Birmingham City Council

Origins of Birmingham

In the Saxon 6th Century Birmingham was just one small settlement in thick forest - the home (ham) of the tribe (ing) of a leader called Birm or Beorma.

Geography played a major role in the transformation of Birmingham from a hamlet worth 20 shillings in 1086 into Britain's centre of manufacturing in the 20th Century. It was a dry site with a good supply of water, routes converging at Deritend Ford across the River Rea. There was easy access to coal, iron and timber.

The de Bermingham family held the Lordship of the manor of Birmingham for four hundred years from around 1150. In 1156 Peter de Birmingham obtained a market charter from Henry II and in 1250 William de Bermingham obtained permission to hold a four day fair at Whitsun.

In addition the family allowed many freedoms to their tenants and there were no restrictive obstacles to trade. Developing as a market centre, Birmingham also saw the beginnings of small scale smithing and metal working. Craftsmen were listed amongst the taxpayers in 1327. When Leland visited Birmingham in 1538 there were 1500 people in 200 houses, one main street with a number of side streets, markets and many smiths who were selling goods all over England.

By supplying the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War (1642-46) with swords, pikes and armour, Birmingham emerged with a strong reputation as a metal working centre. By 1731 the population had grown to 23,000 and manufacturing business thrived. By the time of the Industrial Revolution Birmingham had become the industrial and commercial centre of the Midlands.