Birmingham's exciting history has left us a number of outstanding heritage attractions to discover, explore and enjoy!
The Jacobean splendour of Aston Hall has recently re-opened following a £13million pound restoration project. Highlights include beautiful interiors from the 17th Century, to the landscaped gardens and Civil War connections. Admission charges apply to the Hall only, but the whole site is free on the first Sunday of every month during the open season.
The Jewellery Quarter
The Jewellery Quarter dates back over 250 years and is still home to over 400 jewellery businesses. The Jewellery Quarter offers a snap-shot of Birmingham’s innovative and creative industries set in the beautiful Georgian and Victorian surroundings. It has been described by English Heritage as a unique historic environment in England, which has few, if any, parallels in Europe.
The Quarter also contains one of Birmingham’s finest squares, St Paul’s, with its fine Georgian church, numerous restaurants, bars and galleries. Over 100 specialist jewellery retailers offer classic pieces and beautiful handcrafted jewellery - in many places you can commission your own design. Gems of the quarter are the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, The Pen Room Museum, St Paul's Gallery as well as the Birmingham Assay Office where you can learn about the history of hallmarking and find out their role in the 21st century (visit by pre-arrangement).
A hidden gem in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, Newman Brothers is Birmingham Conservation Trust's Grade II* listed Victorian factory built in 1894. The factory made coffin fittings of the highest quality until it closed in 1999. After a 15 year project to restore the factory, Newman Brothers is now back in business, with its original stock back on the shelves, and Victorian machinery working again. In its new life as a ‘time capsule’ factory heritage attraction there are costumed guided tours every day and a range of events and activities, including for family audiences.
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
To fully appreciate the extraordinary range of the city’s heritage, the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is a must-see. The internationally significant collections of art and history include the largest collection of pre-Raphaelite artwork in the world and the Industrial Gallery, dedicated to the finest crafts produced in Birmingham over the past 200 years. After a visit at the museum, you can enjoy a traditional English tea in the historic Edwardian tea room.
Churches & Cathedrals
Birmingham has three cathedrals: the Anglican cathedral of St. Philip, the Roman Catholic basilica of St. Chad and the Greek Orthodox cathedral dedicated to Theotokos and St. Andreas.
Birmingham Cathedral (St. Philip’s) has been a place of worship since 1715 and is a rare example of English Baroque architecture. Situated in the heart of the city, the Cathedral houses beautiful stained glass windows by the pre-Raphaelite artist and locally-born Edward Burne-Jones. Special services and events also take place throughout the year. Entry is free and open to all.
St Martin in the Bull Ring is Birmingham's oldest church. The first recorded building was founded in 1290 but the church may have Saxon origins. It still serves as the parish church for the city and is the only British church to have a dedicated member of clergy for market traders! The Church has been rebuilt numerous times over the centuries, but tombs from the original Lords of Birmingham can be found near the altar. In addition, there is a stained glass window by Edward Burne-Jones, miraculously saved from damage during the Blitz which saw every other window destroyed. The Church is open for visitors between 10am and 4.30pm (Monday to Saturday) and 9am to 7pm (Sunday). Entry is free and open to all.
The Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St. Chad is located on the edge of the historic Jewellery Quarter. The Gothic revival Cathedral opened in 1841 and was designed principally by the famous Augustus Pugin. The Cathedral was the first Roman Catholic cathedral built in England after the Reformation. With locally designed interiors, St. Chad’s is an embodiment of Birmingham design and art. Entry is free and open to all.
A further gem is St Paul's Church at St Paul's Square in the historic Jewellery Quarter. The beautiful Georgian church was consecrated in 1779 and quickly became known as the ‘Jeweller’s Church’. Inside, visitors can see the original wooden pews and striking East Window, depicting the conversion of St. Paul. St Paul’s is open for visitors between 10am and 4pm (Tuesday to Saturday). Entry is free and open to all. Guided tours can be booked in advance directly with the Church.
