Birmingham City Centre from the south
Library of Birmingham
Birmingham Town Hall
St Philip's Cathedral
University of Birmingham
St Martin's church and Selfridges department store in the Bull Ring
Etymology: Old English Beormingahām (home or settlement of the Beormingas)
  • Brum
  • Birms
  • Brummagem
  • Second City
  • City of a Thousand Trades
  • Workshop of the World
  • Venice of the North
  • Capital of the Midlands
  • Central City
  • The BIG B
Shown within the West Midlands county
Shown within the West Midlands county
Birmingham is located in England
Location within England
Birmingham is located in the United Kingdom
Location within the United Kingdom
Birmingham is located in Europe
Location within Europe
Coordinates: 52°28′48″N 01°54′09″W / 52°28′48″N 01°54′09″W / 52.48000; -1.90250England
RegionWest Midlands
Ceremonial countyWest Midlands
Historic county
Settlementc. 600
Seigneurial borough1166
Municipal borough1838
City status14 January 1889
Metropolitan borough1 April 1974
Administrative HQThe Council House,
Victoria Square
 • TypeMetropolitan borough
 • BodyBirmingham City Council
 • LeadershipLeader and cabinet
 • ExecutiveLabour
 • LeaderIan Ward (Lab)
 • Lord MayorMohammed Azim[1]
 • Chief Executive (Interim)Clive Heaphy
 • City103.4 sq mi (267.8 km2)
 • Urban
231.2 sq mi (598.9 km2)
Area rank145th
460 ft (140 m)
 (mid-2018 est.)
 • City1,141,374
 • Rank2nd in England and UK [a]
 • Density11,040/sq mi (4,262/km2)
 • Urban
2,440,986 (3rd)
 • Metro
4,332,629 (2nd)
Time zoneUTC+0 (Greenwich Mean Time)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+1 (British Summer Time)
Area code(s)0121
ISO 3166 codeGB-BIR
PoliceWest Midlands Police
Fire and RescueWest Midlands Fire Service
AmbulanceWest Midlands Ambulance Service
M6 Toll
(2011 Census)[2]
  • 57.9% White (53.1% White British)
  • 26.6% Asian
  • 8.9% Black
  • 4.4% Mixed Race
  • 2.0% Other
International airportsBirmingham (BHX)
Major railway stationsBirmingham New Street (A)
Birmingham Moor Street (B)
Birmingham Snow Hill
Birmingham International railway station(C1)
GDPUS$ 121.1 billion[3] (2nd)
– Per capitaUS$ 31,572[3]
European ParliamentWest Midlands

Birmingham (m/ (About this soundlisten) BUR-ming-əm,[4] is a major city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands, England. It is the second-largest city and metropolitan area in England and the United Kingdom,[b] with roughly 1.1 million inhabitants within the city area and 3.8 million inhabitants within the metropolitan area.[5] This also makes Birmingham the 17th largest city and 8th largest metropolitan area in the European Union.[6][7][8][9][10] Birmingham is commonly referred to as the second city of the United Kingdom.[11][12][13]

Located in the West Midlands county and region in England, approximately 100 miles (160 km) from Central London, Birmingham, as one of the United Kingdom's major cities, is considered to be the social, cultural, financial, and commercial centre of both the East and West Midlands. Distinctively, Birmingham only has small rivers flowing through it, mainly the River Tame and its tributaries River Rea and River Cole – one of the closest main rivers is the Severn, approximately 20 miles (32 km) west of the city centre. Birmingham's urban area is the third-largest in the United Kingdom, with its most recently estimated population in 2017 being 2,897,303,[10][14] and it also lies within the most populated English district.

A market town in the medieval period, Birmingham grew in the 18th-century Midlands Enlightenment and subsequent Industrial Revolution, which saw advances in science, technology, and economic development, producing a series of innovations that laid many of the foundations of modern industrial society.[15] By 1791 it was being hailed as "the first manufacturing town in the world".[16] Birmingham's distinctive economic profile, with thousands of small workshops practising a wide variety of specialised and highly skilled trades, encouraged exceptional levels of creativity and innovation and provided an economic base for prosperity that was to last into the final quarter of the 20th century. The Watt steam engine was invented in Birmingham.[17]

The resulting high level of social mobility also fostered a culture of political radicalism which, under leaders from Thomas Attwood to Joseph Chamberlain, was to give it a political influence unparalleled in Britain outside London, and a pivotal role in the development of British democracy.[18] From the summer of 1940 to the spring of 1943, Birmingham was bombed heavily by the German Luftwaffe in what is known as the Birmingham Blitz. The damage done to the city's infrastructure, in addition to a deliberate policy of demolition and new building by planners, led to extensive urban regeneration in subsequent decades.

