WARWICKSHIRE, England - History and Description, 1868


The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

"WARWICKSHIRE, a midland county of England. Its size is below the average of English counties, comprising under 900 square miles, and measuring 50 miles in length from N. to S., with an extreme breadth of 32 miles. It is bounded on the N. and N.W. by Derby and Stafford shires, on the N.E. by Leicestershire and the line of the ancient Watling Street, on the S. and S.E. by counties Oxford and Northampton, on the S.W. by Gloucestershire, and on the W. by Worcestershire, and includes two small detached portions.

Of the Roman dominion there are many traces, including the sites of several towns and stations, as Tripontium and Manduessedum, mentioned by Antonine, the former of which Dugdale fixes at Dove, or Don-Bridge, and the latter at Mancetter, both on the line of the ancient Watling Street, which skirts the county on the N.E.; the Venome, of the same writer, which is fixed by Camden and others near High Cross, where the Watling Street and the Fosse Way intersect; and Alauna, mentioned in the Iter of Richard of Cirencester, now Alcester, on the Ryknield Way, which skirts the shire on the W. Roman remains have also been found at Birmingham and Coventry. On the conquest of Britain by the Saxons, the tribe of the Werings reduced this district, which was from them called Weringwick or Warwick, and formed part of the ancient principality of the Wiccas, afterwards incorporated in Mercia.

The country was, during the 10th and 11th centuries, much devastated by the Danes, who established themselves in the principal towns except Warwick, which was defended, according to tradition, by the fabulous Guy, Earl of Warwick, whose bones, being those of the fossil elephant, are still shown at Warwick Castle. In the wars of the Roses, the southern half of the county, under the leadership of Earl Guy, the celebrated "kingmaker", supported the Yorkist cause, and the northern half, with the men of Coventry, were supporters of the house of Lancaster.

In the civil war of Charles I., the county generally embraced the cause of the parliament, being especially swayed by the influence of Lord Brooke. The first great battle of the war was fought at Edgehill, in the southern part of the county, in 1642, in which the royalists were driven back. The only hills are branches of the Cotswold and of Edgehill, on the slope of which was formerly a colossal figure of a horse, now nearly obliterated by enclosures.

The geological features of the county belong chiefly to the secondary formation, including a seam of coal, which extends for about 16 miles in length between Nuneaton and Coventry, by 3 miles broad at Bedworth; the other strata are oolite, lias, New Red sandstone, millstone grit, limestone, greenstone, and red marl. The chief soils are red loam, sandy loam, and clay, with lime. Nearly half of the land is in meadow and pasture, and the remainder chiefly arable, with some woodland and common, especially in that part of the county which was at one time occupied by the Forest of Arden.

The number of inhabitants is about 450 to the square mile, but nearly two-thirds of the population are seated in the chief towns of Birmingham, Coventry, Leamington, and Warwick. South Warwickshire mostly depends on its husbandry, and in 1861 had a population of only 101,508, whereas the northern division contained 460,347, the population of the whole county being, in 1861, 561,855, of whom about 22 per cent. were engaged in trade, manufacture, and commerce, and only 6 per cent. in agriculture. The old Warwickshire sheep is nearly run out, having been superseded by the new Leicester and a cross of the two breeds; but for folding, the South Downs are preferred.

The greater part of the shire is drained by the Avon, which, rising in Northamptonshire, enters the county: by Dove Bridge, and after receiving the tributary streams of the Swift, Sow, Leame, Tachbrook, Dene, Stour, and Arrow, joins the Severn just after quitting the county. It has a course of about 57 miles through the county, becoming navigable at Stratford, and above Warwick is sometimes called the Dove. The northern part of the county belongs to the basin of the Trent by means of the Tame, which, entering the county from Staffordshire, receives the waters of the Rea from Birmingham, and afterwards those of the Blythe and Borne, finally joining the Anker at Tamworth, where it quits Warwickshire and flows northward into the Trent at Alrewas in Staffordshire.

