phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
A History Lover’s Guide to Birmingham

A History Lover’s Guide to Birmingham

11 May 2018 | Sian Brett

The West Midlands city rose to prominence during the Industrial Revolution, and to this day the city bears the hallmarks of a manufacturing powerhouse. Bombed heavily during the Second World War, Birmingham saw an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s a city proud of its heritage; we went to find out more.

The number one stop on any city based history tour is the local National Trust property, and the Back to Backs is certainly one you’re not going to want to miss. This original 19th century courtyard was one of many across the country built to deal with the rapidly expanding population at the time of the industrial revolution in factory towns. Back to Backs have shared party walls on three of their four sides, and housed large families in small rooms. It was a hive of poor sanitation, poor living conditions, but also a hive of life. Our tour guide at the Back to Backs described his grandmother’s house being in a similar courtyard, and how life was for her. It adds a personal touch to what is already an incredibly in depth and detailed tour. The families who lived in the rooms you walk through have been heavily researched and as you walk through their homes you are treated to tales of their lives, their work, their families. At intermittent points recorded voices recount stories of encounters in these houses, and bring the experience to life even more. The tools and workspaces of those making waves in various highly skilled industries are on display too, giving you a sense of just how much life and work was intertwined for those residing in these houses. Across the UK in the 1960s and 1970s many Back to Backs were developed or destroyed because of the poor living conditions fostered there. This furnished historical property is thought to be the last of its kind; the last collection of houses like this grouped around a courtyard, demonstrating the community at the heart of Birmingham.

Image Credit: jillyspoon via Flickr
 
For those who want to delve further into Birmingham’s past, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is home to many pre-Raphaelite paintings, as well as an in depth exploration of Birmingham from the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found up to collections that represent Birmingham in the present day. The gallery holds regular exhibitions, and one that you should be sure to check out is The Past is Now: Birmingham and the British Empire in The Story Lab. The exhibition explores Birmingham’s relationship to the British Empire, and examines how museums such as Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery are often implicit in colonial narratives. Co-curated by Birmingham based creatives the exhibition attempts to directly address how museums cannot always be neutral, and how the legacy of the British empire still impacts upon curation and on Birmingham. The exhibition runs until 24 June 2018.
 
A similar re-examination of the past can be found in Vanley Burke’s permanent photography exhibition Vanley Burke: Photographing Birmingham (1968 – 2011). Burke is a Jamaican born photographer who moved to the UK aged 14 where he began documenting the immigrant experience in Birmingham, photographing everyday lives as well as prominent black political figures and their impact. The exhibition is part of the larger series ‘Rivers of Birmingham’ and is a moving and poignant documentation of Caribbean people living in post-war Britain, their lives, their work, their relationships. It’s a stunning ode to an integral part of Birmingham’s history.
 
Image Credit: Darrell Godliman via Flickr

To explore the industrial side of Birmingham, be sure to head over to the Jewellery Quarter, the largest concentration of jewellery trade businesses in Europe, producing 40% of all the jewellery made in the UK. As well as picking out all the jewels you’ll drape yourself in once you’re a millionaire, check out the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. Here you can not only discover more of the city’s impressive past but also watch demonstrations and take part in workshops. Another top museum about Birmingham’s industrial past is The Pen Museum, which teaches visitors about how Birmingham became a key part of the communication revolution and about those whose work and lives were surrounded by the pen industry.

Image Credit: Graham Fellows via Flickr
 
But more than anything, Birmingham’s rich history is stitched into its streets; in the Saturday market, which sits in the same location it always has, in the canals which were so integral to the Industrial Revolution, and in the many buildings which retain their beautiful Victorian architecture.

 

Tell us what you think

You may also like

A Guide to the UK’s Best Open-Air Theatres

A Guide to the UK’s Best Open-Air Theatres

As Shakespeare famously once wrote “the world’s a stage”, and what with the UK’s wide range of open-air theatre experiences, it’s hard to argue. So grab your…

“Local, but of national quality”: An Interview with Vicki Hargreaves

“Local, but of national quality”: An Interview with Vicki Hargreaves

Eastleigh Unwrapped is now in its sixth year, and is going from strength to strength. This free outdoor arts festival brings the streets of the…

What to See at Birmingham International Dance Festival

What to See at Birmingham International Dance Festival

Birmingham’s flagship dance festival is back in its sixth year with endless shows to get the West Midlands’ feet tapping. From performances by international artists to…

Kate Rusby: Special 25 Year Anniversary Concert at Assembly Hall Theatre.

