The great "second city" debate has been going on for years and isn't likely to end in the foreseeable future. Manchester was awarded city status in 1853, a full 36 years before Birmingham. However, Birmingham is allegedly larger, with a central population of around a million people and increasing to three million if you count the surrounding towns. This (slightly dubious) calculation would make it the 12th largest city in the European Union. By comparison, the Greater Manchester area has a population of around 2.6 million (*).

Whichever city really is the largest, there's no argument that Birmingham has come a long way since its Domesday book entry in 1086:

"land for 6 ploughs. In the demesne is 1, and there are 5 villeins and 4 borders with 2 ploughs. It was and is worth 20 shillings"

I'm sure that some people out there (you know who you are!) will be thinking "Birmingham still isn't worth more than 20 shillings now", as Birmingham, for reasons mostly relating to outdated stereotypes, seems to be the city that British people love to hate.

When it was announced this week that Birmingham had made the shortlist for the European City of Culture award, comments from the general public to the BBC news "Talking Point" forum included:

  • "The words 'Birmingham' and 'culture' don't seem to work together really, unless you're talking about curry. "
  • "The idea of Birmingham as a city of culture will at least show that we Brits have a sense of humour!"

And yet former US President Bill Clinton, speaking from Africa at the start of October said of the city:

"The first time I went to Birmingham was in the late 1960s to play basketball, when I was a student at Oxford"

"I liked it then, but I was astonished at the G8 when I saw how beautiful it was. The buildings, the art, the use of the water - it is an extraordinary jewel of a city, and one that I think is not very well known outside the UK"

"So I think if the (Capital of Culture) designation came, firstly it would be well deserved and secondly it would give Birmingham some of the recognition around the world that I would like to see it get."

"I was just bowled over when I was there. It is quite wonderful. You should be proud."

Birmingham is home to a number of attractions and nightlife venues and has hosted a number of international events:

Negative image

So why is it that people from outside the area aren't queing up to get in?

Well of course, not all stereotypes are false. The Lonely Planet guide has this to say:

"The ugly Bull Ring Shopping Centre, high-rise monstrosities and a mass of ring roads - meeting at the infamous 'Spaghetti Junction' - have a lot to answer for in terms of the city's reputation. Possibly the only thing of beauty to be created in the second half of the 20th century was the Mini at Longbridge in 1959 (although the late-20th-century balti curry comes a close second)."

Fortunately, the bullring is now gone, and the high rise flats' days are surely numbered.

As for the "worse accent in the world"- Well, many central Birmingham residents really do talk like Ozzy Osbourne minus the drug-induced mumbling. Worse still, many not-so-central residents speak with an accent which even Brummies mock:


yam-yam adj. derogatory Birmingham term from anyone from the Black Country area. f. Derived from peculiar dialect e.g. "y'am away next wick? (Are you away next week?) UK (M)

Many people from Birmingham and the black country (myself included) choose to hide their regional accent to avoid the negative sterotypes. But many more people are extremely proud of their accents and quite rightly see no reason to be hide who you are or where you come from.

It's a shallow person indeed that judges a person's intellect or worth by their regional dialect alone, but I see this happen time and time again whenever Birmingham is mentioned. It's odd really, as The University of Birmingham was ranked #13 (out of 100) in the Financial Times leage tables for 2001.


References:

  • http://www.interact-network.org/index.php?cities=BIR
  • http://www.cs.aston.ac.uk/oldbrum/Background.html
  • http://icbirmingham.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/0100localnews/page.cfm?objectid=12244306&method=full&siteid=50002
  • http://www.birmingham.org.uk
  • http://www.necgroup.co.uk/
  • http://www.odps.org/slangy.html
  • http://specials.ft.com/universities2001/FT3HLLAN6LC.html

    * Population statistics vary wildly depending on where you find them. I couldn't spot figures for Birmingham and Manchester on the same page anywhere, so please let me know if you have more reliable figures

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