|Area:||918 square miles|
|County flower:||Honeysuckle |
The County of Warwick is a shire in the Midlands. Parts of the county are heavily urbanised, and in particular Birmingham and its suburbs form Britain's second city (albeit that Manchester in Lancashire contests the title), and Coventry to the east is another major centre.
The county town, from which the county takes its name, is Warwick, but its largest town by far is Birmingham, the heart of a vast conurbation spreading over much of Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire.
Warwickshire can boast of being the birthplace of the British imagination, for this is Shakespeare's own county. William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in April 1564 and died there on 23 April 1616. Warwickshire has also produced other literary figures such as George Eliot (from Nuneaton), Rupert Brooke (from Rugby), and Michael Drayton from Hartshill. The poet Philip Larkin lived in Warwick (born in nearby Coventry), and Elizabeth Gaskell went to school in Barford and Stratford.
There is more to the county though; Birmingham gained Warwickshire its place in the industrial revolution two hundred years after its place in the cultural revolution.
Stratford-on-Avon, the place of William Shakespeare's birth and of his death, has become a place of pilgrimage. His birthplace remains almost as he would have known it; a leaning half-timbered house, one of many in the town and in the villages of the neighbourhood, including the home of his wife, a large thatched, half-timbered house in beautiful country. Outside the town once stretched the Forest of Arden, an enchanted place which many celebrated, and though little woodland remains, the names of Hampton-in-Arden and Henley-in-Arden remain. The villages in this part of Warwickshire suggest what inspired the bard's sense of beauty.
North-west of Hampton-in-Arden is Solihull, a pleasant town, but the opening of the Birmingham conurbation, and eastward the bands of motorways and great roads cut through the middle of what would otherwise be rich farmland and countryside. At the other end of the roads, at the centre of the county, is Coventry, once the centre of the motor car industry but a city of greater variety. Coventry was devastated by bombs during the Second World War and by the city corporation before and after it.
Birmingham sits on the north-western part of Warwickshire. It is the second largest great city in Britain. Birmingham was built on heavy industry; it was known in its heyday as "the toyshop of the world". Birmingham is the centre also of the greatest network of canals in Britain, linking it not only with the industrial towns of the Black Country but also with the rest of the country. The whole area is rich in coal, the fuel of industry. Now Birmingham is a city constantly reinventing and redeveloping itself. Its many suburbs have a variety unique to the city. Birmingham long ago expanded beyond Warwickshire to cover the fields of Worcestershire and Staffordshire too. Birmingham now forms part of one big conurbation with the Black Country in Staffordshire and Worcestershire.
Warwickshire is roughly rhomboid in shape, lying in the middlemost of the Midlands and surrounded by many Midland counties. Its north-eastern border is formed by Watling Street, the old Roman Road which in King Alfred's day was established as the border between the English and the Danelaw. Across Watling Street is Leicestershire. To the north-west Warwickshire is bounded by Staffordshire, to the south-east by Northamptonshire, to the west by Worcestershire. To the south, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire meet it. The northern tip of the county is only three miles from the Derbyshire border.
The majority of Warwickshire's population live in the north and centre of the county. The market towns of northern and eastern Warwickshire were industrialised in the 19th century, and include Atherstone, Bedworth, Nuneaton, and Rugby. Major industries included coal mining, textiles, engineering, and cement production, but heavy industry is in decline, being replaced by distribution centres, light to medium industry, and services. Of the northern and eastern towns, only Nuneaton and Rugby (as the birthplace of rugby football) are well-known outside of Warwickshire. The prosperous towns of central and western Warwickshire including Leamington Spa, Stratford-upon-Avon, Kenilworth, Alcester, and Warwick harbour light to medium industries, services and tourism as major employment sectors.
The south of the county is largely rural and sparsely populated, and includes a small area of the Cotswolds, at the border with north-west Gloucestershire. There are no towns in the south of Warwickshire. The highest point in the county, at 856 feet, is Ebrington Hill, again on the border with Gloucestershire, SP187426 at the county's south-western extremity.
The north of the county, bordering Staffordshire and Leicestershire, is mildly undulating countryside and the northernmost village, No Man's Heath looks 35 miles north towards the Peak District.
