At the period of the Roman invasion of Britain, the district now included within the confines of Worcestershire is supposed to have been partly occupied by the ancient British tribe of the Cornavii, and partly by that of the Dobuni. Under the Roman dominion it was a portion of the division called Flavia Cæsariensis, but being then for the most part low and woody, it received but little attention. On the complete establishment of the Saxon heptarchy, it was comprised in the kingdom of Mercia; and in the predatory invasions of the Danes at a later period, it suffered in common with most other parts of the kingdom. The county is in the diocese of Worcester, and province of Canterbury, and forms an archdeaconry, including the deaneries of Blockley, Droitwich, Evesham, Kidderminster, Pershore, Powick, Kington, Warwick, Wich, and Worcester: the number of parishes is 171. For purposes of civil government it is divided into the five hundreds of Blackenhurst, Doddingtree, Halfshire, Oswaldslow, and Pershore, each of which is separated into Upper and Lower, excepting Oswaldslow, which has also a Middle division. It contains the city of Worcester; the borough and market towns of Bewdley, Droitwich, Dudley, Kidderminster, and Evesham; and the market-towns of Bromsgrove, Hales-Owen, Pershore, Shipston, Stourbridge, Stourport, Tenbury, and Upton. By the act 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, the county was divided into the Eastern and Western divisions, each empowered to send two members to parliament; two citizens are returned for the city of Worcester, two burgesses for Evesham, and one each for Bewdley, Droitwich, Dudley, and Kidderminster. The county is included in the Oxford circuit; and the assizes and quarter-sessions are held at Worcester, where stands the county gaol and house of correction.
The form of the county approaches a parallelogram, two-thirds of the area lying east of the Severn; but its boundaries are extremely irregular, and its detached portions numerous. The general appearance of the surface, when viewed from the heights bordering it in different parts, is that of a rich plain, the more gentle elevations being hardly discernible. The Vale of the Severn, extending through it from north to south, a distance of about thirty miles, varies in breadth from a quarter of a mile to a mile, and contains about 10,000 acres. The Vale of Evesham is an indefinite tract in the southeastern part of the county, including the Valley of the Avon, the adjoining uplands to the north of that river, and the whole of the vale land in the southern part of the county and the adjoining parts of Gloucestershire. To the north-east of Bromsgrove is a ridge of hills called the Lickey, which extends to Hagley, and has various branches eastward: some of its highest peaks rise to a height of nearly 900 feet. The Abberley hills, in the north-western part of the county, extend over the parish of Abberley, and are seen to a great distance, rising to about the same height as the last-mentioned: Witley Hill is a little south of these. Bredon Hill is another remarkable elevation, to the south of Pershore, and on the south-eastern side of the Avon, rising to the height of nearly 900 feet. But by far the loftiest tract is the Malvern hills, a chain extending from north to south, upon a base about six miles in length and from one to two in breadth: a line passing along the summit of this ridge separates Worcestershire from Herefordshire; the most elevated point attains the height of 1313 feet above the Severn. The views from most of these eminences are of extraordinary beauty and extent, particularly those from the Malvern hills; and their rocky summits give a picturesque diversity to the scenery.
The soils are remarkable for their general fertility, and add a peculiarly rich verdure to a district presenting great beauty of outline, and enjoying an eminently fine climate. The valleys that are traversed by the principal rivers consist of a deep sediment, deposited by floods during a long series of ages: this sediment is in some places a pure clay, adapted to the making of bricks, but is generally a rich mould. Valuable clay and loamy soils occupy nearly half the county in its middle, southern, and western districts, yielding, besides the ordinary crops of other counties, great quantities of hops and fruits. The soil and climate being well adapted to the production of every kind of grain, the agriculture of the county is less subject to any characteristic system than that of almost any other; the amount of arable land is estimated at 360,000 acres, and the crops generally cultivated are, wheat, barley, oats, beans, peas, vetches, turnips, and hops. The sands of Wolverley are remarkable for their produce of carrots and carrot-seed, for the most part sold to persons who carry them to the markets of Birmingham, Stourbridge, or the populous parts of Staffordshire. The county has long been famous for the culture of hops, in all cases upon a deep loam, or u peaty soil, plentifully manured. The extensive vales, particularly that of the Severn, consist of meadows and pastures of a remarkably rich quality, occupying an extent of about 50,000 acres: almost any proportion of this land may be mown at pleasure, and a great quantity of hay is sent to the mining districts of Salop and Staffordshire. There are, besides, nearly 50,000 acres of permanent upland pasture, including parks and pleasure-grounds.
The extent of land applied to the raising of vegetables, is estimated at about 5000 acres; and there are very considerable horticultural tracts near the principal towns, more particularly on the north-eastern side of Worcester, and on the northern side of the town of Evesham. In the vicinity of the latter place are about 300 acres of gardenground, which, besides producing all the other ordinary vegetables, supplies the cities of Bath and Bristol, and the town of Birmingham, with considerable quantities of early peas and asparagus; great quantities of cucumbers and onions are exported from the same district, chiefly to the last-mentioned town, and much onion-seed is also produced there. The county has for many centuries been famous for its orchards, which flourish in a degree unknown in most other parts of the kingdom; they are situated chiefly around the towns, villages, and farmhouses, of the middle, southern, and western parts of the county, where the various kinds of fruit-trees are also frequently dispersed in the hedge-rows. The quantity of cider and perry made is remarkably great, for, after supplying the consumption of the county, a large surplus, together with quantities of raw fruit, is sent to other parts of the kingdom.
