Birmingham is quite rightly famed for the pivotal role it played in the Industrial Revolution, earning the well-deserved nicknames ‘the workshop of the world’ and ‘the city of a thousand trades’. However, there’s so much more to discover about Birmingham’s rich history by digging a little deeper at our fantastic museums and historic houses, or on our many guided tours.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is currently undergoing renovation but you can still enjoy fantastic exhibitions about life in the city on topics including 90’s club culture, the story of the city’s cinemas and the search for equality amongst Asian and African Caribbean communities.

A short train or bus ride from the city centre takes you to Bournville, home of Birmingham’s most popular visitor attraction, Cadbury World. As well as telling the history of chocolate you can learn about how the Cadbury family built a model village to ensure that their workforce was among the best looked after in the country.

Explore the history of the Industrial Revolution

You can learn about the inventive and entrepreneurial minds of Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdock and their world-changing innovations at Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum. Explore Soho House, Boulton’s elegant Georgian home and the meeting place of the leading thinkers of the Midlands Enlightenment, the Lunar Society.

You can step back in time and take a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the lives of the people who worked in the factories (many of whom were skilled craftswomen) at the Pen Museum and the Coffin Works in the Jewellery Quarter. And there are guided tours of the nearby English Heritage museum, J.W. Evans’s Silver Factory.

The National Trust Back to Backs takes us into the crowded and claustrophobic homes of working people from the 1840s to the 1970s, not unlike those seen in the hit TV series, Peaky Blinders. Over at the West Midlands Police Museum set in the former Victorian lock-up near the city’s courts, you can discover the story of over two centuries of policing along with compelling accounts of those who stepped on the wrong side of the law.

Digging deeper

Learn about dinosaurs, fossils and the story of how the Earth was formed at the fascinating Lapworth Museum of Geology at the University of Birmingham. Whilst you’re on campus, it would be a huge shame not to visit the other attractions just ten minutes’ walk away. The Barber Institute of Fine Art houses one of the finest small collections of European art by almost all of the great masters. Across the road, you will find Winterbourne House and Garden, an exquisite Edwardian villa decorated in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement inspired by the likes of William Morris, and the colourful Grade II listed botanical garden.

The magnificent Grade I listed Aston Hall dates from the 17th century and was the home of the Holte family. The guided tour takes in the beautifully adorned rooms including the must-see oak-panelled Long Gallery, when it hosted kings and queens, how it became the site of a Civil War stand-off and why it is one of the country’s most haunted buildings.

Other historic buildings well worth a visit include the mid-18th century Sarehole Mill which captivated a young J.R.R. Tolkien who lived across the road. The rural surroundings and nearby Moseley Bog were his inspirations for the Shire and the Old Forest in The Hobbit. You will find picture-perfect, timber-framed, Tudor houses at Blakesley Hall and Selly Manor Museum. And Weoley Castle ruins are the remains of a fortified manor house from 750 years ago.

Tours and self-guided walks

Taking a guided tour is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and soak up the sights and history of Birmingham. Companies such as Positively Birmingham and Birmingham Heritage Walking Tours have a great range of themed walks on the city’s architecture, canals, public art and even pubs.

Black Heritage Walks Network tours explore the city through stories of migration, the visits of famed international civil rights campaigners, and the contribution and successes of the Black community in Birmingham.

You can also take to the water with Birmingham Roundhouse’s kayak tours of the canals to learn about their history and see the city from a different perspective.

Also worth a mention are the many self-guided walks created by locals on the excellent Birmingham Gems website.

Find out more about the city’s history at Birmingham Heritage Forum.

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