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West Midlands is a metropolitan county formed in 1974 following
the government's restructuring of the county boundaries centred around
Birmingham - England's second largest city which had previously been
part of Warwickshire. The county covers an area of 350 square miles and
is home to over 2.5 million people. The West Midlands administrative
centre is Birmingham and the other main towns are
West Midlands is a heavily industrialised county although there is much beautiful countryside outside the main towns and cities. Engineering and mechanicals goods like motor vehicles and machine tools are typical products of the area. Alec Issigonis was one of the most colourful car designers of modern times. He went on to design the world famous Mini, which started production in 1959 at Longbridge, Birmingham and is still in production today. Two miles from Birmingham city centre is one of the biggest motorway junctions in Europe: Gravelly Hill Interchange, known as 'Spaghetti Junction' to millions of motorists.
The word Birmingham comes from the Anglo Saxon Ham (Home), ing (of the people) of Beorma (the local leader). Birmingham is said to have more canals than Venice - its first canal was opened in 1769. There are many locks on the canals including the famous Guillotine Lock in Kings Norton, which was used to control the flow of water between canals owned by different companies. Victoria Square has one of the largest fountains in Europe. It has a flow of 3,000 gallons per minute and is known as "The River". The city also boasts the historic Bull Ring - the site of a market for more than 800 years. Within the Bull Ring complex are 5 markets attracting around 20 million customers a year. The National Exhibition Centre (Birmingham NEC) is the centrepiece of this modern, thriving city.
Birmingham is home to Cadbury's Chocolate. The Cadbury brothers, George and Richard moved their chocolate manufacturing business from Bull Street, Birmingham to Bournville in 1879 - Cadbury World is now a popular tourist attraction in the area, especially with the kids. It is the only purpose built visitor centre in the UK devoted entirely to chocolate. JRR Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, spent his childhood in tiny village of Sarehole in Birmingham. Sarehole is said to have been the model for the Shire, home of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.
X-Ray photography for medical purposes was pioneered by Major John Hall Edwards who took the first x-ray in Birmingham in 1896
Soho House in Handsworth, Birmingham is the elegant home of industrial pioneer Matthew Boulton, who lived there 1766-1809. Boulton developed and patented the steam engine in partnership with James Watt at the nearby but now demolished Soho Factory. William Murdock, who worked for Boulton and Watt invented gas lighting. His cottage at Soho Foundary was the first domestic building to be lit by gas. James Watt, developed the steam engine which kick-started the industrial revolution. Watt also invented the letter copying machine, forerunner of the photocopier.
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