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Birmingham or Brummagem?
As the face of Birmingham has changed through the centuries, so has the spelling of its name. Birmingham has grown from a tiny village on the banks of the River Rea - in the Domesday Book it was only worth twenty shillings - to become the second city in England. The name probably dates from Anglo-Saxon times.
Brem or Berm an Anglo-Saxon name
ham the home
The lord of the manor in the 12th century was Peter de Bermingham. His name was spelt in various ways even in his lifetime. The spelling Birmingham was not used consistently until the 18th century. Today Brummagem or Brum are nearly as common as Birmingham, and the people are known as Brummies.
Below are 144 spellings. Some of the illustrations include a name for 'Birmingham' - in this case the spelling is highlighted in the list. The images are all from the collection in Archives and Heritage
The Old Crown, Deritend, on the road up to Camp Hill, is one of the few medieval buildings remaining in Birmingham. Recent evidence suggests it may have been built in 1492, in the same year as the Saracen's Head, King's Norton. Now a pub, it may originally have been a wealthy merchant's house, or possibly the school built by the Guild of St. John's for the education of their sons.
John Speede's map of Warwickshire 1610. Birmingham lay on the north-western boundary of Warwickshire. Places that are now suburbs lay outside; Harborne and Handsworth in Staffordshire, King's Norton, Moseley and Yardley in Worcestershire.
For a larger version and more information click here: Warwickshire 1610.
During the Civil War on Easter Monday 1643 Birmingham was attacked by Royalist forces under Prince Rupert. Several contemporary accounts were published in London in 1643 with this illustration as a frontispiece.
For a larger version and more information click here: Prince Rupert
View of Birmingham, from William Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire 1656
For a larger version and more information click here: Birmingham 1656
Birmingham in 1695, survey by Robert Morden.
For a larger version and more information click here: Birmingham 1695
Edgbaston Hall, Church Road, Edgbaston. The first Hall was a medieval manor house. It was badly damaged in the Civil War when Colonel "Tinker" Fox and his parliamentary troops made the Hall their stronghold. It was burnt down by Puritans in 1688. Edgbaston Hall was rebuilt in 1717 by Sir Richard Gough as a beautiful Georgian mansion, with the extensive gardens - woodlands, lakes, parkland - landscaped by Capability Brown.
From 1783 it was let to various tenants, including the Lunar Society member Dr. William Withering, Chief Physician at Birmingham General Hospital. He showed how digitalis, from foxgloves, could help heart disease. Sir James Smith, Lord Mayor of Birmingham, also made the Hall his home in 1896. Since 1936 the Hall has been the Clubhouse for Edgbaston Golf Club.
Cartouche from J. Sherriff's map of the area around Birmingham, 1798. This was one of the first maps to place Birmingham at the centre.
For a larger version and more information click here: Birmingham 1798
St. Martin's and the Bull Ring Market, circa 1830, by David Cox.
For a larger version and more information, click here: Bull Ring by David Cox
The Town Hall, from the top end of new Street, circa 1865. Birmingham's first music festival had been held in 1778 to raise funds for the General Hospital. It proved so popular that from 1784 it was held as a Triennial Festival. Concerts took place in St. Phillip's, but by the 1820s a larger venue was needed, and it was proposed that a Town Hall should be built. It was modelled on the Parthenon; and was built of brick then faced with Anglesey marble. Concerts and meetings were held there from 1834, although it was only finally completed in 1849.
New Street from High Street, hand-tinted postcard, circa 1900. New Street is one of the oldest streets in Birmingham, as it is mentioned in a deed dated 1398. In an 1840s guide, shortly after the building of the Town Hall, it is described as 'the Bond Street of Birmingham, what with its glittering array of shops, its inns, its fine Elizabethan School, its School of Arts, its Theatre, its Post-office, it gives the ton to that part of the town.'
Victoria Square, the Council House and the Museum and Art Gallery in 1912. The land was purchased in 1853, and in 1870 the Council finally agreed to build offices for the corporation on the site. H. R. Yeoville Thomason was appointed architect in 1871. The Mayor, Joseph Chamberlain, laid the foundation-stone in 1874. The building was completed in 1879, and at the opening ceremony 'dancing continued with vigour until midnight.' An extension was needed 20 years later; this was completed in 1912.
The market, the Bull Ring Centre, the Rotunda and St. Martin's in the 1990s. The Bull Ring Centre was opened in 1964, but lasted less than 40 years and was then demolished and rebuilt, being re-opened in September 2003. The Rotunda, also built in the 1960s, was threatened with demolition, but is now a listed building.
St. Martin's has changed from its former appearance in David Cox's picture. The spire is still similar to that of the medieval and Georgian church, but the main body was rebuilt in 1872.
One hundred and forty-one of these names were collected by William Hamper, a Birmingham antiquarian, in the early 19th century. In 1880 a booklet was published: AN HISTORICAL CURIOSITY, by a Birmingham Resident, ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-ONE WAYS OF SPELLING BIRMINGHAM.
There may be more spellings in addition to those here. Hamper's list did not include Brummagem, certainly in existence at that time in the song:
Full twenty years and more have passed since I left Brummagem,
But I set out for home at last, to good old Brummagem.
But every place is altered so, there's hardly a single place I know
Which fills my heart with grief and woe - I can't find Brummagem.
The names are mounted in white vinyl lettering on the sides of the escalators in Birmingham Central Library. This was done by Ruth Spencer, as part of the Birmingham Artist's Book Works Exhibition October 2002-April 2003.
High quality reproductions of the illustrations on this page can be ordered from the Archives and Heritage section in the Central Library.