In the vanguard of history
Located at the heart of England’s Midlands, Birmingham has a long, rich history, stretching right back to the stone age. The Romans constructed a fort here, but it was the Saxons who established the first permanent settlement, eventually lorded over by the aristocratic de Birmingham family following the Norman invasion of 1066. Over the centuries, Birmingham grew into a booming commercial hub; by the time of the Civil War in the 1640s, the city had shrugged off its old feudalism and enjoyed an unusual degree of social mobility. It developed a reputation first for Puritanism, Non-conformism and political radicalism, then as a centre of freethinking and scientific inquiry, the epicentre of the Midlands Enlightenment. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, the so-called ‘City of a Thousand Trades’ was on the cutting edge of technological innovation, an economic engine of the British Empire. Its locally manufactured goods reached a global market, and its social structures anticipated the modern age. When the Second World War broke out, the city converted its car plants to munitions factories, producing everything from jerry cans to Spitfires. Surviving some of the heaviest bombing of the Blitz, Birmingham soon began to rebuild itself, putting its manufacturing know-how to use as a cornerstone of the British automotive industry.
Today, Birmingham is considered the UK’s second city, a vibrant cultural hub and regional centre, proud of its history of dissenters, manufacturers and inventors. With an energetic nightlife and food scene, driven partly by the large student population, the city has in recent years blossomed into a desirable destination for conferences and city breaks. Birmingham is the birthplace of the Balti curry, and home of some of the best and longest-established curry houses in Britain, located in the nationally renowned Balti Triangle of world-class Indian restaurants. And given it will be playing host to the Commonwealth Games 2022, the city is poised to further cement its position as a first-rate destination for international events. Where better to hold BACO than this traditional centre of technological evolution and social innovation?
Things to do
There is no shortage of things to do in the city, from the Peaky Blinders tour, inspired by the BBC’s BAFTA-winning drama, to the gentler environs of the Bullring for an afternoon’s shopping. At Cadbury World, visitors with a sweet tooth can sample Britain’s favourite chocolate and explore its nineteenth-century origins in Quaker entrepreneurism, then unwind at a Victorian gin parlour. There are guided tours to suit a variety tastes, from the historical houses and courtyards of the old industrial workers, to the Jewellery Quarter, home to the largest concentration of jewellery shops and workshops in Europe. The famous canals, which linked the city to London and other major ports, now form a picturesque legacy of the industrial past. The canals can be explored on foot, or by canoe or narrowboat – or simply enjoyed by sitting in one of the numerous cafes and bars that line the waterways and watching the world go by.
While canal barge is no longer the transport option of choice, fortunately Birmingham is extremely well connected to the rest of the country by rail, air and motorway. London is only two hours away by train; Oxford a mere eighty minutes. If you should wish to explore the Midlands more thoroughly, the city of Coventry with its famous postwar cathedral is not far. Similarly, the picturesque medieval towns of Warwick and Kenilworth and the Georgian baths of Royal Leamington Spa are all a short drive or train ride away.
The Shakespeare Express steam train delivers passengers from Birmingham to Stratford-upon-Avon, the heart of Bard Country, where England’s national poet was born and lived until his twenties. It leaves twice a day and takes just over an hour. Aficionados of the Industrial Revolution and Midlands’ traditional craftsmanship can visit World of Wedgwood to find out about Britain’s finest ceramics. The Black Country Living Museum, named for the soot that covered the area throughout the nineteenth century, and the Ironbridge Gorge Museums are both just a short journey from Birmingham. For nature lovers, meanwhile, Licky Hills country park is ten miles west of the city. Or visitors could simply set out by train, car or bus for any of the idyllic villages of ancient Warwickshire, and enjoy a hearty meal in a country pub, followed by a long, peaceful walk in the fields and lanes of the English countryside.
Home, home on the range...
For those who love to spend their downtime whiling away an afternoon with a round or two of golf, there are several courses around Birmingham to suit a variety of budgets. Chief among these are the Brabazon, PGA National and Derby courses, plus driving range, putting green and practice facilities, at the famous Belfry. Headquarters of the Professional Golfers' Association, the Belfry has hosted the Ryder Cup more times than any other venue in the world, as well as numerous European Tour events.