Birmingham and the West Midlands

The West Midlands is synonymous with heavy industrial activity. When the Industrial Revolution was taking place in the UK the heart of it was centred in the West Midlands. The region turned into one massive conurbation as urban sprawl left few green areas unaltered. Just as the region benefited from the economic rewards as a result of the new wealth that was being created it also experienced the negative side of it when other parts of the world started to provide stiff competition, and a lot of the regions heavy industry virtually disappeared.

The Birmingham skyline in the 1920s

The West Midlands today is a great deal different today than it was both during the 19th century, and at the start of the 20th century. At the heart of the West Midlands is Birmingham which is the biggest city in the whole of the region with a population of just over 1.1 million people. The West Midland is now a metropolitan county and has a population of over 2.8 million. Birmingham originally grew as an early settlement as a result of it being a medium sized market town where the rural population would come to buy and sell goods at the market in the grounds of the castle. It was still only the third largest settlement in Warwickshire in the 16th century but the departing of the ruling family was the spur that started the rapid growth of the town.

Iron forges were doing great business and as the Industrial Revolution started Birmingham was ideally placed to take advantage of this new era. It was able to do this on an already established market place. The region was the home to new inventions and small business thrived.

Birmingham’s size increased dramatically as its economy flourished. However, the down turns in the economy has seen the region suffer. Many areas have been redeveloped which have included the Bullring Shopping Centre and the International Convention Centre. Its facelift will be complete in 2022 when it will host the Commonwealth Games. The second largest city in the West Midlands is Coventry which lies only 19 miles to the east of Birmingham. The City’s population is around 345,000 which makes it the 9th largest in the whole of England. Although it was originally the centre for the cloth trade, it started to become well known with its associations with machines.

The remains of Coventry Cathedral after the blitz

First, it produced bicycles, then motorbikes then cars, and eventually engines for the air industry. This made it a target for the Luftwaffe in the Second World War which culminated in the “Coventry blitz” which took place on the night of 14th November 1940. The raid took 800 lives, destroyed three quarters of the city’s industrial plants and completely demolished Coventry Cathedral. The Cathedral has been completely rebuilt along with the rest of the city. It was the first European city to have a pedestrianized shopping area and the city’s car industries were once again booming by the 1960s. The decline of the car industry in the country has affected the city but it is still one of the more prosperous city in the nation.

The city of Wolverhampton lies just to the north of Birmingham and has a population of just under 250,000. Its site was originally home to a monastery and in time the monastery held regular markets. In time its popularity grew, and it was especially well known for the quality of the woollen garments it was trading.

During the Industrial Revolution the local supplies of coal and iron resulted in the creation of all types of industries. There was a vibrant coal industry and iron industry which resulted in steel making plants. The area attracted car the car and motorcycle industry and although many of these original industries have disappeared the area is now home to a large aerospace industry. The area is called the ‘Black Country’ as a result of its close links with heavy manufacturing and although the name has stuck the region has been completely redeveloped. There are huge amounts of jobs in the service sector, but it is also to see some traditional industries surviving in the area such as Chubb Locks and Jaguar Land Rover assembly plant.