Worcestershire

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Worcestershire
United Kingdom
Great Malvern from the Hills - geograph.org.uk - 180560.jpg
Great Malvern from the Hills
Flag of Worcestershire
Worcestershire
[Interactive map]
Area: 738 square miles
Population: 1,126,058
County town: Worcester
Biggest town: Dudley
County flower: Cowslip [1]

The County of Worcester is a shire in the Midlands. It is a mixture of the very rural and the very urban. Much of the shire is low-lying, in particular that which lies in the Severn Valley.

In the centre of the shire is the fine cathedral city of Worcester, which sits on the banks of the River Severn. It retains charming streets around the cathedral.

In the southeast is the pleasant Vale of Evesham, presided over by Evesham, popular with visitors. The Vale is also famed for its asparagus crop and fruit production. In the southwest are the pretty Malvern Hills, a gentle set of hills in Worcestershire before the rigours of the Herefordshire peaks. Great Malvern is a fine spa town.

The boundaries of Worcestershire are remarkably ragged, with many detached parts, all thought to originate from the scattered former holdings of the Bishops of Worcester. Five shires surround it; Shropshire to the north and Gloucestershire to the south, which receive the Severn before and after Worcestershire, Staffordshire to the northeast where both counties lie in the Black Country, Warwickshire lies to the east and to the west is Herefordshire, separated from Worcestershire by the crest of the Malvern Hills. In Gloucestershire lie the detached parts of Alstone and Little Washbourne, Blockley, Church Icomb, Cutsdean, and Evenlode. Edvin Loach forms a detached part in Herefordshire, and Alderminster, Shipston-on-Stour, Tidmington and Tredington form a single detached part in Warwickshire. The ancient parish of Dudley forms a detached part in Staffordshire while Warley Wigorn forms the most curious of detached parts, lying itself within a detached part of Shropshire.

Worcestershire has a number of distinct landscapes; the Severn Valley is characterised by flat farmland, meadows and floodplains, over which the river often bursts. The west rises in sharp hills. The northwest of Worcestershire is a complete contrast to the rural parts for here is a coal country and the heavy towns which grew up around its industry, forming part of the Black Country, and to the south of it are towns grown through that influence, of which Redditch stands out, a puzzling New Town.

Nevertheless, even in the northeast of Worcestershire there remain outside the cityscape some havens of peace in the Clent Hills and the Lickey Hills.

The southern part of the county is bordered by Gloucestershire and the northern edge of the Cotswolds, and to the east is Warwickshire. There are two major rivers flowing through the county, the Severn and the Avon.

Black Country and Birmingham suburbs

Main article: Black Country

The heart of the Black Country is the Worcestershire town of Dudley, in a detached part of the county. Within the same conurbation if outside the Black Country itself the north-easternmost parts of Worcestershire, including Yardley have long since been absorbed into Birmingham. The largest town of the county is Dudley, which spills beyond the bounds of the detached bubble in which its heart lies. The cathedral city of Worcester, after which Worcestershire is named, is the largest town in the rural part of the shire and is the county town.

History

Worcestershire appears to have been absorbed by the Kingdom of the Mercians during the 7th century, and after that kingdom was smashed by the Danes it remained within “English Mercia” under West Saxon overlordship until King Athelstan united the Kingdom of the English in the early tenth century, at which time the shire itself seems to have been formed, around the much older Diocese of Worcester.

The Diocese of Worcester was very wealthy and influential. In the tenth and eleventh centuries Worcester was often held in plurality by the Archbishop of York, since the Diocese of York had lost most of its lands and could not sustain the Archbishop in an appropriate manner. In the years leading up to the Norman conquest, the Church, including the cathedral, Evesham Abbey, Pershore Abbey, Malvern Priory and other religious houses, increasingly dominated the county.

The last known English sheriff of the county before the Conquest was Cyneweard of Laughern, and the first Norman sheriff was Urse d'Abetot who built the castle of Worcester and seized much church land.

