1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Worcestershire

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WORCESTERSHIRE, a midland county of England, bounded N. by Staffordshire, E. by Warwickshire, S. by Gloucestershire, W. by Herefordshire, and N.W. by Shropshire. The area is 751 sq. m. It covers a portion of the rich valleys of the Severn and Avon, with their tributary valleys and the hills separating them. The Severn runs through the county from N. at Bewdley to S. near Tewkesbury, traversing the Vale of Worcester. Following this direction it receives from the E. the Stour at Stourport, the Salwarpe above Worcester, and the Avon, whose point of junction is just outside the county. The Avon valley is known in this county as the Vale of Evesham, and is devoted to orchards and market gardening. The Cotteswold Hills rise sharply from it on the S.E., of which Bredon Hill, within this county, is a conspicuous spur. The Avon forms the county boundary with Gloucestershire for a short distance above its mouth. The Teme joins the Severn from the W. below Worcester, and forms short stretches of the W. boundary. Salmon and lampreys are taken in the Severn; trout and grayling abound in the Teme and its feeders. Besides the Cotteswolds, the most important hills are the Malvern and the Lickey or Hagley ranges. The Malverns rise abruptly from the flat Vale of Worcester on the W. boundary, being partly in Herefordshire, and reach a height of 1395 ft. in the Worcester Beacon, and 1114 in the Hereford Beacon. They are divided by the Teme from a lower N. continuation, the Abberley Hills. The Lickey Hills cross the N.E. corner of the county, rarely exceeding 1000 ft. Their N. part is called the Clent Hills. Partly within the county are the sites of two ancient forests. That of Wyre, bordering the Severn on the W. in the N. of Worcestershire and in Shropshire, retains to some extent its ancient character; but Malvern Chase, which clothed the slopes of the Malvern Hills, is hardly recognizable.

Geology.—Archcan gneisses and schists (Malvernian) and volcanic rocks (Uriconian) form the core of the Malvern Hills; being the most durable rocks in the district, they form the highest ground. Similarly tuffs and volcanic grits (Barnt Green rocks) crop out in the Lickey Hills near Bromsgrove. They are succeeded by the Cambrian rocks (Hollybush Sandstone and Malvern Shales), which are well developed at the S. end of the Malvern Hills, where in places the Archean rocks have been thrust over them. The Lickey Quartzite, probably of the same age as the Hollybush Sandstone, is extensively quarried for roadstone. Strata of Ordovician age being absent in Worcestershire, the Silurian rocks rest unconformable on the earlier formations; they include the Upper Llandovery, Wenlock and Ludlow series. These dip steeply W. from the Malvern and Abberley axis and plunge under the Old Red Sandstone; some of the lower beds are represented at the Lickey, while the Wenlock Limestone forms some sharp anticlines at Dudley. The Silurian strata are rich in marine fossils, and the included limestones (Woolhope, Wenlock and Ayniestry) are all represented in the Malvern district. The Old Red Sandstone succeeds the Silurian on the W. borders of the county. The Carboniferous Limestone and Millstone Grit were not deposited, so that the Coal Measures rest unconformable on the older rocks. These are represented in the Wyre Forest coalfield near Bewdley and in the S. end of the S. Staffordshire coalfield near Halesowen; they contain rich seams of coal and ironstone and several intrusions, of basalt (dhustone, Rowley-rag). The so-called Permian red rocks are now grouped with the Coal Measures; some intercalated breccias cap the Clent Hills (1036 ft.). The Triassic red rocks—unconformable to all below—cover the centre of the county, and on the W. are faulted against the older, rocks of the Malverns; they include the Bunter sandstones and pebble-beds, and the Keuper sandstones and marls, the beds of rock-salt in the latter yielding brine-springs (Droitwich, Stoke Prior). A narrow and seldom-exposed outcrop of Rhaetic beds introduces the marine Liassic formation which occupies most of the S.E. of the county; the Lower Lias consists of blue clays and limestones; the latter are burnt for lime and yield abundant ammonites. The sands and limestones of the Middle Lias and the clays of the Upper Lias are present in the lower slopes of Bredon Hill and of the Cotteswolds, and are succeeded by the sands and oolitic limestones of the Inferior Oolite. Glacial deposits—boulder-clay, isolated boulders, sand and gravel—are met with in many parts of the county, while later valley-gravels have yielded remains of mammoth, rhinoceros, &c. Coal, ironstone, salt, limestone and road stone are the chief mineral products.

Climate and Agriculture.—The climate is generally equable and healthy, and is very favourable to the cultivation of fruit, vegetables and hops, for which Worcestershire has long held a high reputation, the red marls and the rich loams being good both for market gardens and tillage. About five-sixths of the area of the county is under cultivation, and of this about five-eighths is in permanent pasture. Orchards are extensive, and there are large tracts of woodland. Wheat and oats are the principal grain crops. Turnips are grown on about one-third of the green crop acreage, and potatoes on about one-fourth. There is a considerable acreage under beans. In the neighbourhood of Worcester there are large nurseries.