Kate Rusby: Special 25 Year Anniversary Concert at Assembly Hall Theatre.

See UK folk darling Kate Rusby perform as she celebrates her 25 Year Anniversary.

Fashion Lover’s Guide to Birmingham

Fashion Lover’s Guide to Birmingham

For the sartorially obsessed amongst us, Birmingham is a one-stop destination to help curb your fashion cravings. From luxury outlets to vintage gems and high-street…

An Interview with Ali Taylor

An Interview with Ali Taylor

Cardboard Citizen’s production of Cathy has been touring the UK for two years, in theatres, at the Fringe, in prisons, community centres, and even at the…

Not Your Average Cocktail: An Interview with Ben Alcock

Not Your Average Cocktail: An Interview with Ben Alcock

Infusing an array of unusual ingredients with uniquely flavoured spirits, ‘Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (HMSS) serves some of Bristol’s most innovative cocktails. To celebrate the launch of…

A Sherlock Holmes Lover’s Sight-Seeing Guide

A Sherlock Holmes Lover’s Sight-Seeing Guide

For lovers of Arthur Conan Doyle’s celebrated detective series, finding places to visit to feed your obsession is not a three pipe problem. 22 May is…

The UK’s Best Kebab Shops

The UK’s Best Kebab Shops

With an estimated 1.3 million sold every day, it is safe to say that kebabs are beloved across the nation. Since the first official kebab…

Top 5 Roasts in and around Colchester

Top 5 Roasts in and around Colchester

While Britain’s oldest recorded town boasts a rich history, with a heritage stretching back over 2,000 years, it is also home to some seriously delicious Sunday…

Most popular

Anything but Amateur: Student Shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Anything but Amateur: Student Shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Student theatre is an excellent way to support young people in the arts, so we’ve put together an extensive list of student productions on offer this year the Fringe.
Win a Thai Street Food Class at the Thaikhun Cooking School!

Virgin Experience Days - Win a Thai Street Food Class at the Thaikhun Cooking School!

Spice up your kitchen skills with a Thai Street Food Class at the Thaikhun Cooking School.
WIN Afternoon Tea and River Sightseeing Cruise for Two in Historic Stratford Upon Avon!

Virgin Experience Days - WIN Afternoon Tea and River Sightseeing Cruise for Two in Historic Stratford Upon Avon!

Treat yourself and a guest to an afternoon of one of the finest of British traditions, and take a relaxed sightseeing tour with this Afternoon Tea and River Cruise for Two in Historic Stratford-upon-Avon.
“Lovers and madmen”: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Cambridge Shakespeare Festival

“Lovers and madmen”: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Cambridge Shakespeare Festival

We can’t think of any better way to spend an evening than relaxing in a park watching great theatre. So, we headed to Cambridge Shakespeare Festival to check out their rendition of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in King’s College Gardens.
You’re invited to the GIF Party!: An Interview with Ferren Gipson

You’re invited to the GIF Party!: An Interview with Ferren Gipson

Art UK have launched their own GIF collection that gives traditional artworks a thoroughly modern makeover. We chatted to their Social Media Marketer Ferren Gipson to discuss the project, and how art doesn’t have to take itself too seriously.
Love after the honeymoon period: Love Chapter 2 by L-E-V Dance

Love after the honeymoon period: Love Chapter 2 by L-E-V Dance

We checked out L-E-V Dance Company’s UK premiere of Love Chapter 2 at Sadler’s Wells before it heads to Edinburgh Festival in August.
Newcastle on a Budget

Newcastle on a Budget

If you’re looking for a place with deep-rooted traditions, friendly folk, and fun activities for all ages, this is the city for you. Howay man – you don’t have to spend big to enjoy a day in Newcastle, here’s how to do it for under £20.
Spotlight On: The Hepworth Wakefield

Spotlight On: The Hepworth Wakefield

Explore the North’s foremost museum of contemporary British art and sculpture!
French Independence Day: Top 5 French Films

French Independence Day: Top 5 French Films

For French Independence Day we've compiled a list of the Top 5 most innovative, influential, powerful and simply beautiful French films, spanning through the entire history of cinema!
The Great Yorkshire Fringe: An Interview with Jane Veysey

The Great Yorkshire Fringe: An Interview with Jane Veysey

We chat to Producer Jane Veysey about the upcoming Yorkshire Fringe Festival from 19-29 July!

Your inbox deserves a little culture!