and dance pieces. News on the grapevine is that lots of money will be spent on the Discovery Centre the home of the new Science and Industry Museum.
Edgbaston – Loads of interesting places here, including one of the excellent King Edward Schools, Pebble Mill TV and Radio recording studio, where ‘The Archers’, Britain’s longest running soap opera is recorded. There’s a wonderful and popular reservoir near Birmingham University, where you can find the Barber Institute, whichalso has a fine collection of pre-Raphaelite art. Expect to find the well-heeled, the student set and families in Edgbaston. Also you can find Cannon Hill, one of the largest and most adventure/culture packed parks. Edgbaston Cricket Ground, home to Warwickshire CCC is found near here too. Edgbaston also boasts the Botanical Gardens where you could practically spend the whole day. Hotels and pubs can be found on the Hagley Road, which stretches from Five Ways to infinity (not literally!)
Hall Green – This green and lush residential area has a famous Greyhound Stadium, which surprisingly enough is quite popular with students as well as the hardened greyhound lover. Sarehole Mill is Hall Green’s working, water-powered cornmill constructed in the 18th century. This was the place where ‘The Hobbit’ author J R R Tolkien would spend his time as a child.
Handsworth/Aston/Lozells – Often, if a Brummie thinks about one of these areas the other two spring to mind. Aston has a large and beautiful Jacobean house Aston Hall, built in the early 1600s and is also home to premier league players Aston Villa FC as well as the popular Science Park and Aston University (with excellent scientific courses). Also the home of one of the best-loved stations in Birmingham – BRMB. Handsworth Wood was once an area full of much sought after property and still retains some of its large houses. Every year in Handsworth there was a carnival to (semi) rival that of Notting Hill; after a terrible time in the early eighties, Handsworth was known for its riots and not much else. A large ethnic community and one of the largest Sikh temples in the city can be found here, in the evening the temple is lit up with neon decorations, splitting the night. The Soho Road is great for Indian Sweet Centres, West Indian Bakeries and Asian Grocers.
Harborne – A highly desirable residential area, home to children called Toby and Rebecca. The beautiful Blue Coat School, for boarders and day pupils, sits on the outskirts and there are numerous other excellent schools nearby. Some have called the suburb the “Chelsea of Birmingham”.
Hockley – Not far from the city centre, this is the place to learn about Birmingham’s jewellery industry at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. Get your trinkets and treasures here at cheap prices. A carefully restored workshop that’s 100 years old is now a visitor centre, informing you in depth about the rise and fall of the jewellery trade. Café bars and restaurants are springing up too in order to attract the casual visitor.
Moseley – Home of UB40 and Ocean Colour Scene, Moseley is popular with students as there are quite a few bars, pubs, and areas of cheap accommodation. There’s also the Moseley Dance Centre. The Jug of Ale is a very popular pub, where bands like Oasis, Blur and Ocean Colour Scene played before they experienced super-stardom. An area of contradictions, Moseley village has some pretty little boutiques and cake shops and some large houses which has made it a bit of a trendy place for the moneyed, younger Brummie to live. The district is also known for the amount of Gypsies that live there.
Perry Barr – The Alexander Stadium hosts the AAA Championships each year. There’s also a Greyhound Racing Stadium (what does all this dog racing say about the City?!). The area also hold the vast One-Stop shopping centre and is home of the University of Central England.
Selly Oak – Its nickname is less than flattering, but ‘Smelly Poke’ is a place where there is much student accommodation. Famous for its large and friendly hospital and having a community feel.
Small Heath/Sparkbrook/Balsall Heath – Run down and not really famous for its scenery, but Boy, oh Boy! the baltis here are beloved by all, not just Brummies but people from far and wide. Top food critics often visit these restaurants. Popular with lots of different cultures and peoples during the evening, there was hope and some talk of the council spending a little cash to renovate and beautify these areas – this hasn’t happened as yet though. Small Heath is the home of the ‘Blues’ aka Birmingham City FC and the Ackers Outdoor Activity Centre which has, amongst other things, its own inner city artificial ski slope – ‘Magic, Babby!’ as they say in these parts.
Sutton Coldfield – Darling!! The absolute height of well kept gardens, big cars and oodles of £’s. 2,500 acres of parkland are to be found in the form of Sutton Park. It’s a beautiful area filled with families and retired company directors.
Rubery – Had to put this in because it had a mental hospital and in the ’70s and ’80s children would tease each other that they would get the teacher to send their classmates there!!
Yardley – Popular with locals because of the Swan shopping centre. Yardley is close to the airport but here you’ll also find a 16th century merchant’s house hosting a stunning collection of country pottery.
History of Birmingham
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.