Industries.—In the N. Worcester includes a portion of the Black Country, one of the most active industrial districts in England. Dudley, Netherton and Brierley Hill, Stourbridge, Halesowen, Oldbury and the S. and W. suburbs of Birmingham, have a vast population engaged in iron-working in all its branches, from engineering works to nail-making, in the founding and conversion, galvanizing, finishing and extracting of metals, in chemical and glass works. Worcester is famous for porcelain, Kidderminster for carpets and Redditch for needles, fish-hooks, &c. Salt is produced from brine at Droitwich and Stoke. The fire-clays and limestone of the N. unite with the coal measures to form a basis of the industries in the Black Country. Furniture, clothing and paper-making and leather-working are also important.

Communications.—The Great Western railway serves Evesham, Worcester, Droitwich and Kidderminster, with branches from Worcester to Malvern and into Herefordshire, from Kidderminster to Tenbury and the W., and from the same junction to Dudley and Birmingham. The London & North-Western system touches Dudley. The Midland company's line between Derby, Birmingham and Bristol runs from N. to S. through the county, with a branch diverging through Droitwich and Worcester, another serving Malvern from Ashchurch, and an alternative route from Birmingham to Ashchurch by Redditch and Evesham. The Severn is an important highway; the Avon, though locked up to Evesham, is little used save by pleasure-boats. Canals follow the courses of the Stour and the Salwarpe, and serve the towns of the Black Country.

Administration and Population.—The area of the ancient county is 480,560 acres, with a population in 1901 of 488,338. The area of the administrative county is 480,059 acres. The county is of very irregular shape, and has detached portions enclaved in Herefordshire, Stallordshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. It comprises five hundreds. The municipal boroughs are Bewdley (2866), Droitwich (4201), Dudley (48,733), Evesham (7101), Kidderminster (24,681) and Worcester (46,624). Dudley and the city and county town of Worcester are county boroughs. The urban districts are Bromsgrove (8418), King's Norton and Northfield (57,122; forming a S. suburb of Birmingham), Lye and Wollescote (10,976; adjacent to Stourbridge), Malvern (16,449), North Bromsgrove (5688), Oldbury (25,191), Redditch (13,493), Stourbridge (16,302) and Stourport (4529). Halesowen (4057), Pershore (3348), Tenbury (2080) and Upton-upon-Severn (2225) may be mentioned among other towns. The county is in the Oxford circuit, and assizes are held at Worcester. It has one court of quarter-sessions, and is divided into 17 petty sessional divisions. Worcester and Dudley have separate courts of quarter-sessions, and all the boroughs have commissions of the peace. The total number of civil parishes is 239. The ancient county, which is mostly in the diocese of Worcester, with a few parishes in that of Hereford, contains 231 ecclesiastical parishes or districts wholly or in part. The county contains five parliamentary divisions—West or Bewdley, East, South or Evesham, Mid or Droitwich, and North or Oldbury. The parliamentary boroughs of Kidderminster and Worcester return one member each, and parts of the boroughs of Dudley and Birmingham are included in the county.

History.—The earliest English settlers in the district now known as Worcestershire were a tribe of the Hwiccas of Gloucestershire, who spread along the Severn and Avon valleys in the 6th century. By 679 the Hwiccan kingdom was formed into a separate diocese with its see at Worcester, and the Hwiccas had made themselves masters of the modern county, with the exception of the N.W. corner beyond the Abberley Hills. From this date the town of Worcester became not only the religious centre of the district, but the chief point of trading and military communication between England and Wales. A charter of the reign of Alfred alludes to the erection of a “burh” at Worcester by Edward and Æthelflead, and it was after the recovery of Mercia from the Danes by Edward that the shire originated as an administrative area. The first political event recorded by the Saxon Chronicle in Worcestershire is the destruction of Worcester by Hardicanute in 1041 in revenge for the murder of two of his tax-gatherers by the citizens.

In no county has the monastic movement played a more important part than in Worcestershire. Foundations existed at Worcester, Evesham, Pershore and Fladbury in the 8th century, at Great Malvern in the 11th century, and in the 12th and 13th centuries at Little Malvern, Westwood, Bordesley, Whistones, Cookhill, Dudley, Halesowen and Astley. At the time of the Domesday Survey more than half Worcestershire was in the hands of the church. The church of Worcester held the triple hundred of Oswaldslow, with such privileges as to exclude the sheriff's jurisdiction entirely, the profits of all the local courts accruing to the bishop, whose bailiffs in 1276 claimed to hold his hundred outside Worcester, at Dryhurst, and at Wimborntree. The two hundreds owned by the church of Westminster, and that owned by Pershore, had in the 13th century been combined to form the hundred of Pershore, while the hundred of Evesham owned by Evesham Abbey had been converted into Blakenhurst hundred, and the irregular boundaries and outlying portions of these hundreds are explained by their having been formed out of the scattered endowments of their ecclesiastical owners. Of the remaining Domesday hundreds, Came, Clent, Cresselaw and Esch had been combined to form the hundred of Halfshire by the 13th century, while Doddingtree remained unchanged. The shire-court was held at Worcester.

