Historical description of Gloucestershire, England

Map of Gloucestershire

Gloucestershire, an inland, but partly maritime, county of England; bounded, on the NW, by Herefordshire and Worcestershire; on the N, by Worcestershire and Warwickshire; on the E, by Oxfordshire; on the SE, by Berks and Wilts; on the S, by Wilts and Somerset; on the W, by the Severn's estuary and by Monmoutbshire. Its outline is somewhat elliptical, extending from NE to SW; but is narrower toward the NE than toward the SW. Its boundary consists partly of the river Avon, the Severn's estuary, and the river Wye, but is mainly artificial. Its greatest length is 60 miles; its greatest breadth is 43 miles; its circumference is, roughly, about 156 miles—or, following sinuosities, about 245 miles; and its area is 795,734 acres; population, 599,947. About 10 miles of its boundary, along the Severn, is coast. The surface comprises three parts or sections, eastern, central, and western, or hill, vale, and forest. The hill section extends from end to end of the county; is in some parts 8 miles broad; bears the name of Cotswolds; has a mean height of between 500 and 600 feet, with culminating summits of 1086 and 1134 feet; and is partly open down, more largely enclosed sheep-walk, but includes many winding dales, and possesses much good land and pleasant scenery. The vale section also extends from end to end of the county; lies mainly along the river Severn; spreads from the foot of the Cotswolds, partly to the western boundary, partly to the Severn's estuary; includes the vales of Evesham, Gloucester, and Berkeley, together with all the low lands from Tewkesbury to Bristol, and consists chiefly of fine land, variously arable, meadow, and pasture. The forest section is much the smallest of the three, lies on the W side of the Severn, consists chiefly of the Forest of Dean, and is varied throughout with hill and dale. The chief rivers, besides the Severn, the Thames, the Chum, the Coin, and the Wye, are the Upper or Warwickshire Avon, the Lower Avon, the Frome or Stroud-water, the Windrush, and the Leadon.

A middle oolite, comprising coral rag, calcareous grit, and Oxford clay, forms a small part of the Cotswolds, around Lechlade; a lower oolite, comprising cornbrash, forest marble, Bradford clay, Bath stone, fuller's earth, and inferior oolite, forms most of the Cotswolds, and considerable adjacent parts of the vale; a lias, comprising sand, upper lias clay, marl stone, and lower lias clay and lime, forms the greater part of the vale eastward of the Severn; a trias, comprising new red sandstone and keuper marl, forms a small portion of the vale east of the Severn and south of Tewkesbury, and most of the vale west of the Severn; an upper carboniferous formation, consisting of the coal measures, constitutes two considerable tracts, the one between Wickwar and Bristol, the other in the Forest of Dean; a lower carboniferous formation, comprising limestone and shale, constitutes tracts in the neighbourhood of Thornbury, in the neighbourhood of Bristol, and around the coal measures of the forest; an old red sandstone formation constitutes the rest of the forest; and a tract of alluvium extends along the Severn coast-line from the neighbourhood of Northwick to the Avon. Building stone and limestone abound, and are extensively worked. The chief mineral products are coal, of which the annual output exceeds 1,200,000 tons; iron ore, of which the output is about 60,000 tons; and fire-clay, 5500 tons. The manufacture of pig-iron (including that produced in Wiltshire), is nearly 35,000 tons. Lead ore also occurs, a little zinc, traces of strontian, and small quantities of various rare minerals. There are mineral springs at Cheltenham, Clifton, Walton, and Gloucester.

