Birmingham, the UK’s second City, began as a tiny Saxon village, growing into a town in the early 1100’s. It was in 1166 the King gave the Lord of the Manor, Peter De Birmingham, the right to hold a weekly market in the town. Once the market was up and running merchants and craftsmen came to live in Birmingham and it soon developed into a busy little town.
Medieval Birmingham became known for its wool industry, with wool being woven and dyed in the town and by the late 1300’s industry in Birmingham developed further as the town became known for both metalworking and leatherworking.
By 1500 Birmingham was still a tiny market town with a population of around 1,500. It was during the 16th and 17th Centuries that Birmingham saw rapid growth.
By 1650 the population had grown to 5,000 and by now it had become a fairly large and important destination, with three specialised markets, the Cornmarket, the Welsh market and the English market. Wool was still woven and dyed in Tudor Birmingham. Leather was also tanned and made into goods in the town. But the newer industry of metalworking was fast taking over and Tudor Birmingham gained a reputation as a place where cutlers made knives, nailers made nails and blacksmiths worked at their forges. Industry in Birmingham continued to boom during the 18th century and by the end of the century the population had risen to 73,000. Metalworking of all kinds flourished in the town. Artifacts made in Birmingham included buckles for shoes, blades, pins, nails, screws, bolts, and buttons. It was in the late 18th-century glass making boomed in Birmingham.
In 1769, a canal was built from Wednesbury to Birmingham. It was here in Birmingham where inspiration was sought in innovation when James Watt and Matthew Boulton invented the industrial steam engine in the city in 1776.
At the time of the first census in 1801, Birmingham had a population of 73,670, making it one of Britain’s largest and most important towns. During the 1800’s industry in Birmingham was still dominated by metalworking, including jewellers and gunsmiths.
In the late 19th-century railway carriages were made in Birmingham, as were bicycles and glass making was also an important industry.
By the late 1800’s there was an emergence of a cocoa and chocolate industry at Bournville.
A railway from Birmingham to Manchester and Liverpool was opened in 1837, followed swiftly by a line connecting Birmingham to London in 1838, following this Birmingham was official made a City in 1889.
Birmingham University was founded in 1909, with Birmingham Repertory Theatre adding to the Birmingham landscape shortly afterwards in 1913. The manufacturing industry in Birmingham began a steep decline by the late 20th Century, eventually being replaced by service industries.
By 1931 Birmingham had a population of approximately 1 million, with the boundaries having been extended further several times over the years. The Bullring shopping centre was built in 1964, with an additional shopping centre being built over New Street Station in 1973. It was refurbished in the 1980s and renamed the Pallasades and underwent a further refurbishment in 2015, reopening as Grand central. The Mailbox Shopping Centre opened in the City in 2000. The West Midlands Metro opened in May 1999, currently consisting of a single line from Birmingham to Wolverhampton, via Bilston, West Bromwich and Wednesbury. The line originally terminated at Birmingham Snow Hill Station but, various extensions to the line have been added since 2015, with plans to added further extensions until 2026. Today finance and tourism are important industries in Birmingham.
The Eastside of Birmingham City – affectionately known as the ‘The Knowledge Quarter’ is currently undergoing major redevelopment, as part of the wider ‘Big City Plan’ for Birmingham. The plan details the expansion of the City core towards the east, with the Eastside City Park and the upcoming HS2 terminal acting as the main focal point of the area.
Historical excavations in the area suggest that the area was used as farmland in the Medieval times. It is known that a significant area was bought by the English Monarchy was used as a deer game park. Following this the land was sold and slowly began to develop once again as farmland.
During the Industrial revolution, the area was home to a vast complex of factories and workshops, which were serviced by the extensive canal network in the City, most notably the Digbeth Branch, which was constructed in 1790 and now runs along the back of The Eastside Rooms up where it joins the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.
In the late 1800’s as the industry subsided, the area fell into decline and many of the original factory buildings became derelict, the old Victorian buildings were never maintained and the canals became dirty and clogged.
Curzon Street Railway Station was a major goods railway station during the 19th century and served as a goods station, unfortunately it was unsuccessful as a passenger station and shut down as a goods station in 1966. This very site is now being resurrected as the home of the HS2 here in Birmingham. Plans for the regeneration of the area were unveiled to the public in the late 1990’s, this comprised of a number of large-scale projects, involving the renovation, demolition and rebuilding of key buildings in the area. The first of these projects to be completed was Millennium Point which was completed in 2002 to replace the Birmingham Science Museum. Located just opposite The Eastside Rooms sits the Sir Doug Ellis Sports Centre formally the Woodcock Street Baths, a statutorily listed in recognition of its historic importance as one of the oldest baths in the country constructed in 1860. The pool is still in use today and retains many of its original features.
Birmingham’s industrial heritage was driven by its extensive canal network, being a commercial success, they attracted large scale industrial uses along the canal sides including most famously within Eastside Belmont Glassworks which was constructed in 1812 which has subsequently been demolished. Another distinctive building was Belmont Works built back in 1899 a former bike factory.
Did You Know? Birmingham is home to more canals than Venice!
Did You Know? The Sir Doug Ellis Sports Centre is a grade II listed building. the site whilst currently derelict is undergoing a huge transformation to become a hub for small businesses, arts organisations and academics.
In 1771, a wealthy Birmingham based surgeon, who was well-known as one of the founders of the General Hospital, Dr John Ash, leased 10 hectares of land, less than mile from the (then) town centre of Birmingham. He had a classically styled house built for himself, near the junction of Barrack Street and Great Brook Street, but he moved to London soon after completion and never occupied the house.
The estate plus a further 20 hectares was then bought for housing development, by Lawyer, John Brooke. Brooke decided to name the districts after the famous doctor who had inspired the out-oftown housing development and Ashsted or Ashstead was born. The estate was initially aimed at Birmingham’s new entrepreneurs. Having made their fortunes in the booming industrial town, they were now keen to move away from the smoky centre into the neighbouring countryside. Ashstead was well suited to this. It overlooked the Vauxhall pleasure gardens at Duddeston Hall where they sloped down into the picturesque Rea Valley.