Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Worcester (1.)
WORCESTER, a midland county of England, of a very irregular shape, and of curious arrangement. Some of its parishes are detached from the county, while portions of other counties extend within its boundaries. It is bounded on the N. by Staffordshire, E. by Warwickshire, S. by Gloucestershire, W. by Herefordshire, and N.W. by Shropshire. The greatest length from north to south is 34 miles, and its breadth 30 miles. The area is 472,453 acres, or about 738 square miles.
Surface and Geology.—The surface consists of very fine and picturesque hills and well-watered and fruitful valleys, and the county is certainly one of the fairest and most picturesque in England. Its finest hills are the well-known Malvern Hills on its south-west border, the Abberley Hills running north from them, the Lickey and Clent Hills in the east, and in the south the Bredon Hills, which are a continuation of the Cotswolds. The principal rivers are the Severn, which is navigable, and runs through the county from north to south; the Stour, which joins the Severn at Stourport; the Teme, which enters the county at Tenbury, receives the Kyre and the Leigh, and falls into the Severn below Worcester; and the Warwickshire Avon, which joins the Severn at Tewkesbury. The valley of the Severn is appropriately named the Vale of Worcester, and that of the Avon the Vale of Evesham,—the latter being generally considered one of the loveliest valleys in England. The rivers are well stocked with fish,—salmon, trout, grayling, shad, and lampreys being found in most of them.
The chief geological formation of the county is the Triassic, and a line running north and south through the Malvern Hills and the Forest of Wyre coalfield would divide the hard and ancient Palæozoic strata from the softer and more recent Mesozoic. Black shales, of about 1000 feet thick, rest upon the Hollybush sandstone near Bransill Castle; and the Silurian formation extends west of the Malverns as far as Abberley. The sandstone known as May Hill exists in the south-west, reaching the Herefordshire Beacon; fossils are often found in it. To the west of Raggedston and Midsummer Hills the Cambrian formation extends; this also is fairly rich in fossils. There is but little of the Old Red Sandstone in the county, but the Carboniferous formation extends from the Forest of Wyre coalfield to the Abberley Hills, and from Bewdley to the western limits of the county. The Permian formation is found near Hartley, Abberley, Bewdley, and the Clent Hills, while red marls and sandstones of the Triassic period constitute about three-fourths of the county. At Droitwich and in the Vale of Evesham limestones and a bluish clay exist; and in the gravels deposited by the Severn and the Avon the remains of extinct mammals have been found.
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 which are so prevalent being good both for market gardens and tillage. Its agricultural production consists principally of wheat, barley, beans, fruit, and hops, in the cultivation of which great care and skill are employed. The large and well-stocked orchards, the picturesque hop fields, and the wonderfully productive market gardens are the pride of the county, and one of the most attractive objects to all visitors. According to the agricultural returns for 1887, the area under cultivation was 401,936 acres, distributed as follows:—corn crops, 90,735; green crops, 32,709; clover and rotation grasses, 31,519; permanent pasture, 232,998; flax, 2; hops, 2828; and fallow, 11,145. The area under orchards was 18,687 acres; market gardens, 3525; and nursery grounds, 386. In 1881—the latest return—there were 18,871 acres under woods and plantations. The number of horses in 1887 was 20,249, of which 14,155 were used solely for agriculture; cows in milk or calf, 27,808; other cattle, 38,472; sheep, 174,371, of which 75,065 were under one year; pigs, 33,695.
According to the landowners return of 1872-3, the total number of proprietors in the county was 21,804, possessing 441,060 acres, with a gross annual estimated rental of £1,685,736. Of the owners, only 5796 possessed one acre or upwards. There were also 3415 acres of waste land. The following are the names of the larger landowners:—earl of Dudley, 14,699 acres; earl of Coventry, 13,021; Earl Beauchamp, 10,624; Lord Windsor, 8519; Harry F. Vernon, 7448; Earl Somers, 6265; Lord Lyttelton, 5908; the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, 5213; R. Berkeley, 4812; Duc D'Aumale, 4604; Sir John Fakington, 4868; Lord Northwick, 4215; and Sir F. Winnington, 4196.
Industries.—Agriculture in its various branches is the principal
industry of the county. Its mineral wealth consists of coal, iron, and salt; and a considerable number of people find employment in the quarries of limestone around Persliore and Evesham, and at other quarries of freestone and flagstone. There is not much mining in the county; the largest number of artisans are employed in the various hardware trades, as the making of nails, at Halesowen and the neighbouring villages, and of needles at Redditch, Astwood Bank, and elsewhere. Glass is largely produced at Dudley and Stourbridge. Worcester is famous for its porcelain, its gloves, and its coach-building, and Kidderminster for its carpets. The salt works at Droitwich are as old as the Roman occupation, and there are others at Stoke. There are a large variety of other trades, including crate making, coke burning, alkali, vinegar, and vitriol works, button making, leather staining, paper making, and tanning.
Communication.—The county is well provided with railways and canals. The roads are good, and the means of intercourse and communication are excellent.
