The Counties of England

Read about the history of the counties of England and their towns and villages.


Historic Description of England

England, the southern and most considerable division of Great Britain, bounded N. by Scotland, S. by the English Channel, E. by the German Ocean, and W. by Wales, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Irish Sea. The aboriginal inhabitants of England were called Britons, and were invaded by Caesar 54 years before the Christian era. They were subsequently conquered by the Roman legions. In the early part of the 5th century the Romans, who had kept possession of the country for upwards of four centuries, abandoned it, and the old inhabitants, being harassed by the Scots and Picts, called in the Saxons, who conquered the whole except Wales. The Saxons formed seven kingdoms, called the Hcptarchy, each of which had its separate chief, till 817, when Egbert completed the conquest of the whole. About 866 the Danes made a descent on the coast, and conquered Northumberland, E. Anglia, and Mercia, and finally possessed themselves of the greater part of the kingdom, which they held till the time of King Alfred, who totally defeated them, and forced them from the country. At the beginning of the 11th century Sweyn, king of Denmark, conquered all the northern parts of England, and on Ethelred’s retiring to Normandy, the whole kingdom submitted to the invader. On his death, the Danes proclaimed his son Canute. The Saxon line was restored in the person of Edward the Confessor, 1041; but the Normans, under William the Conqueror, defeated the Saxons at Hastings, 1066, and took possession of the realm. In 1283 Wales was subdued and annexed to England by Edward I., Llewellyn, its last king, being slain.

Coast-line. About 1200 miles, without the indentations into the land; with them, about 2000. The principal openings on the E. are the Humber, the Wash, and the estuary of the Thames; on the W., the Bristol Channel, Swansea and Carmarthen Bays, Milford Haven, Bride’s Bay, and Cardigan Bay, with the estuaries of the Dee, Mersey, Morecambe Bay, and the Solway Firth; on the S., Southampton Water, Torbay, Plymouth Sound, Falmouth Harbour, and Mount’s Bay.

Capes. Flamborough Head, Spurn Point, the Naze, Foulness, N. and S. Foreland, Beachy Head, Dungeness, the Needles, Portland Bill, Lizard Point, Land’s End, Worm’s Head, St. David’s Head, Great Orme’s Head, and St. Bees Head. Islands. Holy Island, Lundy, Man, Scilly Isles, Walney, and Wight.

Divisions. The country is divided into forty counties: viz., Bedford, Berks, Bucks, Cambridge, Chester, Cornwall, Cumberland, Derby, Devon, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Gloucester, Hereford, Hertford, Huntingdon, Kent, Lancaster, Leicester, Lincoln, Middlesex, Monmouth, Norfolk, Northampton, Northumberland, Nottingham, Oxford, Rutland, Salop, Somerset, Southampton, Stafford, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, Warwick, Westmoreland, Wilts, Worcester, and York. The last, which is the largest county, is divided into the E., N., and W. Ridings. The counties are again subdivided into districts known as hundreds, wards, lathes, wapentakes, rapes, or tythings, while some are also subdivided into two or three portions for electoral purposes.

Desc. The aspect of the country is various and delightful, presenting all that beautiful variety which is to be found in the most extensive tracts of the globe. Although it possesses dreary scenes lofty mountains, craggy rocks, black barren moors, and wide uncultivated heaths, yet few countries have a smaller proportion of land absolutely sterile and incapable of culture. The richest parts of the country are the midland and southern. Towards the N. it partakes of the barrenness of the neighbouring portion of Scotland. The E. coast is, in many parts, sandy and marshy. A range of rude and elevated land extends from the borders of Scotland to the very heart of England, forming a natural division between the E. and W. sides of the kingdom. Cornwall is also a rough hilly tract; and a similar character pervades part of the adjacent counties.

Mountains. The principal ranges are generally distinguished as the Northern, Cambrian, and the Devonian. The first consist of the Pennine range and the Cumbrian group, the former extending from the Cheviot Hills, on the Scottish borders, to the middle of Derbyshire. In this range is Cross Fell, which attains an elevation of 2900 feet above the level of the sea: and the Peak, in N. Derbyshire, that rises to a height of 1800 feet. The Cumbrian group lies to the W. of the Pennine, being separated from it by the valleys of the Eden and the Lune. In it are Sca Fell, the highest mountain in England, being 3229 feet above the level of the sea, and Helvellyn and Skiddaw, both of which are above 3000 feet. The Cambrian range comprises all the Welsh mountains, and will be spoken of in the article on Wales. The Devonian range includes the hills of Cornwall, Devon, and part of Somersetshire. The elevations in these are not nearly so lofty as those in the others.

Rivers. The most considerable rivers are the Thames, Severn, Medway, Trent, Ouse, Tyne, Tees, Wear, Mersey, Dee, Avon, Eden, and Derwent. In connection with these rivers, an extensive system of canal navigation spreads in all directions throughout the country, by means of which, with an elaborate railway system, easy access is afforded into the interior, and the produce of the various counties and districts is transported to the sea from places the most remote.

Lakes. The most remarkable are Windermere, Ulleswater, Derwent-water, and several others in the N.W. counties, particularly in Westmoreland and Cumberland. The largest, Windermere, is not more than about 3 square miles; but this and all the others are distinguished for the beauty of the scenery with which they are surrounded. They lie embosomed, like polished mirrors, among the loftiest of England’s mountains, and are visited annually by thousands of tourists.

Climate. Humid, but healthy. From the insular situation of England, it is liable to sudden and frequent changes, and to great variations of dryness and moisture.

Forests. Not extensive. Several are preserved for growing timber for the navy. These are, the New Forest, in Hampshire; the Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire; and Windsor Forest.