Birmingham's economy is now dominated by the service sector.[19] The city is a major international commercial centre, ranked as a beta- world city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network the joint highest ranking with Edinburgh and Manchester of all British cities outside of London;[20] and an important transport, retail, events and conference hub. Its metropolitan economy is the second largest in the United Kingdom with a GDP of $121.1bn (2014),[3] and its six universities make it the largest centre of higher education in the country outside London.[21] Birmingham's major cultural institutions – the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Birmingham Royal Ballet, the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, the Library of Birmingham and the Barber Institute of Fine Arts – enjoy international reputations,[22] and the city has vibrant and influential grassroots art, music, literary and culinary scenes.[23] The city will host the 2022 Commonwealth Games.[24] Birmingham is the fourth-most visited city in the UK by foreign visitors.[25]

People from Birmingham are called Brummies, a term derived from the city's nickname of "Brum", which originates from the city's old name, Brummagem, which in turn is thought to have derived from "Bromwich-ham".[26][27] The Brummie accent and dialect are particularly distinctive.


Pre-history and medieval

Birmingham's early history is that of a remote and marginal area. The main centres of population, power and wealth in the pre-industrial English Midlands lay in the fertile and accessible river valleys of the Trent, the Severn and the Avon. The area of modern Birmingham lay in between, on the upland Birmingham Plateau and within the densely wooded and sparsely populated Forest of Arden.[28]

There is evidence of early human activity in the Birmingham area dating back to around 8000 BC,[29] with stone age artefacts suggesting seasonal settlements, overnight hunting parties and woodland activities such as tree felling.[30] The many burnt mounds that can still be seen around the city indicate that modern humans first intensively settled and cultivated the area during the bronze age, when a substantial but short-lived influx of population occurred between 1700 BC and 1000 BC, possibly caused by conflict or immigration in the surrounding area.[31] During the 1st-century Roman conquest of Britain, the forested country of the Birmingham Plateau formed a barrier to the advancing Roman legions,[32] who built the large Metchley Fort in the area of modern-day Edgbaston in AD 48,[33] and made it the focus of a network of Roman roads.[34]

The charters of 1166 and 1189 that established Birmingham as a market town and seigneurial borough

Birmingham as a settlement dates from the Anglo-Saxon era. The city's name comes from the Old English Beormingahām, meaning the home or settlement of the Beormingas – indicating that Birmingham was established in the 6th or early 7th century as the primary settlement of an Anglian tribal grouping and regio of that name.[35] Despite this early importance, by the time of the Domesday Book of 1086 the manor of Birmingham was one of the poorest and least populated in Warwickshire, valued at only 20 shillings,[36] with the area of the modern city divided between the counties of Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire.[37]

The development of Birmingham into a significant urban and commercial centre began in 1166, when the Lord of the Manor Peter de Bermingham obtained a charter to hold a market at his castle, and followed this with the creation of a planned market town and seigneurial borough within his demesne or manorial estate, around the site that became the Bull Ring.[38] This established Birmingham as the primary commercial centre for the Birmingham Plateau at a time when the area's economy was expanding rapidly, with population growth nationally leading to the clearance, cultivation and settlement of previously marginal land.[39] Within a century of the charter Birmingham had grown into a prosperous urban centre of merchants and craftsmen.[40] By 1327 it was the third-largest town in Warwickshire,[41] a position it would retain for the next 200 years.[42]

Early modern

The principal governing institutions of medieval Birmingham – including the Guild of the Holy Cross and the lordship of the de Birmingham family – collapsed between 1536 and 1547,[43] leaving the town with an unusually high degree of social and economic freedom and initiating a period of transition and growth.[44] By 1700 Birmingham's population had increased fifteenfold and the town was the fifth-largest in England and Wales.[45]

The importance of the manufacture of iron goods to Birmingham's economy was recognised as early as 1538, and grew rapidly as the century progressed.[46] Equally significant was the town's emerging role as a centre for the iron merchants who organised finance, supplied raw materials and traded and marketed the industry's products.[47] By the 1600s Birmingham formed the commercial hub of a network of forges and furnaces stretching from South Wales to Cheshire[48] and its merchants were selling finished manufactured goods as far afield as the West Indies.[49] These trading links gave Birmingham's metalworkers access to much wider markets, allowing them to diversify away from lower-skilled trades producing basic goods for local sale, towards a broader range of specialist, higher-skilled and more lucrative activities.[50]