Worcestershire was the site of the Battle of Evesham in which Simon de Montfort was killed on 4 August 1265.

During the Middle Ages, much of the county's economy was based on the wool trade, and many areas of its dense forests, such as Malvern Chase, were royal hunting grounds. In the nineteenth century, Worcester was a centre for the manufacture of gloves; the town of Kidderminster became a centre for carpet manufacture, and Redditch specialised in the manufacture of needles, springs and hooks.

In 1642, the Battle of Powick Bridge a little south of Worcester was the first major skirmish of the English Civil War and in 1651 it was the Battle of Worcester which effectively ended it.

In 1690 Berrow's Journal was established, which continues today: the world's oldest continually published newspaper.

Droitwich stands on top of large deposits of salt, and was a centre of salt production from Roman times, for which reason one of the principal Roman roads runs through the town. In the Victorian period the town relabelled itself Droitwich Spa and attracted many visitors to bathe in the briny waters alleged to have curative properties. Great Malvern too was one of the centres of the 19th century rise in English spa towns, this time from Malvern spring water, believed to be very pure, containing "nothing at all".[1]

These old industries have since declined and have been replaced by other, more varied light industry.

Physical geography

The Vale of Evesham

Worcestershire is a fairly rural county. The Malvern Hills, which run from the south of the county into Herefordshire, are made up mainly of volcanic igneous rock and metamorphic rock, some of which date from before 1200 million years ago. The geology of the Malvern Hills is a subject in itself, producing the distinctive, surprising, sharp, linear ridge of those hills.

Literature

The village of Broadheath, about 6 miles northwest of the city of Worcester, is the birthplace of the composer Edward Elgar.

Some claim that the county was the inspiration for The Shire, a region of JRR Tolkien's fictional Middle-earth, described in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was thought to have named Bilbo Baggins's house "Bag End" after his Aunt Jane's Worcestershire farm. Tolkien wrote of Worcestershire: "Any corner of that county (however fair or squalid) is in an indefinable way 'home' to me, as no other part of the world is."[2]

Industry and agriculture

Fruit farming and the cultivation of hops were traditional agricultural activities in much of the county. During the latter half of the 20th century, this has largely declined with the exception southern area of the county around the Vale of Evesham, where orchards a re still worked on a commercial scale. Worcester City's arms include three black pears, representing a now rare local pear variety, the Worcester Black Pear.

The apple variety known as Worcester Pearmain originates from Worcestershire, and the Pershore plum comes from the small Worcestershire town of that name, and is widely grown in that area. John Drinkwater, the poet, wrote

Who travels Worcester county takes any road that comes when April tosses bounty to the cherries and the plums.

Worcestershire is also famous for Worcestershire sauce, a savoury condiment still made by Lea and Perrins in Worcester.

The town of Malvern is the home of the Morgan traditional sports car, and of Malvern spring water.

Towns and villages

Worcester
Bewdley

The county town and only city is Worcester. The other major towns lie in the Black Country or nearby as suburbs or satellite towns of Birmingham (part of which lies in Worcestershire). Beyond the urban north-east are several market towns, including Great Malvern, Bewdley, Evesham, Droitwich, Pershore, and Tenbury Wells.

City

Major towns

Places of interest

Key
Cathedral/Abbey/Priory Cathedral/Abbey/Priory
Accessible open space Accessible open space
Amusement/Theme Park Amusement/Theme Park
Castle Castle
Country Park Country Park
English Heritage English Heritage
Forestry Commission Forestry Commission
Heritage railway Heritage railway
Historic house Historic House
Museum (free)
Museum (not free)
Museum (free/not free)
National Trust National Trust
Zoo Zoo

Outside links

References

  1. Bottled Waters of the World. Retrieved 9 August 2009
  2. Humphrey,C. 1977 Tolkien: A Biography New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-04-928037-6
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