Zoology. The native animals are the fallow deer, the dog, the fox, the hare, the rabbit, the martin, the badger, mole, hedgehog, &c. The domestic animals are cattle, horses, goats, sheep, hogs, &c. The wild boar was formerly a native of the country, as were also the wolf and the bear; but these have long since disappeared. Of the birds, the most remarkable are the eagle, falcons of various species, owls, ravens, carrion crows, rooks, swans, the cuckoo, the cormorant, the nightingale, the peacock, the swallow, the stork, the curlew, the snipe, the plover, the pheasant, the black-cock, the ptarmigan, which is sometimes, but rarely, met with on the lofty mountains of Cumberland; the grouse, the partridge, the pigeon, the lark, the starling, and the thrush. Along the coasts fish are abundant. Cod is plentiful on the coast of Yorkshire, herrings on the E., and pilchards and mackerel on both the N. and S. sides of Cornwall and Devonshire.

Productions. The principal productions of the country are wheat, barley, oats, rye, French wheat, beans, and peas. The indigenous fruits are few, and of little value: but others have been introduced, and brought to perfection, by the skilful cultivation of the English gardeners. These are chiefly apples, pears, plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, figs, grapes, and other fruits. Hops are cultivated to a considerable extent, principally in Kent. Timber grows abundantly in almost every part of the country; and the trees are mostly oak, elm, ash, beech, larch, alder, and willow.

Minerals. Valuable and abundant. Coal abounds in the northern, and in some of the midland and western counties; iron in Shropshire, Gloucestershire, Derbyshire, and the N. of Lancashire; and it is produced, though not in equal abundance, in other counties. Tin is confined to Cornwall and the adjoining parts of Devonshire, where it has been found from time immemorial. Black-lead is limited to a small district in Cumberland, and mines of copper are wrought in Cornwall, Devonshire, Derbyshirc, and in some parts of Yorkshire and Staffordshire. In many parts of the kingdom marbles and freestone, or calcareous sandstone of various colours and textures, are abundant. There are also mines of rock salt, pits of fuller’s earth, potter’s clay, and quarries of slate.

Manf. Important, being of greater extent than those of any other country. The manufacture of wool is one of the most ancient in the country, and is supposed to have been introduced by the Romans. It is chiefly carried on in Yorkshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Somersetshire. The cotton manufacture is still more extensive, and has been carried to great perfection by the aid of every sort of powerful, complicated, and ingenious machinery. Its principal seat is in the towns of Lancashire and Cheshire. This branch of industry received a great check in 1862 and 1863, in consequence of a stoppage in the supply 0f cotton from America, occasioned by the war between the United and Confederate States. The hardware manufactures, of iron and steel, copper and brass, have been also brought to unrivalled perfection in England; and in this line are produced the heaviest articles in cast and wrought metal, including plates, several inches in thickness, from the rolling mill, for the defensive armour of vessels, as well as others of the most minute kinds, such as pins. needles, and the delicate works of watches. Their principal seat is in the towns of Yorkshire, Warwickshire, and Worcestershire. Silk weaving is carried on in the cities and towns of Spitalfields, Macclesfield, Manchester, and Coventry. Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire are famed for hosiery; and earthenware is finished with beauty and taste, and in great variety, principally at the potteries of Staffordshire. Glass is manufactured in various parts, chiefly in Newcastle, Sunderland, Bristol and, on a smaller scale, at some other places. Porcelain of a very superior quality is made in Derby and Worcester. In London every sort of fine and elegant work is produced; such as cutlery, jewellery, articles of gold and silver, japan ware, cut glass, cabinet and upholstery work, carriages, clocks, watches, type-founding, printing, &c.

COMMERCE. Large, and carried on with almost ever country on the face of the globe. Imp. from the N. of Europe— namely, Denmark, Russia, Sweden, Poland, and Prussia—iron, kelp, timber, hemp, flax, coarse linens, tar, pitch, tallow, corn, pearl and pot ashes, &c.; from Germany, corn, hemp, flax, rags, linens, skins, timber, and wines; from Holland. cheese, hollands gin, butter, rags, hemp, flax, madder, clover, and other seeds, corn, bacon, &c.; from France, brandy, wines, lace, cambric, silks, lawns, trinkets, &c.; and from Spain, Portugal, and Italy, brimstone, cochineal, barilla, oil, fruits, cork, wool, dyewoods, brandy, wines, silk, drugs, gums, &c. The imports from Turkey consist principally of carpets, drugs, dye-stuffs, fruits, silk, &c.; from Canada and the United States are imported flour, provisions, masts, timber, cotton, wool, tobacco, rice, pitch, tar, pearl and pot ashes, indigo, furs, &c.; from South America, cotton, wool, skins, cochineal, logwood, indigo, Brazilwood, sugar, drugs, &c.; from the West Indies, sugars, rum, coffee, pepper, ginger, indigo, drugs, and cotton; from the East Indies, China, and Persia, teas, spices, raw silk, muslins, nankeens, sugar, indigo, cloves and other spices, opium, quicksilver, drugs, gums, rice, salt petre, 8:0. Exp. These consist generally of all the various manufactures, to the annual value of £150,ooo,ooo, of which amount about one fifth consists of foreign and colonial produce which has been imported. In addition to her commerce and manufactures, England has extensive fisheries, both at home and abroad. The Newfoundland fishery employs a considerable number of vessels, and the whale fishery, both in the North and South Seas, is prosecuted with activity and success.

Ext. 425 miles long, from Berwick to the Land’s End, with a breadth varying between 62 and 280. Area, 32,590,397 acres, or 50,922 square miles. Lat. between 50° and 55° 45’ N. Lon. between 1° 45’ E. and 5° 44’ W. Pop. In 1861 it was 18, 954,444.

Source: Beeton’s British Gazetteer 1870. Ward, Lock & Tyler, Paternoster Row, London.