Administration and Population.—Worcestershire comprises five hundreds (Halfshire, Doddingtree, Oswaldslow, Pershore, and Blackenhurst), the city of Worcester, and the municipal boroughs of Bewdley, Droitwich, Dudley, Evesham, and Kidderminster. There are eleven market towns. The city of Worcester has a separate court of quarter sessions, and a commission of the peace, and all the boroughs have commissions of the peace. It is in the Oxford circuit; the assizes as well as quarter sessions are held at Worcester. There is one court of quarter sessions in the whole county, and there are sixteen petty sessional divisions. The shire contains 243 civil parishes, and is mostly in the diocese of Worcester but partly in that of Hereford. The principal places besides the city of Worcester are Bewdley (population 3088 in 1881), Bromsgrove (12,813), Droitwich (3761), Dudley (46,252), Evesham (5112), Halesowen (7763), Kidderminster (24,270), Oldbury (18,841), Redditch (9961), Stourbridge (9757), and Tenbury (2083).
By the Redistribution Act of 1885, the county was divided into three parliamentary boroughs and five county divisions. The boroughs, each returning one member, are Dudley, Kidderminster, and Worcester; the county divisions are West (Bewdley), East, South (Evesham), Mid (Droitwich), and North (Oldbury). The population in 1861 was 307,397; in 1871, 338,837; and in 1881, 380,283 (males 184,205, females 196,078). The number of persons to an acre was 0.80, and of acres to a person 1.24.
History.—Worcestershire was not a district of much importance in the days of the Roman occupation of Britain. By occupying Gloucester the Romans held the valley of the lower Severn, and thence their roads ran to Hereford, and not till Uriconium (Wroxeter) on the side of the Wrekin did they regard the Severn valley as again habitable. This was due to the fact that the greater part of the district now contained in Worcestershire was forest and jungle, not inviting occupation to the colonist. Here and there the Romans held a military outpost, as at Worcester, keeping on the east side of the river; but the west side was left to the Britons, who found a home on the summits of the Malvern Hills. It was long before the English invaders thought the Severn valley worthy of their arms; but in the beginning of the 7th century the tribe of the Hwiccas was in possession of the lands now contained in Warwickshire, Worcestershire, and Gloucestershire. The Hwiccas formed part of the Mercian kingdom, and when Archbishop Theodore undertook the ecclesiastical organization of England he set up at Worcester a bishop of the Hwiccas, and the diocese of Worcester continued to mark the limits of the Hwiccan territory till Henry VIII. founded the separate see of Gloucester.
The church was the main instrument of civilization in Worcestershire. The abbey of Evesham was the centre of agricultural life along the valley of the Avon; the priory of Malvern began the clearing of the forest which reached from the hills to the Severn. Many other religious houses were spread over the county. There were no great barons, as much of the land was given in early times to the church, and much consisted of forest which was only slowly cleared. The bishop of Worcester was the undoubted head of the district, and provided for its defence. The chief historical event connected with the county in the Middle Ages, the battle of Evesham, was owing to the fact that Walter de Cantilupe, bishop of Worcester, was a firm friend and adherent of Simon de Montfort in his opposition to the misgovernment of Henry III. When Earl Simon had seized the king's person in the battle of Lewes, the chief opposition to his government was raised by the lords marchers on the Welsh borders. Simon went to Hereford for the purpose of reducing them to submission; but Edward's escape from captivity gave them a leader, and awakened the hopes of the royalists. Simon sent for reinforcements, but his son was surprised and cut off at Kenilworth. Ignorant of the fact, but afraid to wait any longer lest the passage of the Severn should be closed against him, Simon withdrew to the friendly territory of the bishop of Worcester, and took up his abode in the abbey of Evesham. There in 1265 he was surprised by Edward, and died fighting a hopeless fight.
As Wales became more settled, Worcester developed its trade slowly. From early times the salt mines at Droitwich were worked, and a “salt-way” was made for the carriage of their produce. A trade with Wales and Bristol was established, and clothiers sent their wares from Bewdley and Worcester down the Severn. The dissolution of the monasteries affected very seriously a district which was so closely connected with the church, and it was some time before it recovered from the shock which its social life then received. In the great civil war Worcestershire, in common with the west of England, was Royalist, and suffered considerably from the Parliamentary forces. In 1651 Charles II. with the Scottish army marched to Worcester, where he was welcomed by the citizens. Cromwell followed, and took up his position on the Red Hill just outside the city gates. Lambert succeeded in passing the Severn at Upton, and drove back the Royalist troops to the neighbourhood of Worcester, on the other side of the Severn. Charles determined to take advantage of this division of the Parliamentary army on the two sides of the river, and made an attack on Cromwell's camp. At first he was successful, but Cromwell was reinforced by Lambert's troops from the other side in time to drive back Charles's foot, who were not supported by the Scottish horse. Their rout was complete; Charles managed to escape into the city, where he escaped in disguise, and began his adventurous journey to Boscobel. Since that time Worcestershire has pursued a course of peaceful development.
See Nash, History of Worcestershire (2 vols. fol., 1790); Chambers, Biographical Illustrations of Worcestershire (1820); Turberville, Worcestershire in the 19th Century (1852); Allies, Antiquities and Folk-Lore of Worcestershire (1852), and Noake, Guide to Worcestershire (1868).
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