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Famous names from Birmingham

There’s plenty of famous names who were born in the houses of Birmingham. From comedians to artists, from writers to pioneers, take a wander around their birth places for a unique history lesson.

George Cadbury was born in Edgbaston 19th September 1839, the son of John Cadbury, a tea and coffee merchant in Bull Street. With his brother Richard he took over the cocoa factory 1861.

George was interested in social reform and in the provision of decent housing for working people. He was elected to the Town Council 1877 and enthusiastically supported Joseph Chamberlain’s municipal initiatives.

To escape the pollution of the town George rebuilt the cocoa factory on a greenfield site at Bournville in 1879, where he began to develop good quality and affordable housing for the workers, known as Bournville Building Estate which became Bournville Village Trust in 1900. And during his life George Cadbury was also a prominent member of the Society of Friends.

George Cadbury died at his home, the Manor House, Northfield, on the 24th of November 1922 and was cremated at Perry Barr crematorium. English Heritage has unveiled the very first Blue Plaques in Birmingham for brothers Richard Cadbury (1835-1899) and George Cadbury (1839-1922), at 17 Wheeley’s Road, where Richard Cadbury lived from 1861 to 1871, and just round the corner from where George Cadbury lived (32 George Road) from 1872 to 1881.

Today the factory at Bournville [map] is very much alive and visitors are welcome to take trips around the area, as well as to enjoy the museum and the Cadbury World adventure.

John Ronald Reuel (JRR) Tolkien was born in 1892 and spent much of his childhood swapping between life in industrial Birmingham and the beautiful clean country air of nearby Worcestershire and Severn Country. In the end the grim industrialised Birmingham won out and he was sent to study at King Edward’s School [map]. His parents then moved to Edgbaston where he continued his childhood.

Tolkien became a major scholar of English language at Oxford University and it was here that he met other writers Owen Barfield, Charles Williams and CS Lewis. This group of friends became known as “The Inklings” and held regularly meetings where they drank and gave readings from works-in-progress.

Whilst grading student papers Tolkien suddenly wrote on a blank piece of paper: “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit”. He then decided he needed to discover what a Hobbit was and where exactly it lived. This grew into a much loved bedtime story for the Tolkien children, and by 1937 The Hobbit had been published.

Between 1954-1955 The Lord of The Rings was written and published and proved to be one of the most popular books of all time. The Middle-earth trilogy has also been made into a series of films, which have won numerous Oscars and other accolades, making them some of the most successful blockbusters in the history of cinema.

Birmingham-born Tony Hancock is probably remembered as the best known comedian of the 1960s and is still admired by many contemporary British comedians. And recently he was named the greatest comedian of all time in a BBC poll.

He was born at 42 Southam Road, Hall Green, Birmingham, on 12 May, 1924 but within three years his family moved to Bournemouth. He served in the forces throughout the Second World War, as a member of the Royal Air Force. Drawing on his experience as a young amateur entertainer he was quick to sign up for Ralph Reader’s RAF Gang Show, and after his demob in 1946 he was experienced enough to find himself continual engagements in pantomime and occasionally as a straight actor.

In 1948 he was employed by the Windmill Theatre in London, which led to BBC radio and then to television. From 1951 to 1953 he added a new voice to the radio show, Educating Archie. In 1954 his lugubrious character appeared on radio in Hancock’s Half Hour and then from 1956 to 1960 on television.

He left Britain in March 1968 to work on a proposed comedy series for Australian television, but was found dead in his Sydney flat on the 26th of June 1968 with an empty Vodka bottle and an empty bottle of sleeping pills at his side.

A commemorative plaque on the exterior of 42 Southam Road [map] commemorates his birth. A statue in his memory stands in Old Square - appropriately also the then home of the Birmingham Blood Transfusion Service.

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