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WORCESTERSHIRE, England - History and Description, 1868

"WORCESTERSHIRE, an inland county in the W. Midland district of England, near the Welsh border, bounded on the W. by Herefordshire, on the S. and S.E. by Gloucestershire, on the E. and N.E. by Warwickshire, on the N. by Staffordshire, and on the N.W. by Salop, which entirely surrounds a small detached portion. It extends from 52° 0' to 62° 30' N. lat., and from 2° 14' to 3° 0' W. long., being 35 miles in length from N. to S., and 40 miles in extreme breadth, but the average does not exceed 17 miles. It is irregular in outline, having a circuit of about 220 miles, with 9 detached pieces. It contains 472,165 statute acres, of which about two-thirds are arable, and 100,000 acres in pasture and meadow; the waste lands not exceeding 20,000 acres at the utmost.

When viewed from the Malvern hills on the Herefordshire border, which is the highest point in the county, the surface presents the appearance of one vast, fertile plain, two-thirds of which lie to the E. of the Severn, and is varied chiefly by the vales of Worcester and Evesham, the former stretching N. and S. for at least 30 miles, and the latter, watered by the Avon, occupies the south-eastern part of the county. In the earliest historical period it was inhabited by the British tribes, Cornavii and Dobuni, neighbours of the Silures, and under the Roman dominion formed part of the province Flavia Cæsariezsis.

There are traces of the Roman roads called Upper Saltway and Rycknield Street, which traversed the county, but being then for the most part low and woody, it received but little attention from the Romans. On the complete conquest of the island by the Saxons, it was occupied by the powerful tribe of the Wicking, or Hwickians, who at first established a separate commonwealth, but soon came under the kings of the Mercians, or Middle English. The Saxons soon discovered the advantages of this county for agricultural pursuits, and reduced the whole of the surface under cultivation.

In the 9th and 10th centuries it suffered from the predatory incursions of the Danes, but was at an early period very populous, as implied by the comparatively small size of the county, and its extending on both banks of the Severn, then evidently spanned by bridges. In the reign of Henry III. it was the scene of the battle of Evesham, in which Simon de Montfort and the barons were overthrown by Prince Edward, afterwards Edward I. During the civil war of Charles I. it was the scene of many stirring incidents, and at Worcester, on the 3rd of September, 1651, Oliver Cromwell routed the Scotch army under Prince Charles.

The land is rich, varied in hill and dale, and well wooded and watered. The extensive vales, particularly that of Worcester, extending through it from N. to S., a distance of about 30 miles, and from a quarter of a mile to a mile in breadth, consist of meadows and pastures of rich quality, which may be mown at pleasure; other large tracts are in hop-grounds and orchards, for which the county has been long famous. The quantity of cider and perry made is sufficient not only for domestic consumption, but for exportation to other parts of the kingdom, together with quantities of raw fruit.

In various parts of the county are tracts of oak and ash timber, with numerous oak coppices, and many of the heights bordering the Severn are ornamented with plantations of fir. The hedge-rows, too, are stocked with valuable elm timber. The most important produce of the underwoods, which are supposed to be the remains of the ancient forest with which this county was once covered, are poles for the hop-yards and charcoal for the iron-works.

Of the hilly wastes the principal are the upper parts of the Malvern hills, with the Worcestershire Beacon on the S.W., which are the highest points in the county, rising to the height of 1,444 feet above sea level, or 1,313 above the Severn; and in a line N. from them are the Abberley hills, with the Lickey and Clent hills in the eastern, and the Breedon hills in the southern part of the county, being offshoots of the Cotswolds, the summits of which are unenclosed, affording only rocky sheep-walks. The Malvern and Lickey hills are of igneous origin, consisting of granite, sienite, and greenstone, intermixed with quartz.

The precipitous swells of Bromsgrove Lickey are composed chiefly of quartz, and the Cawney and Tansley hills chiefly of basalt. The hills to the N. of Dudley consist of mountain limestone of the lias formation, which forms the substratum of nearly the whole south-eastern portion of the county. The remainder of the county, including the extensive vales of Worcester and Evesham, belongs mostly to the New Red sandstone formation, called triassic. In the N.W. is the Bewdley coal basin, and in the N. the Dudley basin, at which latter place are likewise beds of ironstone.

In the vale of Evesham, in the parishes of Badsey, the three Littletons, and Prior's Cleeve, are quarries of a calcareous flagstone, capable of receiving a high polish; freestone for building is obtained in various places; and the limestone hills upon which stand the castle and part of the town of Dudley are completely undermined by quarries, in which the rare fossil called the sea-louse, or Dudley locust, is found. Common rock salt, and a species of gypsum, occur near Droitwich and Stoke Prior, famed for their brine springs, which are 80 feet down; and at Stourbridge is fine clay for crucibles, and sand for glass.