Arden and Felden
Much of western Warwickshire, including that area now covered by the Birmingham conurbation, was covered by the ancient Forest of Arden. Most of the forest was hewn down to make fuel for industrialisation). Thus the names of a number of places in the north-western part of Warwickshire end with the phrase "-in-Arden", such as Henley-in-Arden, Hampton-in-Arden and Tanworth-in-Arden. The remaining area, not part of the forest, was called the Felden.
Stratford-upon-Avon is a town now filled in the summer with visitors, but which has not lost its charm. The Royal Shakespeare Company have three theatres in Stratford; The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, The Swan and The Courtyard Theatre.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust own a number of properties in and around Stratford connected with William Shakespeare, all within an easy walk of the town:
- Shakespeare's Birthplace Museum
- Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Shottery
- Hall's Croft (cottage of their daughter, Suzanna)
- Mary Arden's House (Glebe Farm), Wilmcote
- Palmer's Farm (formerly believed to be Mary Arden's House)
- Nash's House and New Place
Towns and cities
There are two cities in Warwickshire; Coventry and Birmingham. Birmingham is Britain's second city and the kernel of a vast conurbation. Coventry, due east of Birmingham, is in the centre of Warwickshire. The two are linked by motorways and A-roads slicing across the intervening countryside.
The home of Warwickshire County Cricket Club is at Edgbaston near Birmingham, a meadow of calm beside the clamour of the city.
The largest towns in Warwickshire after Birmingham and Coventry are Solihull (pop. 94,753), Nuneaton (77,500), Rugby (62,700), Leamington Spa (45,300), and Bedworth (32,500).
The first reference to Warwickshire as such was in 1001, as Wæringscir named after Warwick (meaning "weir village").
During the Middle Ages Warwickshire was dominated by Coventry, which was at the time one of the most important cities in England due to its textiles trade in the heart of England. Warwickshire played a key part in the English Civil War, with the Battle of Edgehill and other skirmishes taking place in the county. During the Industrial Revolution Warwickshire became one of Britain's foremost industrial counties, with the large industrial cities of Birmingham and Coventry within its boundaries.
The towns of Warwickshire created a number of major transport routes, and later expanded on the strength of those routes.
The Grand Union Canal from Birmingham to London is a feature in much of the county. In and around Birmingham is a major canal network, built during the industrial revolution, as was the Coventry Canal. The heavy-laden barges have stopped coming and the canals are now enjoyed as a leisure facility.
Five motorways carve their way through Warwickshire. Forming the route between London and Birmingham is the M40. The M6 runs east-west to the north of Birmingham, connecting the north-west of England and the Midlands to the M1, and part of the M6 Toll motorway passes through the county too. The M42 runs in an L-shape around Birmingham and Solihull from the M40; to the east joining the M40 to the M6 and to the south joining it to the M5. The M69 joins Coventry to Leicester by way of Nuneaton. The M45 is a short spur south of Rugby connecting to the M1.
Other major trunk routes join Coventry and Birmingham and cross between the county's major towns.
Warwickshire has two airports: Birmingham International Airport and Coventry Airport, in Baginton.
Places of interest
|Accessible open space|
||Museum (free/not free)|
- Arbury Hall
- Battle of Edgehill site
- The Belfry
- Birmingham Canals
- Brinklow Castle
- Burton Dassett Hills
- Charlecote Park
- Compton Verney House
- Compton Wynyates
- Coombe Abbey
- Coombe Country Park
- Coughton Court
- Coventry Canal
- Draycote Water
- Grand Union Canal
- Guy Fawkes House (Dunchurch)
- Hartshill Hayes County Park
- Heritage Motor Centre, Gaydon
- The James Gilbert Rugby Football Museum
- Kenilworth Castle
- Kingsbury Water Park
- Ladywalk Reserve
- Lunt Roman Fort
- Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick
- Mary Arden's House, Wilmcote
- Midland Air Museum
- Oxford Canal
- Ragley Hall
- River Avon
- Rugby Art Gallery and Museum
- Rugby School
- Ryton Pools Country Park
- Warwick Castle
- William Shakespeare's Birthplace and related sites, Stratford-upon-Avon
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