The West Midlands are located in the western part
of The Midlands
, about 100 miles NW of London
The West Midlands name is mainly used for three things (The West Midlands Urban Area which is in the West Midlands county in the West Midlands region of England
The West Midlands urban area is the continuous urban sprawl around Birmingham (basically the West Midlands county minus Coventry and the Meriden Gap). This area is home to around 2.4 million people.
The West Midlands county is a metropolitan county created in 1974 but the county council lost its powers in 1986 so the county doesnt exist adminstratively but the area is still served by the West Midlands police force. The county includes most of the West Midlands urban area as well as the city of Coventry and an area of Green belt between the two areas, known as the Meridan Gap. This area is home to around 2.7 million people.
The West Midlands region which includes the West Midlands county, as well as the counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire was created in the late 90s and abolished in 2011 although still serves as a constituency in the European parliament. This area is home to around 5.6 million people. As well as places in the West Midlands county the other significant towns in the region are the cities of Stoke and Worcester and the new town of Telford.
Towns and Cities of the West Midlands Urban Sprawl
Not to be confused with the one in Alabama
(it's really more like Detroit
), Birmingham is the second most populous city in the United Kingdomnote
, with a population in the metropolitan borough itself of about one million, three times the size of any other metropolitan borough in the West Midlands. It's jokingly referred to as one of the ugliest cities in the world - and that's by its own inhabitants.
The city has produced a good number of famous British personalities, including Trevor Eve, J. R. R. Tolkien
, Jasper Carrott
, and Neville Chamberlain
. Black Sabbath
, Judas Priest
, The Move, Electric Light Orchestra
, and Duran Duran
were also formed here.
A major industrial centre and a transport hub too, the city is also a major centre for UK media.
There's a film from the 1970s of Telly Savalas extolling the virtues of Birmingham, including the new redeveloped Bull Ring shopping centre.
The local population, nicknamed "Brummies", have a distinctive accent
Wolverhampton was granted city status in 2000. The city has its own metropolitan borough.
Solihull is a large prosperous town to the east of Birmingham and gives its name to the Metropolitan Borough of Solihull which it is part of. Unlike like the rest of the West Midlands the area was never heavily industrialised. The borough also includes large parts of the Meriden gap which contains a number of large prosperous commuter villages such as Knowle and Balsall. The borough is also the location of Birmingham international airport.
The Black Country
The area to the west of Birmingham is often referred to as the Black country. This area sat on a large coalfield hence being a major area for coal mining and was heavily industrialised during the industrial revolution and as a result was heavily polluted. Most of the heavy industry has now died however. The area includes a number of large towns such as Dudley, Wednesbury, Walsall, West Bromwich, Halesowen, Stourbridge, Tipton, Smethwick and Oldbury all of which are within the metropolitan boroughs of Sandwell, Dudley and Walsall. Wolverhampton is sometimes included as part of the Black Country. The area has its own accent which is known as Yam Yam
Towns and Cities of the Rural West Midlands
Worcester, pronounced "Wooster", is a city of around 100,000 people situated on the River Severn about 30 miles south-south-west of Birmingham. The river floods low-lying areas of the city every winter; high-water marks of floods are recorded on a wall next to the Cathedral's Water-gate, but despite the regularity of the event it still seems to take everyone by surprise. At one time Worcester was a major player in the glove-making (an isolated church spire is still known as the "Glover's Needle") and fine porcelain ("Royal Worcester") industries, but the glove-making went long ago and the porcelain finally fizzled out a decade or two back. Worcester has a large cathedral, which dates back to Norman times, although not much actual Norman stonework remains (the original Norman tower fell on the nave, which didn't do it much good) and is associated with St Wulstan (alternative spellings are available). It acquired the nickname "The Faithful City" for its support of the Royalist side in the English Civil War, and is further notable for being the place where said war both started and finished - starting at the Battle of Powick Bridge◊
on the River Teme just west of the city, and ending with the "crowning mercy" of the Battle of Worcester in 1651. (In modern times, Powick is more noted for having been the site of a somewhat notorious lunatic asylum, and its name is used in local pejoratives for thick people.) Worcester is also notable for its association with the composer Edward Elgar. In the present day, not a lot happens in Worcester; it is possible that its name is most widely known from the well-regarded Worcester Bosch series of central heating boilers, based on an industrial park to the north of the city.
