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Twelve things you didn't know about Birmingham

Written by
Robin Valk

How much do you know about Birmingham? Check out these 12 facts about the city, including some golden pub-quiz trivia about Thomas the Tank Engine, Aston Villa and the FA Cup, and a game-changing musical instrument… 

1) Birmingham is much, much older than you think.

Flickr: Dermot Keller

The original Brummies were an Anglian tribe, called the Beormingas, who settled in the area in the 6th or 7th century.

2) Audio sampling started in Birmingham.

Robin Valk

The Mellotron was invented in Streetly, north Birmingham. It was used by The Beatles ('Strawberry Fields'), The Move ('Blackberry Way'), The Moody Blues ('Nights In White Satin'), and King Crimson ('Court of the Crimson King'). The first string samples were recorded in Aldridge, five miles to the north. Mellotrons are still being made (and restored) just outside the city by the same family business, Bradley's.

3) Birmingham takes St Patrick's Day very seriously indeed.

Flickr: Elliott Brown

Birmingham's St Patrick's Day Parade is the third biggest in the world after New York and Dublin.  

4) The Football League started here.

Flickr: Marion O'Sullivan

The original forerunner of the Premier League was founded in Birmingham by William McGregor, who was involved with founding members and this year's FA Cup Finalists Aston Villa. Of the 12 founding members, three were from the West Midlands – and none from London.

5) Villa won the FA Cup – and then lost it. Forever. Oops.

Flickr: Andrew Wilkinson

The original FA Cup was stolen from a sports shop on Newtown Row in Birmingham after Villa won the competition in 1895 – and it was never recovered. Sixty years later, the thief admitted the cup had been melted down to make counterfeit half-crowns. Its replacement was made in the Jewellery Quarter. Let's hope Villa take better care of the trophy if they win the FA Cup Final on May 30.

6) Referees wouldn't be referees without Brum.

Flickr - 'Kev Keegan'

The Acme Thunderer whistle, beloved of referees worldwide, is made here in Birmingham.

7) We were hosting TEDx Talks in the 18th century.

Flickr: Alistair Paterson

The Lunar Society's members – the Lunartics, they were called – met on full-moon nights so they could see to travel home. A powerhouse of debate, this was an informal supper club for intellectuals, industrialists, scientists and free thinkers, with the likes of Matthew Boulton, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood and Erasmus Darwin taking part. Benjamin Franklin used to visit when he came to the UK. One member was Joseph Priestly, a theologian and scientist who invented soda water.

8) We have the best acoustics in the UK.

Flickr: Tony Hisgett

Birmingham Symphony Hall, which is hands down the best venue in the country for acoustics, was built for exacting conductor Simon Rattle, the then conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

9) Birmingham is a cinephile's paradise.

Flickr - Quimby

The first ever Odeon cinema opened in Birmingham in 1930. And the Electric Cinema is now the oldest working cinema in the UK.

10) They couldn't have done the Italian Job without Longbridge.

Flickr: Paul Simpson

The original Mini was produced continuously in Birmingham for 41 years.

11) Thomas the Tank Engine isn't from Sodor – he's a Brummie.

Flickr: Henry Burrows

The Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry – a huge railway fan – was for six years a curate in Kings Norton, just down the hill from the station. While there, he created the Thomas stories for his young son.

12) The long and winding story of St Chad's well-travelled saintly bones concludes in Brum.

Flickr: Damian Walmsley

St Chad's holds relics of the 7th-century St Chad of Mercia. He once had a major shrine in Lichfield, but Henry VIII stopped all that. The relics were spirited away and passed on secretly from family to family in the Midlands over the centuries. They were eventually rediscovered in an abandoned chapel in 1839. After much clerical debate, the bones went to Rome, where Pope Gregory decided they be housed in St Chad's, then being built in Birmingham. They've been there ever since.

That would be that, but sadly, a 1995 analysis found that there were two left femurs, and one bone from completely the wrong century. Sacred they may be, but they simply can't all be from the venerable Chad.

Check out the musical history made in Brum.

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