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Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands county of England. It is the most populous British city outside London with a population of 1,016,800 (2008 estimate), and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the United Kingdom's second most populous Urban Area with a population of 2,284,093 (2001 census). Birmingham's metropolitan area, which includes surrounding towns to which it is closely tied through commuting, is the United Kingdom's second most populous with a population of 3,683,000.
Birmingham was a powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution in England, a fact which led to it being known as "the workshop of the world" or the "city of a thousand trades". Although Birmingham's industrial importance has declined, it has developed into a national commercial centre, being named as the second-best place in the United Kingdom to locate a business, and the 14th best in Europe by Cushman & Wakefield in 2009. It is also the fourth-most visited city by foreign visitors in the UK.
In 2007, Birmingham was ranked as the 55th-most livable city in the world and the second most livable in the UK, according to the Mercer Index of worldwide standards of living. Birmingham was also one of the founding cities for the Eurocities group and is also sitting as chair. Birmingham has the second-largest city economy in the UK, and was ranked 72nd in the world in 2008.
People from Birmingham are known as 'Brummies', a term derived from the city's nickname of 'Brum'. This comes in turn from the city's dialect name, Brummagem, which may have been derived from one of the city's earlier names, 'Bromwicham'. There is a distinctive Brummie dialect and accent, both of which differ from the adjacent Black Country.
Some of the earliest evidence of settlement in Birmingham are artefacts dating back 10,400 years discovered near Curzon Street in the city centre.
In the early 7th century, Birmingham was an Anglo-Saxon farming hamlet on the banks of the River Rea. It is commonly believed that the name 'Birmingham' comes from "Beorma ingas ham", meaning home of the sons (or descendants) of Beorma. Birmingham was first recorded in written documents by the Domesday Book of 1086 as a small village, worth only 20 shillings. There were many variations on this name. Bermingeham is another version.
In 1166 the holder of the manor of Birmingham, Peter de Birmingham, was granted a royal charter to hold a market in his castle, which in time became known as the Bull Ring, transforming Birmingham from a village to a market town. The de Birmingham family continued to be Lords of Birmingham until the 1530s when Edward de Birmingham was cheated out of its lordship by the traitor John Dudley.
As early as the 16th century, Birmingham's access to supplies of iron ore and coal meant that metalworking industries became established.
By the time of the English Civil War in the 17th century, Birmingham had become an important manufacturing town with a reputation for producing small arms. Arms manufacture in Birmingham became a staple trade and was concentrated in the area known as the Gun Quarter. During the Industrial Revolution (from the mid-18th century onwards), Birmingham grew rapidly into a major industrial centre and the town prospered. Birmingham’s population grew from 15,000 in the late 17th century to 70,000 a century later. During the 18th century, Birmingham was home to the Lunar Society, an important gathering of local thinkers and industrialists.
Birmingham rose to national political prominence in the campaign for political reform in the early nineteenth century, with Thomas Attwood's Birmingham Political Union bringing the country to the brink of civil war and back during the Days of May that preceded the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832. The Union's meetings on Newhall Hill in 1831 and 1832 were the largest political assemblies Britain had ever seen. Lord Durham, who drafted the act, wrote that "the country owed Reform to Birmingham, and its salvation from revolution".