Guide to the West Midlands

The West Midlands covers the western half of central England. With the East Midlands, it constitutes the traditional region known as The Midlands. The West Midlands is recognised as an official region of England. The land-locked region is home to areas of outstanding natural beauty, as well as large urban centres such as Birmingham. The West Midlands also has several historically significant sites, including Warwick Castle and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Defining the West Midlands

The West Midlands is bordered by Wales to the west, the West Country and the South East of England to the south, the East Midlands in the east, and the North East of England to the north. The region includes the traditional countries of Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands County and Worcestershire. The administrative centre for the West Midlands is the bustling city of Birmingham, which is also a major cultural and economic hub for the region.

History of the West Midlands

The West Midlands traces its roots to the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, which controlled the region from the eighth century. While the East Midlands came under primarily Danish control in ninth century, the West continued as Mercia until the early tenth century. The territory eventually was controlled by the expanding Kingdom of the West Saxons, also known as Wessex, to create a unified English state during the tenth century.

The region's industrial heritage dates back to the Middle Ages with industrial activity present in various communities. Coal and iron ore deposits in the Black Country area of the West Midlands provided a readily available source of raw materials needed for manufacturing. Coventry was one of the West Midlands' earliest industrial centres with wool and cloth manufacturing. Industry in Birmingham and Wolverhampton began in the sixteenth century with small metal working, including arms, locks and brass working.

With available materials and an industrial tradition, it is little wonder that the Industrial Revolution took shape in and around Birmingham and the Black Country. The Black Country was home to Ironbridge Gorge, an early industrial hub and the site of the world's first cast iron bridge. Innovations such as self-propelled locomotion, man-made-powered factories, iron-framed buildings, transatlantic telegraph and submarine cables, coaxial cable, man-made plastic and other inventions were all developed in the region. The UK's automotive industry was also concentrated on the West Midlands, where new vehicles were primarily developed in and around Coventry and Birmingham.

Demographics of the West Midlands

The West Midlands is largely rural, particularly in the counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. A large conurbation is found close to the heart of the region, which includes the cities of Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Solihull, Dudley, West Bromwich and Walsall. The West Midlands covers an area of 13,000 square kilometres or 5,020 square miles. According to the 2011 Census, the region is home to over 5.6 million people. This makes the West Midlands the seventh largest region in size and the fifth largest in terms of population. The region is also the second most ethnically diverse in the UK after London. More than ten percent of the population is of Asia heritage and over three percent are black, according to the 2011 Census.

Towns and Cities of the West Midlands

The West Midlands County is a major urban area in the region. Within its borders are Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry. Originally a market town, Birmingham grew into a leading city during the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. England's second largest urban area, the city was largely destroyed during the Second World War. Birmingham offers world class shopping and is the economic heart of the West Midlands. Although traditionally a manufacturing town, much of the city is now supported by the service sector. East of Birmingham is Coventry, an important industrial city with a medieval cathedral that was rebuilt after being partially destroyed during the Second World War. To the west is Wolverhampton, a university town and a gateway to Shropshire.

Stoke-on-Trent, a major industrial centre in Staffordshire, is known as The Potteries. The city has been at the centre of the ceramics and pottery industry for centuries. East of Staffordshire is Shropshire, a county that is generally considered to be the birthplace of England's iron industry. The county's major town is Shrewsbury, which is renowned for its well-preserved medieval buildings. Shrewsbury was once an important hub for the wool trade. To the south in rural Herefordshire is Hereford, a cathedral city situated close to the Welsh border. The town's cathedral was established in 1079 by King Ethelbert.

Warwickshire is home to some of England's most popular destinations. Stratford upon Avon is the home of famed playwright William Shakespeare. A well know theatre town, Stratford upon Avon also boasts Shakespeare's home and the childhood home of his wife. Also in the county is Warwick, home of a large and picturesque castle. The well-preserved mediaeval Warwick Castle was founded in 914 and is operated by Madame Tussauds. Recreations of castle life during various periods are found throughout the sprawling structure, which is also home to stunning green spaces. Situated close to the scenic Malvern Hills and east of Warwickshire, Worcester is a cathedral city in Worcestershire. Once a Roman settlement, Worcester is famous for its Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce and a cathedral with roots in the seventh century.