Birmingham has a lot of nicknames. More than most other UK cities. Some it wears proudly. Others would be better off forgotten. But we started to wonder (as you probably did too if you are reading this article) what some of the origins of these famous nicknames are. From the simple Brum to the awe-inspiring City of a Thousand Trades, there are interesting stories behind every nickname.
Why is Birmingham called Brummagem?
Brum must be the most famous of nicknames for Birmingham. But it is actually short for Brummagem, an old variant local name for Birmingham. It first appeared in the Middle Ages and was widely used by the time of the English Civil War. It would, however, later attract a negative connotation in the 17th century. Becoming associated with Birmingham’s brief reputation for counterfeit coins.
Later, the term ‘Brummagem ware’ was used to imply goods were cheaply made or shoddy imitations. Charles Dickens’s novel The Pickwick Papers (1836) mentions the ‘Brummagem button’ for counterfeit silver coins. While the ‘Brummagem screwdriver’ was a term for a hammer to suggest that Birmingham workers were unskilled.
While Birmingham’s reputation for poor-quality work would not last, as we’ll learn later, the name Brummagem still carried bad connotations. It has largely been left behind, but the shortened nickname Brum has persisted. (Even lending its name to the popular children’s television series set here.) These days everyone is proud to be a Brummie.
Why is Birmingham called the Second City?
A country’s ‘second city’ is the second-most important city based on population, culture and economic importance. The largest UK city after London has changed a lot over the years. (There were times when both Norwich and Bristol held the title.) Since WWI, it’s commonly agreed by the media and politicians that Birmingham is the UK’s second city – although Manchester has sometimes been given the nickname too in recent years. The Second City Derby is also the name of the fiercely contested local derby between Birmingham’s two major football clubs, Aston Villa and Birmingham City.
Why is Birmingham called the City of a Thousand Trades?
During the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham picked up a lot of nicknames. Workshop of the World, Toyshop of Europe, and City of a Thousand Trades were just a few of these. You would need a whole book to cover the story of Birmingham during this time, but by the 19th century, the city was one of the most advanced manufacturing centres in the modern world. From pens to jewellery, toys to guns, custard to Cadbury chocolate, you name it, it was probably made here in Birmingham. The pub 1000 Trades in Birmingham is even named after this wonderful nickname.
Why is Birmingham called The Pen Shop of the World?
While Birmingham was known for endless manufacturing, during the Victorian age, it was particularly considered the capital of the world’s pen trade. About 100 pen factories in the Jewellery Quarter accounted for 75% of all pens worldwide. Today you can head down to The Pen Museum to learn more about Birmingham’s history with a range of activities that include: writing with a quill, using typewriters, trying calligraphy analysing your handwriting and also the opportunity to make your own pen nib.
Why is Birmingham called Venice of the North?
It’s probably the most over-repeated fact about Birmingham that it has more canals than Venice. It’s also not technically true. Because it doesn’t have more canals, just more miles of canal. 35 glorious miles of it! The nickname Venice of the North is an obvious reference to Birmingham’s canal connection with the city in Southern Europe.
But it’s also a name that has been applied to various other cities throughout Northern Europe. Most famously Amsterdam, but also Bruges, Hamburg and Stockholm. It seems that of all the awesome nicknames for Birmingham, this one is little more than a self-promotion tool.