As the inaugural West Midlands Tourism Awards gets underway, there’s plenty to celebrate in the world-leading region.
An endlessly inventive place, the West Midlands has made its mark on the world with everything from automated traffic lights to heavy metal music.
The cradle of industry is where the pacemaker and the microwave started life, and it has even made a major contribution to the art of drinking tea.
With the West Midlands being so influential across the globe – it’s no wonder that the region welcomed 131 million visitors in 2018 – generating £12.6 billion worth of economic benefit.
The inaugural West Midlands Tourism Awards are shining a spotlight on the stars of our £12bn visitor economy, which is putting our region on the map – across the UK and the world.In the build up to the awards we are celebrating 15 facts, compiled by the West Midlands Growth Company, showing the region’s global influence.
Many of these enduring achievements draw millions of people to the home of William Shakespeare, Cadbury chocolate and lawn tennis.
The West Midlands Tourism Awards recognise the venues, experiences, accommodation and people who are putting the region on the map.
Nominations for two of the categories close on September 27, with entries for remaining categories closing on 25 October.
To mark the first year of the West Midlands Tourism Awards, here are 15, world-defining facts showing how the region’s influence spans the globe.
1. Jewel in the crown
Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter makes 40% of the jewellery in the UK
Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter produces 40% of the country’s jewellery, alongside boxing belts, the FIFA World Player of the Year awards and 12 million items at Europe’s largest Assay Office. Located in the heart of the famous quarter, Birmingham City University’s School of Jewellery is the largest in Europe, with graduates going on to work for prestigious brands including Tiffany’s, Tag Heuer and Cartier. Unique courses include Jewellery, Horology and Gemmology.
2. Box-office Birmingham
Steven Spielberg (left) and executive producer Adam Somner (right) on the set of Ready Player One in the Jewellery Quarter (Image: Joe Giddens/PA Wire)
Born in Birmingham in 1813, Alexander Parkes invented celluloid, used across the globe in cinematic film. Its development is heralded as the birth of the Hollywood film industry. Birmingham businessman Oscar Deutsch, who – along with Birmingham-born film pioneers Michael Balcon and Victor Saville – was instrumental in starting the UK’s film industry, founded the Odeon chain of cinemas in 1930.
Today, the city centre is a popular filming location, with Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One visiting several Birmingham sites including the Jewellery Quarter. Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight has announced plans to boost Birmingham’s film industry by building a new studio complex in 2020.
In 1824, John Cadbury began selling tea, coffee and drinking chocolate in Bull Street, Birmingham. Cadbury’s innovative production of cocoa essence in the 1860s helped transform the small business into one of the world’s largest confectionary companies. Today, Cadbury is one of the world’s bestselling brands employing around 70,000 people.
4. A Black Country marvel
Ant-Man was co-created by Walsall’s John Byrne. (Image: Dumfries And Galloway Standard)
Walsall’s John Byrne is a comic book writer who has co-created a number of Marvel characters such as Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, Sabretooth, Shadow King, Ant-Man, Bishop, Omega Red and Rachel Summers. In 2015, the first instalment of Ant-Man was released in cinemas and made more than half-a-billion dollars at the box office.
5 .Custard start
Custard Factory Green Man, by Suzanne Lea Smith
Bird’s Custard was first formulated and cooked in 1837 at a chemist shop in Birmingham. Alfred Bird’s unique powdered custard recipe was so well received by dinner guests, he would form Alfred Bird and Sons Ltd to increase wider production. He went on to invent a baking powder, which is the same used in kitchens across the world today.TICLES
Other kitchen staples invented in Birmingham include Typhoo Tea, HP Sauce and Bournville drinking chocolate, while Coventry is known for its baked puff pastries called Godcakes. The Black Country is famous for its traditional pubs and breweries.
Today, the Custard Factory is at the heart of Birmingham’s buzzing creative and digital district – set in 15 acres of beautifully restored Victorian factories.
6. Top of the food chain
Glynn Purnell’s is one of four Michelin star restaurants in Birmingham
The West Midlands culinary dream team is led by Solihull-born chef and television personality Glynn Purnell. The region is home to six Michelin-starred restaurants, alongside an award-winning street food scene including Digbeth Dining Club and the Balti Triangle.
The inaugural West Midlands Tourism Awards are shining a spotlight on the stars of the £12bn business of putting our region on the map – across the UK and the world.
The West Midlands welcomed 131 million visitors last year and numbers are set to flourish during Coventry UK City of Culture in 2021 and Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022.