Birmingham in 1732

By the time of the English Civil War Birmingham's booming economy, its expanding population, and its resulting high levels of social mobility and cultural pluralism, had seen it develop new social structures very different from those of more established areas.[51] Relationships were built around pragmatic commercial linkages rather than the rigid paternalism and deference of feudal society, and loyalties to the traditional hierarchies of the established church and aristocracy were weak.[51] The town's reputation for political radicalism and its strongly Parliamentarian sympathies saw it attacked by Royalist forces in the Battle of Birmingham in 1643,[52] and it developed into a centre of Puritanism in the 1630s[51] and as a haven for Nonconformists from the 1660s.[53]

The 18th century saw this tradition of free-thinking and collaboration blossom into the cultural phenomenon now known as the Midlands Enlightenment.[54] The town developed into a notable centre of literary, musical, artistic and theatrical activity;[55] and its leading citizens – particularly the members of the Lunar Society of Birmingham – became influential participants in the circulation of philosophical and scientific ideas among Europe's intellectual elite.[56] The close relationship between Enlightenment Birmingham's leading thinkers and its major manufacturers[57] – in men like Matthew Boulton and James Keir they were often in fact the same people[58] – made it particularly important for the exchange of knowledge between pure science and the practical world of manufacturing and technology.[59] This created a "chain reaction of innovation",[60] forming a pivotal link between the earlier scientific revolution and the Industrial Revolution that would follow.[61]

Industrial Revolution

Matthew Boulton, a prominent early industrialist

Birmingham's explosive industrial expansion started earlier than that of the textile-manufacturing towns of the North of England,[62] and was driven by different factors. Instead of the economies of scale of a low-paid, unskilled workforce producing a single bulk commodity such as cotton or wool in large, mechanised units of production, Birmingham's industrial development was built on the adaptability and creativity of a highly paid workforce with a strong division of labour, practising a broad variety of skilled specialist trades and producing a constantly diversifying range of products, in a highly entrepreneurial economy of small, often self-owned workshops.[63] This led to exceptional levels of inventiveness: between 1760 and 1850 – the core years of the Industrial Revolution – Birmingham residents registered over three times as many patents as those of any other British town or city.[64]

The demand for capital to feed rapid economic expansion also saw Birmingham grow into a major financial centre with extensive international connections.[65] Lloyds Bank was founded in the town in 1765,[66] and Ketley's Building Society, the world's first building society, in 1775.[67] By 1800 the West Midlands had more banking offices per head than any other region in Britain, including London.[65]

The Soho Manufactory of 1765 – pioneer of the factory system and the industrial steam engine

Innovation in 18th-century Birmingham often took the form of incremental series of small-scale improvements to existing products or processes,[68] but also included major developments that lay at the heart of the emergence of industrial society.[15] In 1709 the Birmingham-trained Abraham Darby I moved to Coalbrookdale in Shropshire and built the first blast furnace to successfully smelt iron ore with coke, transforming the quality, volume and scale on which it was possible to produce cast iron.[69] In 1732 Lewis Paul and John Wyatt invented roller spinning, the "one novel idea of the first importance" in the development of the mechanised cotton industry.[70] In 1741 they opened the world's first cotton mill in Birmingham's Upper Priory.[71] In 1746 John Roebuck invented the lead chamber process, enabling the large-scale manufacture of sulphuric acid,[72] and in 1780 James Keir developed a process for the bulk manufacture of alkali,[73] together marking the birth of the modern chemical industry.[74] In 1765 Matthew Boulton opened the Soho Manufactory, pioneering the combination and mechanisation under one roof of previously separate manufacturing activities through a system known as "rational manufacture".[75] As the largest manufacturing unit in Europe, this came to symbolise the emergence of the factory system.[76]

Most significant, however, was the development in 1776 of the industrial steam engine by James Watt and Matthew Boulton.[77] Freeing for the first time the manufacturing capacity of human society from the limited availability of hand, water and animal power, this was arguably the pivotal moment of the entire industrial revolution and a key factor in the worldwide increases in productivity that would follow over the following century.[78]

Regency and Victorian

Thomas Attwood addressing a 200,000-strong meeting of the Birmingham Political Union during the Days of May, 1832