Droitwich is a small town about 7 miles north of Worcester known since time immemorial for the large deposits of salt underlying it, which are extracted by dissolution in the form of brine. In Roman times it was known as "Salinae" and was the centre of a large salt distribution network, with many Roman roads converging on it (the village of Hanbury, on which Ambridge of The Archers
is based, is about four miles east of Droitwich along one of these roads). Droitwich brine is more concentrated than the Dead Sea, and its extreme buoyancy gave rise to a spa industry which is still just about alive today, with a private hospital incorporating brine baths, and a locally-famous open air salt water lido which closed down for financial reasons in the face of considerable protest and has recently re-opened to great acclaim. Salt extraction has caused a great deal of subsidence over the centuries, because of which the town contains many old buildings leaning at crazy angles. The electrical conductivity of the salt deposits was a major reason for the choice of Wychbold, a couple of miles north of Droitwich, as the site of an extremely powerful radio transmitter which provides long-wave coverage to most of Britain. Modern Droitwich consists of the old core of the town surrounded by extensive modern housing estates where people who work in Birmingham sleep. One such estate became a notorious (by local standards; it was nothing compared to places like Glasgow
or Barnsley) sinkhole and centre of delinquency. The local council decided to fix this by changing its name from Boycott to Westlands, which worked about as well as changing the name of the Cumbrian nuclear facility from Windscale to Sellafield did.
There is no single place just called "Malvern"; the name refers to a group of small towns all with "Malvern" in their names, set about the Malvern Hills - an ancient volcanic intrusion on the border between Worcestershire and Herefordshire well known for their natural beauty. Rainwater falling on these hills and percolating through the rock reappears in a multitude of springs, whose extreme purity formed the basis of a considerable spa industry in Victorian times (noted in the contemporary doggerel "The Malvern water, says Dr John Wall, is famed for containing just nothing at all!") as a result of which Great Malvern in particular has many fine examples of Victorian architecture. Decorative roof and chimney features are particularly noticeable as the steep slopes on which the town is built mean that many buildings end up being viewed mostly from above. Various stories have been written about the "Shadow of the Ragged Stone" - a meteorological phenomenon which manifests as a monk-shaped cloud above the summit of the Ragged Stone hill in the Malvern range, said to be the ghost of a philandering monk who was made to crawl up the hill every day on hands and knees as a penance, and to bring ill fortune to those upon whom the shadow falls. Notable figures associated with Malvern include the composer Edward Elgar; the Swedish singer Jenny Lind (the "Swedish Nightingale"), who settled in Malvern towards the end of her life; the poet William Langland, through his "Tale of Piers Plowman"; the writer C. S. Lewis
, who attended school in Malvern; and J. R. R. Tolkien
, who may have based Weathertop on the "British Camp", a well-preserved fortification from the days of Caractacus on the summit of the Herefordshire Beacon, one of the Malvern hills.
- In The Third World War, Birmingham is pretty much destroyed by a Soviet ICBM.
- Take Me High
- The British soap opera Crossroads was set in a fictional area, Kings Oak, near this city. note
- The British soap opera Doctors is also set in a fictional area of Birmingham.
- The Rotters Club
- The Campus Trilogy by David Lodge is set in the fictional city of Rummidge, which is a No Communities Were Harmed Birmingham.
- The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer took the fact that so many famous musicians from The '70s were from Birmingham and ran with it: their Slade sketches have them all living in the same street.
- Peaky Blinders is set in Birmingham, telling the true story of an influential razor-gang from Small Heath.
- Ambridge, in which The Archers is set, is based on the Worcestershire village of Hanbury.
- I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle is recognisably set in the West Midlands due to some locations and the accents of many characters.
- The '70s' nostalgia-fest comedy The Grimleys is set in Dudley, near Birmingham.
- Warhammer 40,000 has had a planet by the name of Birmingham ever since first edition, noted for its enormous population (that was somehow reduced to zero at one point by Dark Eldar raids). One can't help but feel someone on the creative team had... issues... with the place.
Birmingham is also known as the Black Planet, as it receives almost no visible light from its system's sun. As a result, the planet receives few visitors, and its inhabitants have become linguistically and culturally isolated. Its technology is primitive compared to the rest of the Imperium, as the musket is still in use among the natives.