If anywhere can be described as the first purely industrial conurbation, it has to be BIRMINGHAM. Unlike the more specialist industrial towns that grew up across the north and the Midlands, “Brum” – and its “Brummies” – turned its hand to every kind of manufacturing, gaining the epithet “the city of 1001 trades”. It was here also that the pioneers of the Industrial Revolution – James Watt, Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgwood, Joseph Priestley and Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles) – formed the Lunar Society, an extraordinary melting-pot of scientific and industrial ideas. They conceived the world’s first purpose-built factory, invented gas lighting and pioneered both the distillation of oxygen and the mass production of the steam engine. Thus, a modest Midlands market town mushroomed into the nation’s economic dynamo with the population to match: in 1841 there were 180,000 inhabitants; just fifty years later that number had trebled.
Britain’s second-largest city, with a population of over one million, Birmingham has long outgrown the squalor and misery of its boom years and today its industrial supremacy is recalled – but only recalled – by a crop of recycled buildings, from warehouses to an old custard factory, and an extensive network of canals. With a revamped city centre, and a vibrant cultural life, Birmingham also boasts a thoroughly multiracial population – this is one of Britain’s most cosmopolitan cities. Nevertheless, there’s no pretending that Birmingham is packed with interesting sights – it isn’t – but, along with its first-rate restaurant scene and nightlife, it’s well worth at least a couple of days.