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Birmingham is generally known as an industrial icon (it can be successfully argued that the industrial revolution began here) and yet has more parks than any other European city. It is also the birthplace to Cadbury Chocolates and The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien. It is clear that the city's history is rich and diverse.
Birmingham is listed in the Domesday Book, and valued at 20 shillings. The city was founded as a site for weekly local market days. Roads developed to facilitate trade, coal and iron were discovered nearby, and a system of canals made the area very attractive to both manufacturers and innovators, including James Watt (of steam engine fame).
Some of the city's notable landmarks include:
A Jacobean mansion, built in 1618 - 1635, Aston Hall displays original plasterwork, woodwork and chimney pieces. Then 43-acre park has been partially restored to reflect its 17th century origins.
The City's Web site has an archaeology page about the city's buried past. Birmingham's Roman fort (about 48 AD) and excavations at The Bullring (about 12th century AD) are two especially fine sites. Other important sites:
This is where Birmingham began in 7th Century AD. It was first a marketplace, and then attracted more settlers, farmers and tradesmen - in part because of the available water. For hundreds of years, it was a center of growth and industry. Check the Web site for two walking trails, which take you past several sites, including the all-important canals, Gun Barrel Proof House (1813), the Curzon Street Railway Terminus (1838), the Deritend Branch Library (1866), and the original Bird's Custard Factory (1902) - now an arts center.
Built in 1765, Sarehole Mill is one of only two water mills (from over fifty) that helped power the factories of Industrial Revolution-era Birmingham. Mistakenly many people believe it is mentioned in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings but the connection is that Tolkien (who lived locally) was frightened by the miller and used him as the basis for a character in the work. . The museum is open only during the months of April - October, but even in off months, the site is worth a visit to fans and history buffs. Worth seeing, too, is Moseley Bog, which the young Tolkien played in and became the inspiration for Middle Earth.
The specimens in this museum, founded in 1880, come from all parts of the world, but most come from the Midlands.
Coughton Court (about 15 miles from Birmingham on the A34)
This home/museum is notable for its Tudor-style architecture, its lavish gardens and collections of period furniture and porcelain. It also houses an exhibit on the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The short version of the story:
Birmingham has a 200+ year history of fine jewelry making. During that history, the areas workshops produced jewelry, buttons, buckles, and coins. The museum is set in an old factory and the guided tour demonstrates many of the techniques used. The area is still full of manufacturing jeweller and bargains can be found!
Birmingham was THE center of pan manufacturing during the 19th century. Located in the Jewellery Quaerter, this free-admission museum provides history lessons, and the opportunity to try you hand at writing utensils of the past.
Founded in 1786, this mint was the first to use steam power to mass produce coins. Innovators James Watt and Matthew Boulton helped the Royal Mint meet the demand for coins in 18th Century England.
The Sweet Side
Whether you favorite is Flake, Dairy Milk, Turkish Delight or another, it's hard to deny that Cadbury's is a classic confectionery. Visit this theme park/museum to learn more about chocolate in general and Cadbury's in specific. There are some kiddie rides and free samples. You see little of the production facility. For the budget-conscious chocolate fans: consider buying some of the "misshapes" - still taste as great as the perfectly shaped candies.