The soil of the Cotswolds is, in most parts, a shallow, calcareous loam, on a stratum of rubble, but in the depressions and bottoms, and sometimes on the hills, a stiff clay. The soil of the vale is, for the most part, an uncommonly rich deep loam, in some places black, in others red, sometimes incumbent on compact rock, but generally incumbent on blue clay. The soil of the forest is chiefly sand, in some places peat, in other places a thin limestone debris, generally not very fertile, yet not unfavourable to certain kinds of cultivation. The hill or Cotswold section has undergone vast improvement since the 18th century, now comprises much arable and enclosed pasture land, which formerly was open down, carries on cultivation of corn, with produce of from 16 to 20 bushels per acre, barley, with produce of 32 bushels, turnips, sainfoin, and other crops; has sheep farms of from 200 to 1000 acres pastured by a native breed, and generally is characterized by harvests a fortnight later than in the vale, and by stone-wall enclosures. The vale is disposed variously in arable land and dairy land, together with orchards, is intersected with elm, willow, and thorn hedges, grows wheat (with produce of from 24 to 28 bushels), barley (with produce of 40 bushels), beans (with produce of from 20 to 30 bushels), oats, turnips, potatoes, and other crops; includes meadows along the Severn below Gloucester, yielding from 2 to 2 1/2 tons of hay per acre; maintains a good native breed of cattle, whose milk yields from 3 to 4 cwt. of cheese per year, and also excellent butter, and maintains likewise a variety of breeds, chiefly the Staffordshire and Herefordshire. Calves and swine are numerously fed, and the swine now are chiefly the Berkshire and cross breeds. An orchard exists on almost every farm, and cider and perry are largely made. The forest section is noted principally for its timber, and for an excellent cider apple.

According to the census returns issued in 1893, the chief occupations of the people of the county were:—Professional, 11,056 males and 9019 females; domestic, 2292 males and 41,702 females; commercial, 26,062 males and 495 females; agricultural, 26,625 males and 1048 females; fishing, 117 males; industrial, 91,074 males and 35,205 females; and "unoccupied," including retired business men, pensioners, those living on their own means, and others not specified, 34,582 males and 141,985 females; or a total in the county of 191,808 males and 229,454 females. The number of men employed in the leading industries was as follows:—General labourers, 14,604; agricultural labourers, 14,585; boot and shoe makers, 6935; and coal miners, 4394. The chief occupations of women were—domestic service, with a total of 31,566; millinery and dressmaking, 9464; tailoresses, 5032; boot and shoe making, 2245. There were also in the county 636 blind persons, 426 deaf, 330 deaf and dumb, and 2634 mentally deranged.

The woollen manufacture has been carried on in Gloucestershire for centuries, and is still of importance. Its chief seats are Stroud, Minchinhampton, Wotton-under-Edge, Dursley, Nailsworth Painswick, Stonehouse, Rodborough, Cam, and Kingstanley. The railway communications of Gloucestershire are excellent, and belong chiefly to the Great Western and Midland systems. The Gloucester and South Wales section of the former railway crosses the county from Swindon E to W, past Stroud to Gloucester, branching thence SW to Chepstow and South Wales. From Gloucester is a branch to Ross and Hereford, another to Cheltenham, and another to Ledbury, Malvern, and Worcester. From Bristol a branch proceeds to South Wales through the Severn Tunnel, meeting the line from Gloucester and Severn Tunnel Junction near Portskewet. Subsidiary branches are from Kemble to Cirencester, and to Tetbury; from Severn Tunnel Junction along the Wye Valley to Monmouth and Coleford; and from Cheltenham to Chipping Norton, connecting with the Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton section and extending to Banbury. The M.R. traverses the county from N to S, entering at Ashchurch from Birmingham and Worcester, and 868 passing Cheltenham and Gloucester to Mangotsfield, where it branches off to Bristol and Bath. It has branches from Ashchurch to Tewkesbury and Malvern, and to Evesham, meeting the G.W.R. at the latter station; from Stonehouse to Nailsworth; from Coaley to Dursley, and from Yate to Thornbury. The Severn and Wye, Severn Bridge and Monmouth railway connects with the Midland at Berkeley Road, crosses the Severn by a great viaduct at Sharpness, and runs through the Forest of Dean to Lydbrook. The Midland and South-Western Junction railway runs from Cheltenham, via Andoversford, Cirencester, and Cricklade to Swindon, and thence to Andover, where it connects with the L. & S.W. system. A branch of the G.W.R. runs from Oxford to Lechlade and Fairford. A short line worked by the G.W.R. and M.R. runs from Bristol to Avonmouth. On the Somerset side of the Avon a short line, owned by the G.W.R., runs from Bristol via Clifton Bridge to Portishead. The canals are the Gloucester and Berkeley Ship Canal, the Stroudwater, the Thames and Severn, and the Hereford and Gloucester. The roads are abundant and good.

