Jacqui Kennedy, Acting Strategic Director Place for Birmingham city council, looks at what makes Bull Ring Markets – the oldest in the country – a hidden gem in the city’s retail scene.
The countdown to Super September – a month of events, including the opening of Grand Central shopping centre and a new John Lewis store, expected to draw thousands visitors to Birmingham – has begun.
But people coming to shop here is nothing new. For centuries people of all ages and backgrounds have come to Birmingham, the city of a thousand trades, to find food, fashion and fantastic buys.
People coming for a shopping spree tend not to venture beyond the Bullring or The Mailbox, but they are missing a trick: the historic Bull Ring Markets. Full of colour, character and charm, the three markets at the heart of the city – the Open, Indoor and Rag – boast more than 500 stalls between them, making this one of the biggest markets in England.
In 1166, Birmingham became the first place in the country to have a market, after the lord of the manor Peter de Birmingham was given the right to hold a weekly market at his castle, which was located in Bradford Street: This put Birmingham firmly on the map.
Fast forward to 21st Century and family firms still populate the stalls, run by traders who don’t just know their customers, but know their faces and remember what they want.
Since then the markets area has seen many changes, most recently as the Bullring shopping centre took shape and Birmingham took off its concrete collar in 2002-033 – to make it easier for people to get around the city centre.
Internet shopping has been the biggest change to how people shop – but Bull Ring Markets is now one of 200 new Wi-Fi hotspots, so traders and shoppers will be able to surf while the serve customers and browse the stalls.
The Bull Ring Markets have stood the test of time as the city’s own Aladdin’s cave for foodies, bargain hunters, designers and students for centuries. Standing firm against centuries of change, the Bull Ring Markets will also be at the heart of another major development – Birmingham Smithfield, a £500 million project redeveloping land around the old Wholesale Markets site, which will move to new premises in Witton in 2017.
Over the summer, the Indoor and Rag Markets will be getting a facelift to ensure they are ready for their relaunch during Super September.
London may have its specialist markets – Borough Market for foodies, Spitalfields for trendsetters and Roman Road for bargains – but our Bull Ring Markets really do offer something for everyone: fresh fruit and veg to fancy dress, meaty eats to materials, pet food to pots and pans, clothes to clocks.
Yes, we will visit the new shiny shops, but for atmosphere, excellent service and choice – the Bull Ring Markets is where you will find things that are not on the High Street.