Its whole course is about 42 miles, of which 20 are in Warwickshire. A feeder of the Cherwell and of the Thames rises near Burton Dasset, draining a small tract in the S., which belongs to the basin of the Thames. Of these rivers only a small part of the course of the Avon below Stratford is navigable. But the deficiency of river communication is compensated in Warwickshire by its canals, which give ready access to the Trent, the Mersey, the Thames, and the Severn; the principal are the Grand Trunk or Trent and Mersey, Coventry, Oxford, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Staffordshire and Worcestershire, Birmingham, Birmingham and Fazeley, Worcester and Birmingham, Stratford and Avon, Warwick and Birmingham, and Warwick and Napton.

These traverse the greater part of the shire, and have been a chief cause of its rapid progress in wealth, manufacture, and agricultural industry. The railways form a close network, communicating with every part of the country by means of the London and North-Western, the Birmingham and Oxford, and the Trent Valley and Midland railways, besides which branch lines extend from Rugby to Leamington and Stamford, from Warwick to Coventry and thence to Nuneaton, from Hampton to Whitacre, and from the Oxford and Birmingham to Stratford-on-Avon.

The chief roads are the highway from Shrewsbury to Holyhead, which enters the county between Daventry and Dunchurch, and passes over Dunsmore Heath, and through Ryton, Coventry, Meriden, and Birmingham; two main lines of road to Birmingham, the one by Buckingham and Banbury, and the other by Oxford through Shipston-on-Stour, Stratford-on-Avon, and Henley-in-Arden; the great Liverpool road crosses the northern part of the county, passing through Atherstone, and the principal road from Bristol to the N. passing through Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield; besides these, roads lead from Warwick by Southam to Daventry, and by Kenilworth to Coventry.

The shire is divided into two halves, called Northern Warwickshire and Southern Warwickshire, each with a separate commission of assize, and each returning two members to Parliament, thus forming virtually two counties. Of the northern division the City of Coventry was made the capital by Order in Council of the 3rd February, 1843, by which the shire of the city of Coventry was abolished; and of the southern division the ancient municipal and parliamentary borough of Warwick has for centuries been the county-town.

The county is further divided into four hundreds, each of which contains several divisions. These four hundreds comprise the ten mentioned in Domesday survey: 1st, Hemlingford, in Domesday survey called Coleshill; 2nd, Knightlow, in Domesday survey comprising the three hundreds of Mereton, Stanley, and Bromelaw; 3rd, Barlichway, in Domesday survey, Pathelan and Ferneezembe; and 4th, Kineton, in Domesday survey comprising four hundreds - Berricestone, Foxhole, Honesberie, and Tremelana.

The borough and county-town of Warwick, with two members, and a population in 1861 of 10,570, is included in Kineton or Kington hundred; the city of Coventry, with two members, and a population of 41,647, in Knightlow hundred; and the municipal and parliamentary borough of Birmingham, which fairly claims to rank as the capital of the midland counties, with two members, and a population of 296,076, in Hemlingford hundred. The municipal boroughs are Stratford-on-Avon and Sutton Colefield, besides Tamworth, chiefly in Staffordshire.

The market towns are Alcester, Atherstone, Coleshill, Henley-in-Arden, Kenilworth, Kington, Leamington Priors, Nuneaton, Rugby, Solihull, and Southam, besides about 400 villages and hamlets, 198 parishes, 8 parts of parishes, and 9 extra-parochial places. The chief seats of manufacture are at Birmingham and Coventry, the former celebrated for its hardware, arms, and toys, and the latter for ribbons and silks, but clocks and watches are also largely manufactured.

The other seats of industry are Astley, Chilvers Coton, Foleshill, Nuneaton, and Sow for ribbons and silks, Atherstone for hats, Kenilworth for combs, Tamworth and Berkeswell for flax and yarn, Alcaster, Ipsley, Lambourne, and Studley for needles, and Warwick for worsted and rush mats. There are also many hands employed in the collieries, iron mines, brick and limekilns, and stone quarries, besides brewing and papermaking, which are carried on upon a large scale.

The government is administered by a lord-lieutenant, sheriff or chairman of sessions, about 40 deputy-lieutenants, and 115 magistrates. The county is comprised within the midland circuit and military district, and belongs to the Birmingham bankruptcy court. For ecclesiastical purposes it forms part of the diocese of Worcester, province of Canterbury."

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