The county is divided for parliamentary purposes into five divisions, and also includes the parliamentary boroughs of Cheltenham and Gloucester, and the greater part of the parliamentary borough of Bristol, consisting of four divisions. The administrative county includes two municipal boroughs, exclusive of the county boroughs; has one court of quarter sessions and 24 petty sessional divisions. The boroughs of Bristol, Gloucester, and Tewkesbury have separate commissions of the peace and separate courts of quarter sessions. The county contains 342 entire civil parishes and parts of 7 others; the county borough of Bristol contains 21 entire civil parishes and parts of 2 others, and the county borough of Gloucester 13 entire civil parishes and parts of 2 others. The ecclesiastical parishes and districts in the county number 392, with parts of 10 others, and belong almost entirely to the diocese of Gloucester and Bristol. The chief seats are Badminton Park, Berkeley Castle, Stanway, Southam, Woodchester, Barrington Park, Hempsted Court, Kings Weston, Northwick, Sherborne, Stowell, Batsford, Barnsley, Flaxley Abbey, Toddington, the Elms, Highnam, Miserden, Seizincote, Witcombe Park, Daylesford, Hill Court, Ablington, Adlestrop, Admington, Bibury, BIaise Castle, Boddington, Bromsberrow, Cote, Down-Ampney, Estcourt, Gatcombe, Henbury, Hardwicke, Huntley, Kingscote, Leckhampton, Lydney Park, Lypiatt Park, Newark Park, the Priory, Radbrook, the Ridge, Sedbury, Tortworth, Wick House, Williamstrip, Wormington, and Prescott.

Gloucestershire is governed by a lord-lieutenant and a county council consisting of 60 councillors and 20 aldermen. It is in the Oxford judicial circuit, and in the Western military district. The assizes and the quarter sessions are held at Gloucester. Till 1885 the county returned four members to Parliament, in two divisions, East and West Gloucestershire, each division returning two; two were returned by each of the boroughs of Gloucester, Bristol, and Stroud; one each by the boroughs of Cirencester, Tewkesbury, and Cheltenham. By the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885, the county was divided for parliamentary purposes into five divisions, each returning one member:—Mid or Stroud Division, Northern or Tewkesbury, Eastern or Cirencester, Forest of Dean, Southern or Thornbury. Bristol was divided into four single-member constituencies, Gloucester lost one member, and Cirencester, Tewkesbury, and Stroud were disfranchised. Almost the entire county is in the diocese of Gloucester and Bristol.

The territory now forming Gloucestershire was inhabited, in the ancient British times, by the Dobuni, The part of it east of the Severn was included by the Romans in their Britannia Prima, the part west of the Severn in their Britannia Secunda, and the whole of it eventually in their Flavia Cæsariensis. It was the seat of much warfare in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasion; it became subject at the end of that invasion to the West Saxons, and it afterwards formed part of the kingdom of Mercia. It was for a time much harassed by the Danes under their general Gunnon or Gurmundus; it submitted quietly to the Norman conqueror; it performed distinguished acts in the subjugation of Wales; it took part with Queen Maud against King Stephen; it was much troubled in the time of Henry II. by incursions of the Welsh; it behaved conspicuously in the barons' wars under guidance of Gilbert de Clare, then Earl of Gloucester, and it was the scene of many skirmishes and fights, particularly at Bristol, Cirencester, Gloucester, and Tewkesbury, in the civil wars of Charles I. A noted event was the murder of Edward II. in 1327, at Berkeley Castle, and another was a sanguinary victory over the Lancastrians by the Yorkists in 1471 at Tewkesbury. Barrows are abundant in Gloucestershire, having been found at Upper Swell, Rodmarton, Uley, Ablington, Nympsfield, &c. Roman camps occur at Bourton-on-the-Water, Aust Ferry, Lydney, North Cerney, Oldbury, Sapperton, Little Sodbury, Woodchester, and other places. Roman stations were at Cirencester and Gloucester, and the Roman roads, Icknield Street, Ermine Street, the Fosse Way, and the Julian Way, traversed the county. The ruins of Roman villas have been found at Woodchester, Great Witcombe, Cirencester, Rodmarton, Bisley, Chedworth, and other places. Chief mediaeval castles were at Berkeley, Beverstone, Brimpsfield, Bristol, Cirencester, Dursley, Gloucester, St Briavels, Sudeley, and Thornbury. Great abbeys were at Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Cirencester, Winchcombe, and Hayles; priories at Hasledon, Horsley, and Stanley St Leonard, and interesting old churches at Bristol, Cirencester, Deerhurst, Elkstone, Fairford, Northleach, and Tewkesbury.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5