Warstone Lane Cemetery in the Jewellery Quarter was opened in 1848 as a burial ground for members of the Anglican Church. It was designed in Gothic style and its catacombs are well presented. Famous people buried in this Grade II registered Historic Garden range from John Baskerville, the printer, through to Major Harry Gem, the founder of Lawn Tennis.
Outside of the city centre, visitors can enjoy delightfully restored Blakesley Hall, a timber-framed farmhouse built in the 16th century, and magical Sarehole Mill in Hall Green – which formed the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Hobbiton’ in The Lord of the Rings. Sarehole Mill is a Grade II listed water mill.
The 200-year old mill is one of the only surviving water mills in Birmingham. A second water mill can be found in Sutton Coldfield. The Grade 2 listed building New Hall Mill is a significant local example of industrial heritage and has been described as 'Sutton's little gem'.
A visit to Soho House is a must - a carefully restored Georgian house, which was once the home of Matthew Boulton and the meeting place of the world famous Lunar Society. The Lunar Society was an influential group of great inventors, writers and designers, including Josiah Wedgwood, Erasmus Darwin and James Watt. Highlights of Soho House include fine Georgian silverware, designed and made in Birmingham, as well as furniture, grand interior design and a beautifully restored 18th-century garden. Admission charges apply to the house and special events, but access to the grounds is free during the open season.
Stanbrook Abbey, set in the shadow of the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire, was until recently home to a community of Benedictine nuns.
The former convent is constructed of red brick with stone dressings and Gothic windows under a slated roof preserved to a commendable standard. The Abbey Church was designed by Edward Welby Pugin and was inaugurated by consecration in 1871. Its Gothic Revival Tower is a familiar local landmark and the building itself is of national significance as part of the architectural history of Roman Catholic buildings.
Woodbrooke is Europe's only Quaker Study Centre and a has a long and distinguisghed history. It is based in the former family home of the local chocolate maker, George Cadbury, himself a Quaker, and has, since 1903, provided education for those of any faith or none from around the world. Visitors who are interested in social history and ethical business come to stay at Woodbrooke in order to savour the ambience and to be able to find out more about Bournville.
As part of his visit to England in September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Oratory in Birmingham where he became the first person to pray at the new shrine for the Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. At the Oratory visitors can find out more about the Oratory's current apostolate, its past and present community, S. Philip and his worldwide family, Cardinal John Henry Newman and about connected figures with the Oratory, such as J. R. R. Tolkien. The Oratory is open throughout the week, and services are held frequently. For more details, please see the Oratory’s website.
Gardens and historic homes
The Birmingham Botanical Gardens & Glasshouses, located in the beautiful suburb of Edgbaston are a 15-acre oasis of delight. The gardens were designed by leading garden planner of this time J.C. Loudon and opened to subscribers in 1832. Today, visitors can enjoy nature at its best and discover the importance of plants.
Built for industrialist John Nettlefold’s growing family in 1903, Winterbourne House and Garden is a rare surviving example of an early 20th century suburban villa and garden. Now the site is open to the public 7 days a week with a range of beautifully decorated period exhibition rooms offering an insight into Edwardian life both above and below stairs. Outside, the Arts and Crafts garden delights in all seasons and the terrace tea room is a wonderful place to treat yourself to lunch or afternoon tea.
Birmingham Back to Backs
Birmingham's last surviving court of Back to Back Housing offers a step back in time. This National Trust location is a beautifully restored 19th-century courtyard of working people's houses. It’s a story told through the experiences of the people who lived and worked here over four periods from 1840 to 1977. The design of each interior reflects the varied cultures, religions and professions of the families who made their homes here. Visitors are quickly drawn into the history and stories of these unique houses, and are encouraged to touch, smell and experience the exhibits themselves. Shown by guided tour only, booking is a must. For an authentic history experience, you can stay at one of the National Trust holiday cottages in Birmingham.
