Gloucestershire was originally in the diocese of Lichfield, and afterwards in that of Worcester, but was made a distinct bishopric, in the province of Canterbury, in 1541, and is now included in that of Gloucester and Bristol. It contains the archdeaconry of Gloucester and part of that of Bristol, with the deaneries of Campden, Cirencester, Dursley, Fairford, Gloucester, Hawkesbury, Stonehouse, Stow, Winchcomb, and the Forest; the number of parishes is 315. The shire is divided into various hundreds, and contains the city of Gloucester, and, locally, part of that of Bristol; the borough and market towns of Cirencester, Tewkesbury, Stroud, and Cheltenham, the two last having been enfranchised by the act of the 2nd of William IV.; and the market-towns of Berkeley, Campden, Coleford, Dursley, Fairford, Minchin-Hampton, Lechlade, Marshfield, MitchelDean, Newnham, Newent, Northleach, Painswick, Sodbury, Stow-on-the-Wold, Tetbury, Thornbury, Wickwar, Winchcomb, and Wotton-under-Edge. It sends four members to parliament, for which it is divided into two electoral portions, called the Eastern and Western divisions; two representatives are returned for the city of Gloucester, and two for each of the boroughs, except Cheltenham, which sends only one. The county is included in the Oxford circuit: the assizes and quartersessions are held at Gloucester, where stand the shirehall and the common gaol or sheriff's prison; the houses of correction are at Horsley, Northleach, Lawford's Gate, and Little Dean.
The natural division of the county is into the Cotswold, the Vale, and the Forest districts, each being distinguished by striking peculiarities. The Cotswold district comprises the whole tract of hilly country from Chipping-Campden to Bath, and is often divided into the Upper and Lower Cotswolds. The Vale district comprehends the whole lowlands from Stratford-uponAvon to Bristol, and is usually divided into the Vales of Evesham, Gloucester, and Berkeley, but more naturally into the Vales of the Severn and the Avon, these rivers forming natural boundaries: the former Vale includes all the low country between Tewkesbury and Bristol, and the latter the lowlands between the Upper Cotswolds and the Avon, from Tewkesbury to Stratford, wherever the river is a boundary to the county. The Forest district contains the parishes on the west side of the Severn up to Gloucester, and afterwards on the west side of the river Leden, up to the spot where it enters the county from Herefordshire. In point of picturesque beauty, the banks of the Wye, and the environs of Bristol, Stroud, and Dursley, rank highest. The general character of the soil of the Cotswolds is a shallow calcareous loam, provincially called stone brash, under which is a stratum of rubble, or mould, the whole resting on calcareous sandstone, varying in some of its qualities, but known by the general name of freestone when found in large masses and deep beds. The soil in the Vale district is various: in the northern part of the county it is a fine black loam mixed with small pebbles, and remarkably fertile; southward it changes to a strong rich clay. Throughout a considerable part of the Forest district the soil inclines to sand, being in the northern part little more than a decomposition of the red sandstone, which is imbedded in large masses to a great depth, and often rises to the surface. On the Cotswolds it is the practice to sow after one ploughing, experience having proved that more frequent ploughing weakens the staple of the light soils there. Beans are the chief produce of the clay soils of the Vale, and a crop on which the farmer much depends. Rye is cultivated in that part of the Forest district which includes Newent, Pauntley, Oxenhall, Dymock, and Bromsberrow, here called the Ryelands. About 300,000 acres of land within the county are under tillage. The richest natural meadows and pastures are on the banks of the Severn and other rivers which run through the Vale; and the natural grass-lands of the other parts of it, beyond the reach of the floods, are generally fertile, though not equal to the former. The dairy is the chief object of the Vale farmers, and the cattle kept are those best adapted for that purpose. The orchards of the Vale and Forest districts form a very important part of the produce; but on the Cotswolds, except partially on the slopes, fruit plantations are not made. About 10,000 acres still remain waste, a small portion of which is in sheep downs on the Cotswolds. On the Cotswolds the beech and the ash are the principal trees; the former seems to be native, and probably at a remote period covered most of this portion of the county. Few tracts of woodland remain in the Vale, but in the Forest of Dean is still a large quantity of valuable timber.