The vast possessions of the church prevented the growth of a great territorial aristocracy in Worcestershire, and Dudley Castle, which passed from William Fitz Ansculf to the families of Paynel and Somen, was the sole residence of a feudal baron. The Domesday fief of Urse d'Abitot the sheriff, founder of Worcester Castle, and of his brother Robert le Despenser passed in the 12th century to the Beauchamps, who owned Elmley and Hanley Castles. The possessions of William Fitz Osbern in Doddingtree hundred and the Teme valley fell to the crown after his rebellion in 1074 and passed to the Mortimers. Hanley Castle and Malvern Chase were granted by Henry III. to Gilbert de Clare, with exemption from the sheriff's jurisdiction.

The early political history of Worcestershire centres round the city of Worcester. In the Civil War of the 17th century Worcestershire was conspicuously loyal. On the retreat of Essex from Worcester in 1642 the city was occupied by Sir William Russell for the king, and only surrendered in 1646. In 1642 Prince Rupert defeated the parliamentary troops near Powick. Sudeley Castle surrendered in 1644, and Dudley and Hartlebury by command of the king in 1646.

The Droitwich salt-industry was very important at the time of the Domesday Survey, Bromsgrove alone sending 300 cartloads of wood yearly to the salt-works. In the 13th and 14th centuries Bordesley monastery and the abbeys of Evesham and Pershore exported wool to the Florentine and Flemish markets, and in the 16th century the Worcestershire clothing industry gave employment to 8000 people; fruit-culture with the manufacture of cider and perry, nail-making and glass-making also flourished at this period. The clothing industry declined in the 17th century, but the silk-manufacture replaced it at Kidderminster and Blockley. Coal and iron were mined at Dudley in the 13th century.

As early as 1295 Worcestershire was represented by sixteen members in parliament, returning two knights for the shire and two burgesses each for the city of Worcester and the boroughs of Bromsgrove, Droitwich, Dudley, Evesham, Kidderminster and Pershore. With the exception of Droitwich, however, which was represented until 1311 and again recovered representation in 1554, the boroughs ceased to make returns. Evesham was re-enfranchised in 1604, and in 1606 Bewdley returned one member. Under the Reform Act of 1832 the county returned four members in two divisions; Droitwich lost one member; Dudley and Kidderminster were re-enfranchised, returning one member each. In 1867 Evesham lost one member.

Antiquities.—Remains of early camps are scarce, but there are examples at Bertow Hill near the Teme, W. of Worcester, at Round Hill by Spetchley, 3 m. E. of Worcester, and on the Herefordshire Beacon. Roman remains have been discovered on a few sites, as at Kempsey on the Severn, S. of Worcester, at Ripple, in the S. near Upton, and at Droitwich. There are remains of the great abbeys at Evesham and Pershore, and the fine priory church at Malvern, besides the cathedral at Worcester. There are further monastic remains at Halesowen and at Bordesley near Redditch, and there was a Benedictine priory at Astley, 3 m. S.W. of Stourport. There are fine churches in several of the larger towns, as Bromsgrove. The village churches are generally of mixed styles. Good Norman work remains in those of Martley, 8 m. N.W. of Worcester, Astley, Rous Lench in the Evesham district, Bredon near Pershore, and Bockleton in the N.W. of the county; while the Early English churches of Kempsey and Ripple are noteworthy. In domestic architecture, the half-timbered style adds to the picturesqueness of many streets in the towns and villages, and among country houses this style is well exemplified in Birts Morton Court and Eastington Hall, in the district S. of Malvern, in Elmley Lovett Manor between Droitwich and Kidderminster, and in Pirton Court near Kempsey. Westwood Park is a mansion of the i6th and 17th centuries, with a picturesque gatehouse of brick; the site was formerly occupied by a Benedictine nunnery. Madresfield Court, between Worcester and Malvern, embodies remains of a fine Elizabethan moated mansion.

See Victoria County History, Worcestershire; T. R. Nash, Collections for the History of Worcestershire (2 vols., London, 1781-1799); Sir Charles Hastings, Illustrations of the Natural History of Worcestershire (London, 1834); W. D. Curzon, Manufacturing Industries of Worcestershire (Birmingham, 1883); W. S. Brassington, Historic Worcestershire (Birmimgham, 1893). See also publications of the Worcester Historical Society.