Out now: 111 Places in Birmingham That You Shouldn’t Miss: by Ben Waddington.
The ‘111 Places…’ guidebook series began in 2007 in Köln (a city with the lucky number of 11) and now has over 500 titles. Birmingham’s entry in the series lands on bookshelves this week and will be supported with a series of guided walks inspired by the book.
‘111 Places…’ books are known for side-stepping a city’s best known places, instead highlighting the lesser-known—or wholly overlooked— features that more candidly reveal the city’s identity. Ben takes this approach on his guided tours with Still Walking (Birmingham’s festival of guided tours and walking events) …walks informed by posing the question ‘what would guided tours look like if they weren’t about sight-seeing?’
Selections for the book drew from Ben’s research over the years and was written during the lockdowns that prevented any public group walks. The scope of the book extends beyond the city borders to visit landscapes, features and delicacies from the Black Country, Solihull and Sutton Coldfield. The aim of the book was to tell Birmingham’s story through its art, architecture, music, industrial history and cultural diversity; showcasing the city’s triumphs while embracing its gritty side. Accordingly, there’s an intriguing mix of urban oddities, micro-museums, sacred sites, epic landscapes, industrial remnants (bridges, tunnels, engines) and a handful of ‘survivors’ from the pre-Revolution Birmingham.
The book reveals Birmingham’s extensive Italian connections in its architecture, workforce, mosaics, food, Ancient Romans and motorway junction) and there are many references to how the city was shaped by the car, while looking towards a more sustainable future. The book illuminates the lives of local saints, the shadowy realm of demons, spooks and ghouls, while Ben’s love of Sherlock Holmes means there are many references to the great detective’s Birmingham links. The city’s public art is celebrated too, following interviews with the artists involved and with some revelatory interpretations. Ben’s keen eye and thorough research make this a book suitable for both new arrivals to the city as well as longer established residents. Several of the chapters cover places and subjects that are exclusive to this book.
The book is beautifully illustrated with 111 full page photographs by Janet Hart.
Quotes and reviews of 111 Places in Birmingham That You Shouldn’t Miss:
It’s such an amazing collection of writing.
111% good job!
Bruce Williams (Memorial to Tony Hancock)
This, you should not miss!
Good guidebooks reveal how a city is constituted, and not merely enhanced, by its connection to other places. Ben Waddington’s exploration of Birmingham does this while bringing a lightness of touch and literary verve to what can be a plodding genre.
Ben has got under the skin of a city that over the past half-century has generally shied away from the limelight. This book is a fantastic introduction to Birmingham for curious visitors, and will delight many locals too. The locations span from the polished to the gritty, and at times hint at Birmingham’s sometimes dismissive attitude to its own past. As the son of an Italian restaurateur, it’s great to see a nod to good Italian food, an echo of an almost forgotten immigrant population in the wonderful cosmopolitan place that is modern Birmingham.
Such an exciting book. It has given me a genuine boost about being in and from Birmingham
Our entry has greatly impressed everyone I have shown it to and it makes us very proud to be included in such an illustrious list which encapsulates so well the spirit of Birmingham.
Sandy Robertson (Webster and Horsfall Museum)
Your book is magnificent, many congratulations! It says more about Birmingham than anything else I can think of.
David Patten (Industry and Genius)
There are many writing travel books and guide tours to places but I haven’t read many that write so beautifully about the feel of a place.
Helen Taylor (the Lock-Up Museum)
You have just cut the keys to the city.
You need to put your energy of observation into something more worthwhile.
Eleven guided walks accompany the book. See the website for full descriptions and booking:
Invisible Cinema // Sat 22 Apr
The rise and fall of the smaller cinema building coincides closely with the twentieth century. Most smaller theatres have either been demolished or have blended into the surrounding urban fabric.
Raiders of the Lost Arc // Sun 23 Apr
The most iconic buildings that characterise Birmingham’s skyline are arciform: the simple cylinder of the Rotunda, the sumptuous curves of the Selfridges building and the ‘ode to the circle’ of the Library of Birmingham. The tradition goes back much further.
The Game is Afoot – Sherlock in the City // Sun 30 Apr
Birmingham may not be the first city you think of in connection with uber-detective Sherlock Holmes but the evidence is all there to be discovered.
All Roads Lead to Rome // Sat 13 May
Writing the 111 book revealed just how many links Birmingham has with Italy. The influence is there in the buildings, the social diaspora, the food and perhaps too in Spaghetti Junction…
Shibboleths // Sun 14 May
A shibboleth is a phrase,word or custom that uniquely identifies a particular group of people, used as a cultural password to demonstrate affiliation to a society. So, what are the shibboleths of Birmingham?
A Mouse-sized Meander // Sat 27 May
A walk with 10 000 iterations in the making. This is simply the (annotated and expanded) ten-minute walk that, since 1994, Ben has been taking from home to Moseley Village (‘mouse-sized’ being the origins of the name Moseley).
Observation Towers // Sun 28 May
Researching 111 revealed the many skyscrapers, turrets, pagodas, belvederes, stupas, domes, obelisks, kiosks and gazebos punctuating the city’s skyline.
Relics of New Street // Sun 4 June
Hidden along New Street are the remnants, decorative clues and changing fashions that show how the city’s shops, cinemas, churches, roads and squares and moved with the times.
Deluded Dreams of a Dark Age Deritend // Sat 17 June
To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, a short guided tour visiting the Digbeth locations found in 111, drawing out some of the overlooked stories hiding in our designed environment, followed by a Q&A with Clive Judd, co-owner of Voce Books.
666 Places in Birmingham That You Shouldn’t Miss // Sun 18 June
Lucifer, Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, the Beast, Satan… the names we give the Devil are legion. Some say ‘the devil is in the details’ and on 666 Places… we will be looking at just this: the elements of the city that suggest a demonic presence.
Please support 111 Places in Birmingham That You Shouldn’t Miss and the associated events by mentioning them in your on social media channels, reviewing the book or including a feature on your platform. Photographs may be used (see Dropbox link below) and brief extracts from the book may be quoted. Ben is available for more information, comments and interviews.
Website and ticket booking: www.stillwalking.org
Order the book online: