The second largest city of the UK. It lies near the geographic center of England, at the crossing points of the national railway and motorway systems. Birmingham is the largest city of the West Midlands conurbation, for which it acts as an administrative, recreational, and cultural center. The city lies 110 miles northwest of London. Birmingham’s first market charter was granted in 1166, but it was not until the 14th century that it emerged as a settlement of any significance. Its lack of river transport, by cutting it off from maritime contacts important in the medieval period, impeded its development from a small manufacturing town to a large city until the late 18th century, when it became the leading nucleus of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Birmingham is still described as “the city of 1,001 different trades.” The key to its economic success was the diversity of its industrial base, though it has been principally concerned with the metal and engineering trades. The central focus of Birmingham is still Victoria Square, with the classical Town Hall, the Renaissance-style Council House and the City of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. St. Philip’s Cathedral, in its green churchyard, forms another focus, while the Georgian area around St. Paul’s Church also has a character of its own. Birmingham is the cultural center for a wide area. The Birmingham Repertory Theater has acquired national renown. The city is home to the Aston Villa, Birmingham City, and West Bromwich Albion professional soccer clubs.
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