Black Country Living Museum
Travel back in time and discover a fascinating world of the Black Country Living Museum which portrays the daily life 100 years ago in the Black Country. Historic buildings from all around the region have been moved and authentically rebuilt at the Museum, to show how the people once have lived in the heart of industrial Britain. Transported back in time from the modern exhibition halls to the canalside village, where costumed demonstrators and working crafts people bring the buildings to life with their local knowledge, practical skills and unique Black Country humour. ￼
Motor heritage museums
There are three motor heritage museums in Birmingham and the wider region.
The Aston Manor Road Transport Museum is a must-visit museum for every motorcycle heritage fan. From buses, coaches, commercial vehicles and tramcar bodies are housed in a 19th century tram deport. The Museum is in the process of moving to a new location- please check their website for opening times and further details.
The Heritage Motor Centre motor museum is located in Gaydon, near Warwick and is home to the world’s greatest collection of British Cars! The museum tells the story, from some of the very first cars to take to British roads, right up to the latest designs.
Coventry is the birthplace of the British cycle and motor industry. At the Coventry Transport Museum, visitors can discover the fascinating story behind the development of road transport from the earliest cycles to land speed record breakers.
Bournville & Cadbury World
In 1824, John Cadbury opened his grocer shop on Bull Street in Birmingham city centre, selling a range of products as well as expensive cocoa. It soon became popular and production rapidly increased. Larger premises were opened on Crooked Lane and Bridge Street, with raw materials needed to make chocolate being brought in by canal boat. Cadbury’s received their Royal Warrant in 1854 as the supplier of chocolate to Queen Victoria.
By 1879, the Cadbury business, by now under the helm of Richard and George, moved their whole production to a purpose-built location a few miles outside of Birmingham on what was then farm land. The new settlement was to be a ‘factory in a garden’ and was given the name of Bournville. The Cadbury family were social pioneers, with the building of large spacious homes, new schools and even swimming pools solely for their workers. Compared to the courtyard houses that were so prevalent in Birmingham at the time, Bournville was pioneering.
Today Cadbury World is a major family attraction where young and old can learn more about chocolate and the manufacturing process. Visitors to Bournville can also see the village-like surroundings that the Cadbury family developed, and which continues to be one of the most desirable areas in the city to live.
Birmingham is Britain’s “Canal City”, with famously more miles of canal than Venice. Birmingham’s canals were originally built for industrial transport over 200 years ago and the industrial heritage can still be seen. In many places, such as Brindleyplace, the canal network has been revitalised as a place to work, live and socialise, with canalside bars and restaurants, art galleries and boutique shopping. At the heart of the British canal network, the Gas Street Basin is an evocative and much-photographed attraction and is the start of many memorable canal boat trips and holidays.
Nearly the entire canal network in Birmingham is accessible to walkers, cyclists and wheelchair users, with information boards positioned on the towpath to provide historical and visitor information. A free “Walking and Cycling Map” can be obtained here.
St Nicholas Place, Kings Norton
Birmingham’s largest complex of medieval buildings, St Nicholas Place in Kings Norton is one of the region’s most outstanding heritage gems. The Tudor Merchant’s House, Old Grammar School and atmospheric St Nicholas Church form a picturesque cluster on Kings Norton Green and offer visitors a chance to experience Birmingham’s past. With guided tours, a café and a regular flea and farmers’ market, St Nicholas Place is sure to leave a memorable impression. St Nicholas Place is easily accessible by public transport. It’s a 5 minute walk from Kings Norton Railway Station (served by trains from Birmingham New Street) or by buses 45, 145 or 146 from the city centre, which all stop nearby. For opening times and event details, please see their website
Nickolls & Perks
Established in the year 1797, situated in the Black Country, Stourbridge, Nickolls & Perks is the oldest wines and spirits merchant in the UK outside London.
Bordeaux, Champagne, Vintage Port & Whisky are their main specialist areas, they have recently been named by Which Wine Guide as "The Bordeaux Wine Merchant Specialist of the UK". Nickolls & Perks regularly host tasting events for retail and corporate customers in their 16th Century Cellars and other venues in the Midlands.
Birmingham Heritage Forum
For more information on a whole host of heritage attractions across the city visit the Birmingham Heritage Forum
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