Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Unexpected City That Changed The World

by Viva Avasthi
birmingham bull, birmingham city centre, bullring

Do you live in a democracy? Are you American? Are you a female? Are you of African or Caribbean origin? Do you live in a country that manufactures goods?

If you can say yes to any one of those seemingly random questions, then you've almost certainly been massively affected by Birmingham, a British city that you might never have heard of.

Ask most people in the UK about what they think about Birmingham, and you'll probably get numerous negative responses. The reason for this is that Birmingham has the unfortunate stereotype of being an ugly, uncultured place filled with people with "annoying"and "thick" (for those of you unfamiliar with British slang, this means 'stupid-sounding') accents.

Most people seem to forget that if it hadn't been for Birmingham, Britain wouldn't be so 'Great' today. The fact is that Birmingham was the birthplace of the first Industrial Revolution (the second being when Henry Ford pioneered the assembly line, and the third being the current developments in digital technology to assist manufacturing) which allowed Britain to wield the immense power that it had over the world.

But it wasn't just the Industrial Revolution that came from Birmingham. So much more that affects everyone around the world has come from the city.

Know the answer (yes, there is just a single answer) to these questions?

birmingham, lunar society, monument, economics for teens
A recently created monument  
  • Where did the resistance against slavery stem from? 
  • Where did the idea behind equality in British (and potentially European and American) society come from?
  • Where did the 18th century Age of Reason and Enlightenment in Britain come from?

You got it -- Birmingham. Seriously.
If there's a British city outside of London that has had the biggest influence not on only on the UK, but the rest of the world, it is undoubtedly Birmingham.

Lunatiks, Matthew Boulton, James Watt, William Murdock
The 'Lunatiks':
Matthew Boulton, James Watt and  William Murdock
It was because of the 'Lunatiks' of the 'Lunar Society' that such awesome advances were made. They were a group of friends - inventors, engineers and doctors - who met in Birmingham's Soho House and got together under the full moon to discuss ideas without the shadow of the prejudice and superstition typical of the time. They created fascinating inventions and developed ground-breaking ideas about equality and democracy.

These Lunar Men were an immensely important group of people because they shared the urge to question everything that society took for granted. They queried why it was that the nobles and gentry were seen as superior to the 'commoners', why women were regarded as creatures created only for breeding and why the colour of skin made a difference to how people were treated. From France to North America and from British town to town they corresponded and  encouraged people to stand up for real democracy.

The famous Benjamin Franklin, the drafter of the US Constitution, befriended the Lunatiks through his friend, Dr Richard Price, who was a campaigner for women's rights. These radical thinkers attracted allies from across the West to whom freedom mattered. Even Erasmus Darwin, who laid the foundations for the theory of evolution for his grandson, Charles Darwin, was a Lunatik.

The Lunar Society even tackled the seemingly impossible task of eradicating slavery. Although the Lunatiks could not abolish slavery through the power of words, they did manage to do it through the powerful combination of technology and economics. They invented machinery which produced goods on an enormous scale through the use of steam power which meant that slaves did not make economical sense any longer. It was in this way that slavery became far too expensive and so owners had no choice but to free the slaves.

In the 19th century, due to the city's advances in technology, Birmingham was known as 'the workshop of the world' as all of the world's metal trinkets were created in the city's factories (and at the time, metal was the equivalent of today's plastic, so you can imagine how big the industry was).

Not only was Birmingham a place of industry and development, it was becoming highly cultured, too. The 19th century musician Dvorak wrote home to his family:
Am here in this immense industrial city, where they make excellent knives, scissors, files...and music too!...It's terrifying how much these people manage to achieve.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Even today, Birmingham's Symphony Hall and numerous theatres and museums mean that there is certainly nothing lacking in the culture of the city. In fact, it is very popular with tourists as people have started to explore places other than the typical tourist destinations of Edinburgh and London.

Alongside the other factors, in terms of importance, Birmingham is the second largest city in the UK and it also boasts the NEC (National Exhibition Centre), the ICC (International Convention Centre) and the NIA (National Indoor Arena) which makes it a very regularly visited place by people across the country.

Yet people are still ignorant enough to say that Birmingham's not a great place. Woah.

Any opinions?
What do you have to say about where you live? I'd be really interested to know :)


  1. Brilliant, have been living in Birmingham for ages and never realised the intensity of Birmingham's contribution. And you bet it's still contributing. But for NEC, we wouldn't be on the world international trade map. Refreshing thoughts....

    1. Thanks, it was only until recently that I recognised how important Birmingham has been, and still is, for both the UK and the world. It's nice to hear from a fellow citizen of Birmingham!

  2. Wow. I live in Birmingham and I had no idea it's such an incredible place! Thanks for posting this amazing article; it's a real eye-opener! ='{)

  3. We have a distribution company in the Birmingham region, will not dream to be anywhere else with excellent transportation and distribution network. And not to forget abundant supply of manpower and warehousing capacity.

  4. Thanks very much, Nicky and Nathan! Yes, Birmingham is very well placed for trading and this might be one of the reasons it became such a manufacturing hub in the first place.


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