Iron-ore exists in abundance in the Forest of Dean, but only a small quantity is procured, the greater part of that used in the furnaces being Lancashire ore, which, notwithstanding the expense of carriage, is more profitable for smelting, on account of its superior richness. In the lower part of the Vale, veins of Lead are found in nearly all the limestone rocks; but the produce is insufficient to repay the expense of working them. Coal of a sulphureous quality abounds in almost every part of the Forest and its vicinity; and the lower part of the Vale equally abounds with coal, which is less sulphureous: the pits in this latter district supply the vast consumption of the Bristol manufactories, and in some degree that of Bath. Gloucester and its neighbourhood are supplied with coal from Shropshire and Staffordshire, of much superior quality to any produced in this county. The Forest of Dean, Longhope, and adjoining places, furnish Limestone for building and for purposes of agriculture. Freestone of excellent quality for building is raised from the Cotswold quarries; and pavingstones, varying in quality and colour, are dug in the quarries at Frampton-Cotterell, Winterbourne, IronActon, Mangotsfield, and Stapleton. The latter are likewise found in the Forest of Dean, as are also grits for grindstones, of various degrees of fineness, and one species of uncommon hardness and durability, esteemed the best in England for cider-mills: stone tiles are chiefly obtained in different parts of the Cotswolds. In Aust Cliff, in the parish of Henbury, is a fine bed of Gypsum, or alabaster. The principal Manufactures are those of woollen broad-cloth, chiefly superfine and made of Spanish wool; and fine narrow goods, of the stripe and fancy kind, both to a great extent. At Tewkesbury, framework knitting is the principal source of employment; and the manufacture of pins is carried on at Gloucester. There are several paper-mills. The manufacture of felt hats for the London and Bristol trade is chiefly carried on at Frampton-Cotterell, Oldland, Winterbourne, and other villages in the neighbourhood of Bristol; the spinning of flax, during winter, affords employment to the female population of the upper part of the Vale of Evesham. In the Forest district are very ancient and extensive works both for the smelting of iron-ore and the manufacture of wrought iron. The chief articles of export, besides those from the woollencloth and pin manufactories (from the latter of which a great quantity is sent to America), are cheese, bacon, cider, perry, and all kinds of grain. Fat oxen, sheep, and pigs, are sent to the London market, as is also a considerable quantity of salmon.
The principal rivers are the Severn, the Wye, the Upper Avon, the Lower Avon, and the Isis or Thames. The Severn is navigable the whole of its course through the county; below Thornbury it soon takes the name of the Bristol Channel, and forms a grand estuary not less than ten miles broad, which continues expanding until it mingles with the Atlantic Ocean. The tide in this river, well known for its boisterous and impetuous roar, comes up to Gloucester with forcible rapidity, and the stream is turned by it as high as Tewkesbury. The salmon, which has ever been reckoned the boast of the Severn, and in former times was caught in great abundance, is now comparatively scarce. The Wye bounds the county on the west, and is navigable in all that part of its course. The Upper Avon unites with the Severn at Tewkesbury, and is navigable to Stratford, in Warwickshire; the Lower Avon enters the county near Bath, where it becomes navigable, and, having received the waters of the Lower Frome at Bristol, falls into the estuary of the Severn at Kingsroad. The Isis, or Thames, is generally reputed to rise at a spring called ThamesHead, in the parish of Cotes, in this county: it shortly leaves for Wiltshire; but at Kempsford, having become navigable, it forms the boundary between that county and Gloucestershire, and so continues as far as Lechlade, where it enters Oxfordshire. The smaller rivers are the Chelt, the Leden, the Upper Frome, the Ewelme, the Middle Avon, and the Windrush, all which, except the last, are tributary to the Severn.
