Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
History of Birmingham
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 existed in what is now Edgbaston in southern Birmingham. The fort was constructed soon after the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43 and was inhabited for around 150 years until the end of the 2nd century AD. Remains have also been found of a civilian settlement, or vicus, alongside the Roman fort. (see Birmingham's Roman Fort)
Until the Middle Ages, the Birmingham area was a sparsely populated backwater, due to poor quality soil which made agriculture unproductive. Much of the area was covered by the once-vast Forest of Arden.
The Romans left Britain in the late 5th century, and by the 7th century, Anglo-Saxon tribes started to settle in the area and establish villages. Birmingham was one of these villages. The name 'Birmingham' came from Anglo-Saxon Beornmundinga hām "the home of the sons or people of Beornmund"; he was probably a local Saxon tribal leader.
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, no mill, no meadow and a total value of only 20 shillings."
At the time of the Domesday survey, Birmingham was far smaller than other villages in the area, most notably Aston.
In the year 1154, lord of the estate Peter de Birmingham obtained a charter to hold a market. The market transformed Birmingham from a tiny, undistinguished farming village into a thriving centre of trade.
The market came to be called the Bull Ring. Located at a crossing point on the River Rea, Birmingham was at a focal point for trackways in the area, and for this reason attracted much trade, which in turn attracted skilled craftsmen to set up business there.
Birmingham prospered, and developed industry early on, by the 13th century Birmingham had developed a woollen industry with wool being woven and dyed in the town, Birmingham also developed a leather industry, with leather being tanned to be made into shoes, gloves and many other things.
By the early 14th century, Birmingham had become the third largest town in Warwickshire, with only Coventry and Warwick being larger. Although Birmingham was still quite small, its population probably being around 1000-1500.
16th and 17th centuries
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 in revenge Birmingham was plundered by the royalist forces led by Prince Rupert. Following this, Birmingham allied itself with the Parliamentarian cause and Birmingham manufacturers supplied the Roundheads with much of their weaponry. Reputedly, 15,000 swords were produced in Birmingham for Oliver Cromwell's forces.
In the 18th century Birmingham grew rapidly into one of the world's first major industrial towns. One of the birthplaces pointed out for the industrial revolution is Ironbridge, some 30 miles (50km) to the west of Birmingham.
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.
From the 1770s 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 towns industrial growth (see Birmingham's canals).
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 , but in 1854 Birmingham New Street Station was opened as a joint station, 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 innitially with two MP's. And in 1838 Birmingham was incorporated as a borough and gained its first elected town council,
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 opened in 1885.
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.
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.
The city boundaries were further expanded in 1928 to include Perry Barr and in 1931 to include Castle Bromwich, the most recent addition to the city is Sutton Coldfield which became part of Birmingham in 1974.
During the 20th century, Birmingham's population continued to increase.
In the First and Second World Wars, the Longbridge car plant built everything imaginable from ammunition to tank suspensions, steel helmets, Jerricans , Hawker Hurricanes, Fairey Battle fighters, Horsa Gliders , mines and depth charges, with the mammoth Avro Lancaster bomber coming into production towards the end of WWII. The Spitfire fighter aircraft was mass produced for the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, at Castle Bromwich.
The city was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe during The Blitz in World War II. By the war's end over 5,000 citizens had been killed or seriously injured, 5,065 buildings were destroyed completely, with another 12,400 suffering severe damage, many of Birmingham's fine buildings were destroyed in the air raids. It has been argued by some that Britain may have lost the war had it not been for Birmingham's industrial might.
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 are to become a museum).
Due largely to bomb damage, under supervision of the city council's chief engineer Henry Manzioni , the city centre was also extensively re-built, especially the 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 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.
In the years following World War II a major influx of immigrants from the British Commonwealth 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. As of 2001, 29.7% of the city's population was made up of ethnic minority communities. Amongst the largest minority communities, 10.6% of Birmingham residents are Pakistani, 5.7% are Indian, 6.1% are Black Caribbean or African, and 2.9% are of mixed race.
In the 1970s and 1980s manufacturing industry in Birmingham went into decline, mainly through competition from foriegn 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 innitiatives were undertaken to make the city more attractive to visitors, including:
In the 1970s, the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) was built, 10 miles 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.
In September 2003, after a year long redevelopment project, the new BullRing shopping complex was opened. In 2003, the city failed in its bid to become the 2008 European Capital of Culture, under the banner "Be in Birmingham 2008".
Development continues, not least in the city's "Eastside" district.
- 1550 -- 1,500
- 1650 -- 5,000
- 1750 -- 24,000
- 1800 -- 74,000
- 1900 -- 630,162
- 1951 -- 1,113,000 (population peak)
- 1981 -- 1,013,431
- 2003 -- 992,000
- Birmingham A Study in Geography, History and Planning, By Gordon E. Cherry (1994) ISBN 0471949000
- A History of Warwickshire, By Terry Slater (1981) ISBN 0850334160
- Some information gleemed from the below websites and encyclopedias.
- Local history pages on Birmingham City Council website
- Birmingham history- from BirminghamUK.com
- More Birmingham history - from Virtualbrum.co.uk
- A brief history of Birmingham
- An History of Birmingham - an extensive history, written in 1783, from Project Gutenberg
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