The soil in the vale is fertile, and in parts alluvial, consisting of a deep rich sediment, which has been deposited by floods during a long series of ages. In the middle, southern, and western districts, the soil is chiefly a rich clay or loam, but in the N. a rich loamy sand, and in the E. there are some light soils. Brick earth is found nearly everywhere, and clay for fire-bricks, chiefly in the northern part of the county. The mines employ about 2,000 persons, the produce consisting of coals, iron, and salt.

In the rivers salmon, grayling, shad, and lampreys abound. The principal river, the Severn, traverses the county from N. to S. by Bewdley, Stourport, Worcester, and Upton, to Tewkesbury, where is the last of a series of locks. It is navigable for vessels of 80 tons as high as Worcester, and of, 60 tons as high as Bewdley, or 180 miles from the sea. Its tributaries are the Stour in the N., which is canalized throughout, the Warwickshire Avon in the S., which is navigable from Stratford-on-Avon, and receives the waters of the Piddle, the Teme in the W., and the Salwarpe and Leadon or Leddon.

The canals are important, connecting the Severn with the other English rivers, including the Staffordshire and Worcester, which communicates with the Grand Trunk by the Stour; the Dudley, which goes from Birmingham, northwards by Dudley to Stourbridge; the Worcester and Birmingham, which traverses the county in a north-easterly direction, and joins the Birmingham and Stafford; the Droitwich, which connects that town with the Severn; an the Leominster and Kingston canal, in the western part of the county.

There are mineral spas at Malvern, where is a hydropathic establishment, Abberton, Bromsgrove, Churchill, Dudley, Evesham, Tenbury, and a chalybeate spring at Kidderminster. The climate is mild and healthy, even on the Malverns, but on the eastern hills it is colder. Branches of the Midland and West Midland railways traverse the county; the former, which is part of the Birmingham and Bristol line, passes by Bromsgrove and Worcester, and the latter, which takes a circuitous rout through the county, passes by Evesham, Worcester, Droitwich, Kidderminster, and Stourbridge, to Dudley; and about 8 miles of the tram railway from Stratford to Moreton, go by Alderminster and Eatington.

The main lines of road from Worcester are, that by Pershore and Evesham to Shipston-on-Stour, that down the valley of the Severn, by Upton and Tewkesbury, to Gloucester, that by Powick and Great Malvern to Ledbury, that by Droitwich and Bromsgrove to Birmingham, that by Spetchley and Kington to Stratford, and another up the valley of the Severn, by Stourport and Kidderminster, to Stourbridge.

The northern part of the county is the chief seat of the hardware and iron manufactures, which are the most flourishing, employing together above 10,000 hands, chiefly at Dudley, Stourbridge, Old Swinford, Wolverley, Cradley, Belbroughton, Bewdley, Hartlebury, King's Norton, Redditch, Feckenham, &c., the last two named places being the seats of the needle and fish-hook manufactures. Other manufactures are those of carpets and rugs at Kidderminster, employing 1,500 hands; porcelain and gloves at Worcester, the former employing 500, and the latter 2,000 hands; glass at Dudley and Stourbridge, employing 400; besides woollens, worsteds, bombazines, silk, ribbons, plush, coach lace, and horsehair, employing together 2,000 persons, chiefly at Bromsgrove and Kidderminster.

There are salt-works, breweries, maltings, tanneries, coke-ovens, alkali, vitriol, and vinegar works, paper mills, horn factories for making combs and lanterns, and several minor branches of industry. For purposes of civil government the shire is divided into East and West Worcestershire, each returning two members to parliament; and since 1831 into ten divisions, viz:, Worcester, Kidderminster, Hundred House, and Upton, in West Worcestershire; and Blockley, Droitwich, Dudley, Northfield, Pershore, and Stourbridge, in East Worcestershire, instead of the five ancient hundreds of Blackenhurst, Doddingtree, Halfshire, Osbaldstow, and Pershore.

Its capital is Worcester, a cathedral city, assize town, and parliamentary borough, returning two members, and containing a population of 31,227. The other boroughs are Bewdley, Droitwich, Dudley, Evesham, Kidderminster, and Stourbridge, each returning one member to parliament; also 13 market-towns, and about 300 villages and hamlets. There are 286 townships and 197 parishes, besides 8 extra parochial places. In the ecclesiastical arrangement it belongs to the dioceses of Worcester and Hereford, in the province of Canterbury. It is governed by a lord-lieutenant, custos rotulorum, high sheriff; and 40 deputy-lieutenants, assisted by about 300 magistrates.

The shire is within the Oxford circuit and Midland military district, and belongs to the jurisdiction of the Birmingham Court of Bankruptcy. The population of the whole county in 1861 was 307,397, viz:, 186,431 within the eastern, and 120,966 in the western division, of whom about a third are resident in Worcester, Dudley, Kidderminster, Bromsgrove, Evesham, and Redditch. The remains of antiquity are not numerous, the principal being those of the Roman station Saline, now Droitwich; of Bredon Hill, Witchbury and Kemsey Roman camps; a British barrow on Clent Heath, and a Danish camp at Conderton, near Witchbury. There are ruins of abbeys at Bordesley and Evesham, and of religious houses at Dodford, Dudley, and Coles Hill."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]