The venues, experiences, accommodation and people who are helping this happen are being celebrated at the West Midlands Tourism Awards with categories including International Tourism, Hotel of the Year, Pub of the Year, B&B and Guest House of the Year.
The 15 winners will be announced at a glittering ceremony at the University of Birmingham’s Great Hall on Wednesday 26th February 2020.
7. Literary heroes
Stratford-upon-Avon is one of the West Midlands’ most popular tourist destinations
William Shakespeare exerts a huge global influence and is a massive draw to Stratford-upon-Avon. The Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library is the first, oldest and largest collection in any public library in the world. Warwickshire-born George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans, whose novel Middlemarch has been described as the greatest in the English language, while JRR Tolkien’s time in Birmingham influenced one of the best-selling novels ever written.
8. Saddlers’ delight
Walsall Leather Museum and Garden
Walsall is Britain’s capital of leather goods, rising into an international saddle-making centre at the start of the 20th century. J&E Sedgwick – now owned by Abbey England – remains the sole premium name in English bridle leather and the only handcurrier in the UK.
9. Broadcasting blockbusters
Tommy Shelby from Peaky Blinders
One of the hit television series of the last decade, Peaky Blinders is the brainchild of Birmingham-born screenwriter and film director Steven Knight.
The gangster family drama begins in 1919 in post-war Birmingham and has spawned tours, clothing ranges, festivals and cocktails, as well as a host of television awards and critical acclaim.
Many scenes are filmed at the Black Country Living Museum. BBC Radio 4 soap opera The Archers is the world’s longest running drama. The “everyday story of country folk” has been made in Birmingham since it was first broadcast in January 1951 and attracts more than five million listeners.
10. The West Midlands rocks!
Ozzy Osbourne has praised fans of Black Sabbath for being so dedicated over the years
Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Napalm Death and Led Zeppelin are bands from Birmingham and the West Midlands that pioneered the heavy metal music genre. Influenced by the industrial, urban environment of the West Midlands region at the time, the unique sound inspired successive bands such as Iron Maiden, Metallica and Nirvana.
Ozzy Osbourne and his bandmates have sold more than 70 million records worldwide and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, alongside Elvis, Buddy Holly and The Beatles. Today’s music scene is led by Walsall soul singer Jorja Smith, who won Best British Female at the 2019 Brit Awards and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2019.
11. Ska quality
The Specials singer Neville Staple
The two-tone music genre was developed in Coventry during the late 1970s. West Midlands bands such as The Specials, The Beat and The Selecter were at the forefront of the two-tone scene – a fusion of ska, reggae and rocksteady with elements of punk rock and new wave. The genre promoted and celebrated multiracialism, bringing ska and reggae to new heights of popularity across the country and dominating the pop charts.
12. A work of art
The entrance to Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, with the Big Brum clock tower to the left
The West Midlands’ art scene includes the world’s largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; and one of the UK’s best collections of British and American pop art at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. The world famous Garman Ryan collection at the New Art Gallery Walsall was one of the first new attractions to open in the UK in the 21st century. More than a million people visit the West Midlands’ art galleries each year.
13. Serving up a new sport
Fieldings Auctioneers are auctioning the original dress and tennis racket as used in the famous Athena poster of the young women holding her bare left buttock. With the items is auctioneer Nick Davies.
Lawn tennis was invented and first played in Birmingham over 150 years ago. Major Harry Gem created the game with JBA Perera in a back garden in Ampton Road, Edgbaston. Today, the city hosts a crucial Wimbledon warm-up tournament at the Edgbaston Priory Club.
14. In a league of their own
The statue of William McGregor, founder of the Football League in 1888, outside Villa Park.
The West Midlands is home to five of the oldest professional football teams in the world: Aston Villa (1874), Birmingham City (1875), Wolverhampton Wanderers (1877), West Bromwich Albion (1878) and Walsall (1888).
In 1888, William McGregor of Aston Villa FC invited other clubs (including Wolves and West Brom) to play regular games of football, creating the Football League.
Wolves’ match with Honved in December 1954 was instrumental in forming the European Cup, now known as the Champions League. In honour of his beloved Wolverhampton Wanderers, composer Sir Edward Elgar penned the world’s first football chant, titled ‘He Banged the Leather for Goal’.
Coventry City was founded in 1883 by Willie Stanley, an employee of cycle firm Singers.
15. Funny man fundraiser
Sir Lenny Henry
Sir Lenny Henry is a stand-up comedian, actor, singer, writer, and television presenter who was born in Dudley. He is known for co-founding charity Comic Relief and presenting and starring in a variety of television programmes and stage productions. Henry was given the Freedom of the Borough in 2013 and remains a regular visitor.