Worcestershire is adorned with a plentiful store of timber. In many parts are oak coppices of different degrees of growth, and in some are small tracts of the finest oak and ash timber, particularly in the neighbourhood of the different seats; the most important produce of the underwoods is, poles for the hop-yards, and charcoal for the iron-works. Some parts possess beech-timber of excellent quality; and many of the precipitous heights bordering on the Severn, and the hills in some other places, are ornamented with large plantations of fir. The hedge-rows, throughout a large portion of the more fertile districts, are stocked with some of the most valuable elm-timber in the kingdom, especially in the parishes of Hartlebury, Elmley-Lovett, Ombersley, &c.; great quantities of it are regularly cut down and sent to Birmingham, or exported by the Severn. On the borders of the rivers are many poplar and willow plantations, more particularly along the course of the Teme. The waste lands do not, at most, exceed 20,000 acres; they consist of high hilly tracts, or of small commons and wastes, dispersed in various quarters. Of the hilly wastes, the principal are the upper parts of the Malvern hills, which are very rocky; of Bredon Hill, near Pershore; and of the Abberley and Witley hills, together with some of the uninclosed parts of Bromsgrove-Lickey. Wyre Forest, to the left of Bewdley, besides its woodlands, comprises also a considerable portion of open land.
The mineral productions are of minor importance. Coal is obtained in the north-western part of the county, particularly at Mamble, which place communicates, by means of an iron tramway, with the Leominster canal; and again at Pensax, where the small refuse is partly converted into coke, highly esteemed for drying hops, and is partly used for burning the limestone obtained at Witley Hill. Common rock-salt and a species of gypsum are found at Droitwich. Limestone of the lias formation forms the substratum of nearly the whole south-eastern portion of the county, and is worked at South Littleton and elsewhere; the kind called by geologists "carboniferous limestone," is found in the hills of the north-western part, and is burned in several places, especially at Witley and Huddington. The town of Dudley is situated at the southern extremity of a range of limestone hills, of the Wenlock formation, part of the Silurian system of Murchison, which extends into Staffordshire; and this, upon which stand Dudley Castle and part of the town, is completely undermined by stupendous quarries. Freestone for building is obtained in several places. The Malvern hills are formed chiefly of a kind of decomposed granite, with which, on their northern side, gneiss is connected, and on their eastern, sienite. The lower ridge of Bromsgrove-Lickey is composed chiefly of quartz, a silicious stone, which is found to be a stone of the Caradoc formation altered by heat; the beacon hill, contiguous, is composed of a rock of igneous origin. The parallel and more elevated ridge of the Upper Lickey is a much newer rock of the new redsandstone formation. In the Broadway hills a reddish stone is quarried. In the Vale of Evesham (in the parishes of Badsey, the three Littletons, and Prior's-Cleeve), are quarries of a calcareous flagstone, about three inches thick, and of a very durable quality, some of it bearing a fine polish; considerable quantities are raised for gravestones, kitchen-floors, barn-floors, &c, and much of it is exported by means of the Avon navigation. Brick-clay, gravel, sand, and marl, exist in numerous places. The most remarkable fossil production is that found in the limestone at Dudley, thence called the "Dudley Trilobite," of which several species have been discovered.
The Manufactures are various, extensive, and important. Those of gloves and porcelain are carried on at Worcester. Stourbridge has a manufacture of glass, as has also Dudley; and at both places the iron manufacture is carried on to a very considerable extent. Nails, needles, and fish-hooks, are made at Bromsgrove, and at Redditch on the border of Warwickshire. Kidderminster is famous for its carpets; and the manufacture of bombazines is still carried on, but not so extensively as formerly. On the river Stour and its tributary streams, are several very considerable works in which pig-iron from the foundries of Shropshire, Staffordshire, and other mining districts, is rendered malleable, and worked into bars, rods, sheet-iron, &c. The manufacture of salt, at Droitwich, is known to have been practised so eai-ly as the year 816, when the county formed part of the Saxon kingdom of Mercia.
The principal Rivers are the Severn, the Upper Avon, the Teme, and the Stour. The Severn is navigable for vessels of 80 tons' burthen as high as Worcester bridge, and for those of 60 tons in the higher part of its course through the county; but the navigation, though of great benefit and importance, is frequently impeded in the summer by sands and shoals. By the statute 30th of Charles II., cap. 9, the conservancy of the river, within the limits of the county, is granted to the magistrates of Worcestershire. The Upper Avon, so early as the year 1637, was made navigable, with the aid of locks, in the whole of its course through Worcestershire, a distance of about twenty miles. The Teme has too great a declivity, and its waters are too shallow, to admit of its being navigated higher than a small distance above Powick; the scenery on its banks is particularly beautiful. The Stour is navigable for a short distance to some of the iron-works on its banks.
