Somerset or Somersetshire, a maritime county, bounded on the NW by the Bristol Channel, on the N by Gloucestershire, on the E by Wiltshire, on the SE by Dorsetshire, on the S by Dorsetshire and Devonshire, and on the W by Devonshire. Its outline is irregular, but may be said to comprise a large oblong, extending SSW from the boundary with Gloucestershire, and a smaller oblong, extending westward from the S half of the former to the W boundary with Devonshire. Its greatest length is 71 miles, its greatest breadth 40 miles, its circuit about 230 miles, its extent of coast about 65 miles, and its area 1,042,488 acres. The coast is low and sandy in most of the N, cliffly and picturesque in much of the S or W, and has no considerable indentation except Bridgwater Bay. The surface exhibits almost every variety of feature, from flat fen and luxuriant valley to barren moor and lofty hill. Much of the fen has been highly improved. Many of the valleys have finely contoured flanks and bottoms. Some of the hills are isolated, while others extend in ranges; and some are smooth and verdant, while others are rugged and desolate. Lansdown and Dundry hills adorn the N, the Mendips range across one half or more of the central part of the great oblong, the Poldens range across one-third of the S part of that oblong; the Blackdowns are on the boundary with Dorset; the Quantocks and the Brendons finely diversify the E and the central parts of the smaller oblong, and a moor extends in wild ruggedness over the W border to Devonshire. The greatest heights range in altitude from 790 to 1668 feet. The Lower Avon river runs in the N, partly in the interior, but chiefly along the boundary; and the other chief rivers are the Frome, the Yeo, the Axe, the Brue, the Parret, the Isle, the Ivel or Yeo, the Tone, the Carey, and the Exe. Devonian rocks occupy most of the W half of the smaller oblong; trias rocks occupy much of the E half of that oblong, and occur plentifully also throughout the W part of the great oblong; lias and oolite rocks occupy most of the other parts of that oblong; carboniferous rocks, variously lower and upper, the latter inclusive of the coal measures, form considerable tracts of the great oblong, all N of Shepton Mallet and Wells; lower greensand forms a tract around Wedmore; and alluvial deposits form considerable tracts along the Axe and the Brue, to the coast and northward. The chief useful minerals are iron ore, lead ore, calamine, manganese, coal, lime, ochre, fullers' earth, and building stone. There are mineral springs at Bath, Castle Carey, Queen Camel, Weston-super-Mare, East Chinnock, Nether Stoney, Alford, Ashill, Wells, Glastonbury, and Wellington.
The soil of the alluvial flats varies from moss to deep strong clay; that of the adjacent slopes is chiefly calcareous sand; that of Taunton vale is prevailingly a rich loam; that of other valley grounds is variable, but mostly fertile; and that of the hills and moors ranges from deep loam to thin poor gravel. The estates and the farms are well divided. The chief crops are wheat, oats, barley, beans, and potatoes. Orchards abound, and market gardens are numerous. Much butter and cheese are made. The latter is chiefly known as Cheddar. The cattle are chiefly Devons, Herefords, and shorthorns, and the sheep are Southdowns, Leicesters, or crosses between these and the Cotswolds.
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Archives and Libraries
Somerset Heritage Centre
TAUNTON, TA2 6SF
Tel: 01823 278805
Fax: 01823 347459
The complete set of Phillimore Somerset Parish Registers - Marriages series is available online.
Ancestry.co.uk, in association with Somerset Archives & Local Studies, have images of the Parish Registers for Somerset online.
For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.
List of Registration Districts in Somerset from 1837 to 1974.
Directories & Gazetteers
The Historical Directories web site have a number of directories relating to Somerset online, including:
Kelly's, Pigot, Slater, etc.
Old map of Somerset circa 1895 (Gazetteer of England and Wales)
Old map of Somerset circa 1848 (Samuel Lewis)
Newspapers and Periodicals
The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Somerset papers online:
- Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette
- Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser
- Western Gazette
- Wells Journal
- Somerset County Gazette
Parishes and places
The towns and parishes have now been moved to a separate page.
The Visitation of Somersetshire, 1623 is available on the Heraldry page.