Birmingham rose to national political prominence in the campaign for political reform in the early 19th century, with Thomas Attwood and the Birmingham Political Union bringing the country to the brink of civil war during the Days of May that preceded the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832.[79] The Union's meetings on Newhall Hill in 1831 and 1832 were the largest political assemblies Britain had ever seen.[80] Lord Durham, who drafted the Act, wrote that "the country owed Reform to Birmingham, and its salvation from revolution".[81] This reputation for having "shaken the fabric of privilege to its base" in 1832 led John Bright to make Birmingham the platform for his successful campaign for the Second Reform Act of 1867, which extended voting rights to the urban working class.[82]

Birmingham's tradition of innovation continued into the 19th century. Birmingham was the terminus for both of the world's first two long-distance railway lines: the 82 mile Grand Junction Railway of 1837 and the 112-mile London and Birmingham Railway of 1838.[83] Birmingham schoolteacher Rowland Hill invented the postage stamp and created the first modern universal postal system in 1839.[84] Alexander Parkes invented the first man-made plastic in the Jewellery Quarter in 1855.[85]

By the 1820s, an extensive canal system had been constructed, giving greater access to natural resources and fuel for industries. During the Victorian era, the population of Birmingham grew rapidly to well over half a million[86] and Birmingham became the second largest population centre in England. Birmingham was granted city status in 1889 by Queen Victoria.[87] Joseph Chamberlain, mayor of Birmingham and later an MP, and his son Neville Chamberlain, who was Lord Mayor of Birmingham and later the British Prime Minister, are two of the most well-known political figures who have lived in Birmingham. The city established its own university in 1900.[88]

20th century and contemporary

Destruction of the Bull Ring during the Blitz, 1940

The city suffered heavy bomb damage during World War II's "Birmingham Blitz". The city was also the scene of two scientific discoveries that were to prove critical to the outcome of the war.[89] Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls first described how a practical nuclear weapon could be constructed in the Frisch–Peierls memorandum of 1940,[90] the same year that the cavity magnetron, the key component of radar and later of microwave ovens, was invented by John Randall and Henry Boot.[91] Details of these two discoveries, together with an outline of the first jet engine invented by Frank Whittle in nearby Rugby, were taken to the United States by the Tizard Mission in September 1940, in a single black box later described by an official American historian as "the most valuable cargo ever brought to our shores".[92]

The city was extensively redeveloped during the 1950s and 1960s.[93] This included the construction of large tower block estates, such as Castle Vale. The Bull Ring was reconstructed and New Street station was redeveloped. In the decades following World War II, the ethnic makeup of Birmingham changed significantly, as it received waves of immigration from the Commonwealth of Nations and beyond.[94] The city's population peaked in 1951 at 1,113,000 residents.[86]

Aftermath of the bomb attack on the Mulberry Bush Pub during the pub bombings of 1974

21 people were killed and 182 were injured in a series of bomb attacks in 1974, thought to be carried out by the Provisional IRA. The bombings were the worst terror attacks in England up until the 2005 London bombings[95] and consisted of bombs being planted in two pubs in Central Birmingham. Six men were convicted, who became known later as the Birmingham Six and sentenced to life imprisonment, who were acquitted after 16 years by the Court of Appeal. The convictions are now considered one of the worst British miscarriages of justice in recent times. The true perpetrators of the attacks are yet to be arrested.[96][97][98]

The West Midlands Serious Crime Squad, which was responsible for the Birmingham Six investigations, attracted further controversy after other convictions were questioned, and was closed down in 1989. Around 40 prosecutions collapsed due to malpractice in the 1980s, and a further 60 convictions have since been quashed, mostly because of tampering with suspects' statements, to add in 'confessions'. Many cases also depended on 'Supergrass' evidence which has since been found to be highly unreliable.[99] Some of those wrongfully convicted alleged torture, including use of a suffocation technique known as "plastic bagging".[100]

West Midlands Police had two serious firearms incidents, in 1980 and 1985. In 1980, David Pagett held his pregnant girlfriend as hostage while resisting arrest at flats in Rubery. Officers returned fire, and shot her.[101] Police had initially tried to claim that Pagett has shot her, but it became clear that it was police bullets that had caused her death. In 1985, John Shorthouse was arrested at his home in Kings Norton by West Midlands police for questioning about armed robberies in South Wales. His home was then searched. His five-year-old son, John, was shot by police searching under the child's bed. An internal inquiry was held, and as a result, use of firearms was restricted to a specialised and trained unit.[102]