The Trent and Severn, or, as it is more commonly called, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal, enters the county near Wolverley, and thence proceeds down the valley of the Stour, and by the town of Kidderminster, to the navigable channel of the Severn, at Stourport, where it has a spacious basin. The length of that part of its course included in Worcestershire is about nine miles, in which it has nine locks, and a fall of 90 feet. This canal, one of the works of the celebrated Brindley, is that branch of the Grand Trunk which unites the navigation of the Severn with the water communication between the rivers Trent and Mersey; the act for its formation was obtained in 1766, and it was completed about the year 1770. The Droitwich canal, from that town to the Severn, down the valley of the Salwarpe, was constructed soon after the above, and by the same engineer; it is five miles and a half long, with five locks and a fall of about 60 feet, and the cost of its formation was £25,000. The noble canal from Birmingham to the Severn immediately below Worcester, called the Birmingham and Worcester canal, for vessels of sixty tons' burthen, commences with a short tunnel in the vicinity of the first-mentioned town, and proceeds nearly southward, across two valleys, by extensive embankments, to a little beyond King's-Norton, where it passes through a tunnel upwards of a mile in length. Then, after completing its summit level, sixteen miles and three-quarters from the wharfs at Birmingham, it descends south-westward from the towns of Bromsgrove and Droitwich, by a lockage of 450 feet fall, to the Severn. The act of parliament for its formation was obtained in 1791. Its total length is twenty-nine miles. The Dudley Extension canal branches from it near Selly Oak, and proceeds westward, through a long tunnel, to Hales-Owen, a short distance beyond which it is carried through another tunnel. On emerging, it pursues a winding northern course to Dudley, and there passes through a tunnel under the limestone hills, nearly two miles in length, into the county of Stafford, where it forms a junction with the canal to Wolverhampton. Its total length is thirteen miles. The Stratford-upon-Avon canal branches from the Birmingham and Worcester canal near King's-Norton, and proceeds eastward, through a small tunnel, into Warwickshire. The Kington, Leominster and Stourport canal was projected towards the close of the last century, the act for the execution of the design being obtained in 1791; but the expense was found much to exceed the sum at first computed, and only tne part between Leominster and Stourport has been completed. The Birmingham and Bristol railway enters the county from Birmingham, and passing a little to the east of Bromsgrove, Droitwich, and Worcester, and on the west of Pershore, quits it to the north-east of Tewkesbury.
The Roman roads that crossed the county were, the Ikeneld-street, which ran northward, from Alcester, in Warwickshire, through its north-western extremity, into Staffordshire; another that passed from Worcester into Salop; a third, from Worcester, southward by Upton, to Tewkesbury, where it joined the Ikeneld-street; and the Ridge-way, which bounds the county for several miles, on the east. Numerous vestiges of them are still visible; as also of a Fosse-way, which pursues its course through the detached parish of Blockley; and of an ancient road that intersected Hagley common, now called the King's Headland. Stukeley supposes Upton, on the banks of the Severn, to be the Ypocessa of the Romans; and Worcester, from the termination of its name and other circumstances, appears to have been either a Roman station, or a fort. The remains of antiquity include few very remarkable objects. Near the Four-shire Stone, where the counties of Worcester, Gloucester, Warwick, and Oxford meet, is a small earthwork, supposed by Gough to be of British construction; and there are traces of other old encampments in the vicinities of Bredon, Kempsey, and Malvern; also on Witchbury Hill, Woodbury Hill, and Conderton Hill in the parish of Overbury. Various coins of the Lower Empire have been found in the vicinity of Hagley, particularly near the large camp on Witchbury Hill; and on Clent heath, about half a mile from Witchbury, are five barrows, assigned by popular tradition to the Romans, which, on being opened, were found to contain burnt wood, ashes, and bones.
The number of religious houses, including colleges and hospitals, was about twenty-eight. Remains yet exist of the abbeys of Bordesley, Evesham, Hales-Owen, and Pershore; of the commandery of St. Wulstan at Worcester; of the priories of Dodford and Great Malvern; and of the nunnery of Cokehill, in the parish of Inkberrow. There are also relics of the ancient castles of Dudley; Ham, near Clifton-upon-Teme; Hartlebury; and Holt. Worcestershire contains a considerable number of elegant mansions, among which are, Croome Park, Hartlebury Castle, Hewell Park, Madresfield, Northwick Park, Ombersley Court, Witley Court, Hagley Park, Hanbury Hall, and Stanford Court. The mineral springs are very numerous. Among the most noted are, the chalybeate waters of Bredon, Bromsgrove (which are also petrifying), Hallow Park near Worcester, Kidderminster, and Worcester; and those of other qualities at Abberton, near Naunton-Beauchamp, and at Church-hill. But the Malvern wells, which possess various properties, are by far the most celebrated, and, in conjunction with the fine climate and scenery of the surrounding country, have rendered the town of Great Malvern a place of fashionable resort.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.