The Stroud-water canal, constructed about the year 1775, commences at Walbridge, in the parish of Stroud, and after a course of upwards of seven miles, opens into the Severn at Framilode. The advantages of this canal to the interests of the cloth manufacture were increased by the junction of the Thames and Severn, effected by a continuation of the above line of canal from Walbridge to Lechlade, a distance of upwards of 28 miles, opened in 1789. The Gloucester and Berkeley Ship-canal was designed to form a shorter and safer passage for vessels of larger burthen between Gloucester and the wider parts of the Severn; the basin at Gloucester was begun in 1793. The Hereford and Gloucester canal, begun in 1792, enters this county from Herefordshire at its north-western extremity: a tunnel, 2170 yards in length, commences at Dymock and ends at Oxenhall, whence the canal descends the valley of the Leden, crosses that river by an aqueduct, and joins the western channel of the Severn at Gloucester. The Bristol and Birmingham railway runs through the county for an extent of about 50 miles, passing in a N. N. E. direction by Chipping-Sodbury, Wickwar, Berkeley, Stonehouse, Gloucester, Cheltenham, and Tewkesbury, into Worcestershire. Another line, belonging to the Great Western company, runs from Stonehouse, by Stroud, Minchin-Hampton, and Cirencester, into Wilts. The Bullo-Pill, or Forest of Dean tramway, proceeds from the river Severn, near Newnham, to the summit of the hill above Churchway-Engine, a distance of about 7½ miles, and has three short branches from the main line to different coal-mines in the Forest: timber, coal, iron-ore, and other minerals are conveyed along it for shipment on the Severn. The Severn and Wye railway, formerly the Lydney and Ledbrook, commences at the Severn at Lydney, and pursues a course of 26 miles to the Wye at Ruardean, including several branches to the collieries; it was constructed for the conveyance of minerals and timber from the Forest of Dean.
Many tumuli, or barrows, are scattered over the county, but it is uncertain whether any or which of them are British. The circumstance of the Romans having experienced little opposition from the Dobuni is a probable reason why so few Roman stations or fortresses can be traced in the country inhabited by that British tribe. Ancient encampments are conspicuous on almost every eminence, but their origin is doubtful: the principal are at Little Sodbury, Minchin-Hampton, Painswick, Twining, Haresfield, Tytherington, Elberton, Uley, Hatherop, Northleach, Oldbury, Cromhall, Beachley, Willersey, and Staunton; and from the last place, at different intervals, along the edge of the Cotswold range to Bath, Henbury, and Clifton. Remains of Roman buildings, such as tessellated pavements, &c., have been discovered at Gloucester, Cirencester, Woodchester, Rodmarton, Colesborne, and Chedworth, particularly at the two first places. Roman coins have been found in various places, especially at Sapperton; but the majority are of the Lower Empire. Of the four great public or military Roman roads in Britain, three pass through Gloucestershire; namely, the Fosse-way, which enters it from the north at Lemington, and, passing by Northleach and Cirencester, quits it about five miles beyond the latter town: the Ikeneld-way, entering from Oxfordshire at Eastleach, and falling into the Fosse-way near Cirencester; and the Ermin-street, supposed to have led from Caerleon in Monmouthshire, through Gloucester, to Cirencester and Cricklade, in its course to Southampton. Of ancient Castles, only that of Berkeley, erected in the early part of the 12th century, is entire: the most imposing remains are those of Sudely Castle, which was rebuilt about the year 1450, and of Thornbury Castle, built about 1511; there are also minor relics of that of St. Briavell's, built not long after the Conquest, and of the castle of Beverstone, erected prior to that era. Before the Reformation there were, according to Tanner, 47 monasteries, hospitals, and colleges: the most considerable remains are those of St. Peter's Abbey at Gloucester, and of the abbeys of Tewkesbury, Cirencester, Hailes, and Kingswood. Fossils are found in great variety and abundance in almost every quarry opened on the Cotswolds. In the Vale, the beds of blue clay-stone contain numerous cornua ammonis, conchæ rugosæ, &c. Fretherne Cliff, the western shore of the Severn (near Awre), Pyrton Passage, and Westbury Cliff afford similar fields of investigation for the naturalist, as do various other parts of the county, though to a less extent. The Springs which rise through beds of blue clay, are often strongly saline, as at Prestbury, Cleeve, Cheltenham, Sandhurst, Hardwick, Eastington, Gloucester, &c.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.