World leaders meet in Birmingham for the 1998 G8 Summit

Birmingham remained by far Britain's most prosperous provincial city as late as the 1970s,[103] with household incomes exceeding even those of London and the South East,[104] but its economic diversity and capacity for regeneration declined in the decades that followed World War II as Central Government sought to restrict the city's growth and disperse industry and population to the stagnating areas of Wales and Northern England.[105] These measures hindered "the natural self-regeneration of businesses in Birmingham, leaving it top-heavy with the old and infirm",[106] and the city became increasingly dependent on the motor industry. The recession of the early 1980s saw Birmingham's economy collapse, with unprecedented levels of unemployment and outbreaks of social unrest in inner-city districts.[107]

Recently, many parts of Birmingham have been transformed, with the redevelopment of the Bullring Shopping Centre,[108] the construction of the new Library of Birmingham (the largest public library in Europe) and the regeneration of old industrial areas such as Brindleyplace, The Mailbox and the International Convention Centre. Old streets, buildings and canals have been restored, the pedestrian subways have been removed and the Inner Ring Road has been rationalised. In 1998 Birmingham hosted the 24th G8 summit. The city will serve as host of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.[109]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Birmingham
አማርኛ: በርሚንግሃም
Ænglisc: Beormingahām
aragonés: Birmingham
asturianu: Birmingham
Avañe'ẽ: Birmingham
Aymar aru: Birmingham
azərbaycanca: Birminhem
تۆرکجه: بیرمینگام
Bân-lâm-gú: Birmingham (Eng-lân)
башҡортса: Бирмингем
беларуская: Бірмінгем
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Бірмінггэм
български: Бирмингам
bosanski: Birmingham
brezhoneg: Birmingham
català: Birmingham
Чӑвашла: Бирмингем
čeština: Birmingham
corsu: Birmingham
Cymraeg: Birmingham
dansk: Birmingham
Deutsch: Birmingham
eesti: Birmingham
Ελληνικά: Μπέρμιγχαμ
emiliàn e rumagnòl: Birmingham
español: Birmingham
Esperanto: Birmingham
euskara: Birmingham
فارسی: بیرمنگام
føroyskt: Birmingham
français: Birmingham
Frysk: Birmingham
Gaeilge: Birmingham
Gaelg: Birmingham
Gàidhlig: Birmingham
galego: Birmingham
گیلکی: بیرمنگام
ગુજરાતી: બર્મિંગહામ
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Birmingham
한국어: 버밍엄
Hausa: Birmingham
հայերեն: Բիրմինգհեմ
हिन्दी: बर्मिंघम
hornjoserbsce: Birmingham
hrvatski: Birmingham
Bahasa Indonesia: Birmingham
Interlingue: Birmingham
íslenska: Birmingham
italiano: Birmingham
עברית: ברמינגהאם
ქართული: ბირმინგემი
қазақша: Бирмингем
Kiswahili: Birmingham
Latina: Birminghamia
latviešu: Birmingema
lietuvių: Birmingamas
Limburgs: Birmingham
magyar: Birmingham
македонски: Бирмингем
മലയാളം: ബിർമിങ്ഹാം
مازِرونی: بیرمنگام
Bahasa Melayu: Birmingham
монгол: Бирмингем
မြန်မာဘာသာ: ဘာမင်ဂမ်မြို့
нохчийн: Бирмингем
norsk: Birmingham
norsk nynorsk: Birmingham
Nouormand: Birmingham
Novial: Birmingham
occitan: Birmingham
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Birmingem
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਬਰਮਿੰਘਮ
پنجابی: برمنگم
Picard: Birmingham
Piemontèis: Birmingham
polski: Birmingham
português: Birmingham
Qaraqalpaqsha: Birmingem
română: Birmingham
Runa Simi: Birmingham
русский: Бирмингем
संस्कृतम्: बर्मिङ्घम्
sardu: Birmingham
Scots: Birmingham
Seeltersk: Birmingham
sicilianu: Birmingham
Simple English: Birmingham
slovenčina: Birmingham
slovenščina: Birmingham
ślůnski: Birmingham
Soomaaliga: Birmingham
کوردی: بێرمینگام
српски / srpski: Бирмингем
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Birmingham
suomi: Birmingham
svenska: Birmingham
Tagalog: Birmingham
татарча/tatarça: Birminghem
тоҷикӣ: Бирмингем
Türkçe: Birmingham
українська: Бірмінгем
اردو: برمنگھم
ئۇيغۇرچە / Uyghurche: Birmin'gxam
vepsän kel’: Börmingem
Tiếng Việt: Birmingham
Volapük: Birmingham
Winaray: Birmingham
ייִדיש: בירמינגהאם
粵語: 伯明翰
Zazaki: Birmingham
žemaitėška: Bėrmingams
中文: 伯明翰