Birmingham, West Midlands: my home city

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After London, Birmingham is the second largest city in England and I have always been happy living in or near it. As well as it being an interesting and diverse city, it’s central England location is perfect for a rail travel lover such as myself. I have more blogs to come on areas around Birmingham but for now here are some general facts and city centre photographs. 

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Birmingham started off in the 7th century as as a small hamlet near the Forest of Arden (William Shakespeare’s stomping ground). It later took its name after Peter de Bermingham who owned the manor house during 12th century. This manor house has long gone and the land is now filled with huge Bull Ring Shopping Centre and markets. I am sure Peter would approve since he started a Thursday market in his home grounds once he got permission from King Henry II.

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Birmingham …

Is known as the City of A Thousand Trades (I have blogged on its historical pen and jewellery trades but I have not got the time to research the rest)

Is the youngest city in Europe with under 25s accounting for nearly 40% of the population.

Is one of the greenest cities in the UK with over 8000 acres of parks and open space.

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Is home to more stretches of canal than Venice

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Has one the biggest motorway junctions in Europe nicknamed “Spaghetti Junction” (located north of the city).

Was where the first Xray was taken by Major John Hall Edwards in 1896.

Has a “Hollywood” (near me), “California” and “Broadway”.

Is where JRR Tolkien, author of the “Lord of the Rings” series grew up.

Has produced Black Sabbath, ELO and Duran Duran.

Is famous for producing Cadbury’s chocolate. John Cadbury was a Quaker and to this day there are no pubs in the factory location of Bournville.

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Is home to Aston Villa the biggest football team in Birmingham and the county. It’s local rival is Birmingham City (The Blues).It is also the city where football referee whistles were invented.

Has the “Balti Triangle”, an area just outside of the city centre where you can get a reasonably priced curry from an abundance of Asian restaurants.

Has produced comedian Tony Hancock.

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Hosts UK athletics at its Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr.

Has a German Christmas Market every November-December which takes over the city centre with its mulled wine, wooden toys, crystals and candy stands.

Is the setting of popular TV series Peaky Blinders staring Cillian Murphy.

Our city crest includes a labourer carrying a bog roll. You just never know when you may get caught short.

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The main drag, New Street. The ugly barriers are recent and to deter drive through terrorists. 

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Corporation Street (off New Street). The tramline here is relatively new. It gets you all the way to Wolverhampton.

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Formerly known as The Floozi in the Jacuzzi, the lady has been rechristened The Lass in the Grass. Sadly the Victoria Square fountain became unrepairable and so was filled in with foliage.

Queen Victoria, dominating Victoria Square.

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The Town Hall.

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The Mailbox – where I used to work for Network Rail. Now the space is just for the BBC, Harvey Nicols, designer shops and restaurants.

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St Martin’s Church. It is very difficult to get a good shot of this listed building.

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The famous Bullring Rag Market.

St Philip’s Cathedral.

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The library which opened in 2003.

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The Victoria Pub in the theatre area.

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Aston University

The Rotunda where I used to work and once it became residential in 2008, I was one of the first to bag myself an apartment in there. Synchronically, I lived on the same floor (the tenth) facing the same direction as when I worked there in the mid 1990s.

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A cut through from the main drag.

The Radisson Hotel dominating the end of Smallbrook Queensway.

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Alpha Tower. When I went to the top (26th floor) my ears popped. This never happened at the Empire State. 

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Victoria Law Courts. One of my first jobs was here but I got sacked for using green Tippex.

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Top of the City Council building

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Council House in Victoria Square.

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The Ikon Gallery at Brinley Place, off the canal.

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Symphony Hall.

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Conservatoire
The Conservatoire, part of Birmingham City University

Selfridges in the Bullring. The design was inspired by a 1960s chain mail Paco Rabanne dress. £60 million well spent. 

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The Central Hall
Central Hall

Architecture in the Colmore (business) district.

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Great Charles Queensway – walking that bridge freaks me out

View from Snow Hill Station.

Snowhill station view

Chamberlain clock tower, the centre of the Jewellery Quarter.

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Former Jewellery Quarter historic lavatories known as The Temple of Relief. 

Phil Matsell (age 30) was the last man to be hung in 1802 for shooting and maiming a peace officer, an early form of police officer. Matsell was strung up in front of 40,000 on Ludgate Hill before Birmingham then became one of the first English cities to abolish hanging.

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Ludgate Hill leading to St Paul’s Square in the Jewellery Quarter
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John F Kennedy mosaic 1968, Digbeth
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The Custard Factory, Digbeth

10 Comments

  1. It depends upon your perspective. When you talk to people and say you’re having a day trip to Liverpool, Manchester or Leeds then it seems like an okay thing to do. If you say you’re off to Birmingham, it’s “why”, or comments about the M5 or M6 and the dreadful roads. Further afield the perspective is that Birmingham is just the industrial heartland of the Midlands.
    But saying that city visits are not what they used to be, especially from a shopping or even eating out experience. They all have a mix of the same chain stores and the same restaurants. So in reality there is no need to venture far from your local city or town or retail shopping centre. Cities need to be more diverse with local independent shops but this tends not to be the case.
    Birmingham does seem to be trying to buck the trend but has a long way to go in capturing the essence of Birmingham rather than department and chain stores that only vary in size rather than what they offer.
    I can’t help thinking that if it wasn’t for my family history I may have never wanted to visit.
    Your blog shows the city off, the UK’s second city hopefully it’s venturing in the right direction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. People can be small minded. You can find joy in most places
      Custard Factory has retro inde shops. But there is more to life than shopping and eating out…
      You should go to the coffin museum next time (see my blog) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A city that has changed so much yet tends to be so unloved. I was there a few weeks ago on a family pilgrimage in the Aston area. Family memories and my old stamping ground from my university days. Thank you for capturing the city’s spirit.

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    1. Is it unloved? I don’t see that. I see many tourists around happily taking selfies and of each other by monuments. There is always a good buzz and I never feel any threat. There is much building work going on all over which is a bit of a nuisance but will be worth it longer term. I like the Victorian swimming pool near the Aston campus, I am sure you must have seen that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Apart from when travelling through on route to somewhere else I haven’t been to Birmingham for years. I think my last proper visit was in 2010 when I want to the Art Gallery to see a retrospective exhibition of the work of Steve McCurry, my favourite photographer. I enjoyed my time in the city centre which, as you say, has a lot of points of interest. I remember having a coffee in what I think was a Starbucks in a corner of Victoria Square and gazing in admiration at a beautiful copper-effect door in the side of the building opposite. I wonder if it’s still there…… I believe Gormley’s Iron Man has been moved. That’s a shame as I like his sculptures, though that particular one had been vandalised and the pigeon droppings didn’t offer any enhancement either 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was never an iron man fan! I will look for the copper door – the corner Starbucks is still there and the starting point for the tourist bus tour which I recommend 🙂

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