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Is one of the bigger counties, even after losing part of its southern fringe to Avon in the reorganization of 1972. The balance of the county has been much affected by two great towns. Bristol was a major city with a mint well before the Conquest and in 1373 was given status as a county in its own right. Consequently it was outside county government. Cheltenham was a mushroom development of the late 18th cent., after the celebrated visit by George III in 1789 had helped to spread the fame of its waters.

Roman Gloucestershire was prosperous. A military base was soon established at Gloucester (Glevum); Cirencester (Corinium) became the second largest town in Roman Britain; great villas at Woodchester and at Chedworth testify to the wealth of some of the inhabitants. The local inhabitants were the Dobunni tribe. After the withdrawal of the legions, much of Gloucestershire fell to the Saxons in 577, when Ceawlin of Wessex defeated British chiefs near Cirencester. But Wessex did not long retain the area. In 628, Penda, pagan king of Mercia, defeated the Wessex levies, and took possession. The eastern part became the kingdom of the Hwicce under Mercian overlordship: the western fringes of the Forest of Dean formed part of the autonomous kingdom of the Magonsaetans. This division was reflected in the ecclesiastical organization. The Hwicce territories became part of the see of Worcester, while the Magonsaetans fell under the jurisdiction of Hereford, founded in 676. The area changed hands again, falling once more to Wessex: Athelstan pushed back the Welsh, with the boundary becoming the Wye rather than the Severn, and died at Gloucester in 940.

After the Norman Conquest, Gloucestershire, first named as a county in 1016, was still a frontier region, and the earl of Gloucester had palatine powers. The Cotswold pastures had proved ideal for sheep, and a flourishing cloth industry established itself around Stroud and Dursley. The creation of a bishopric at Gloucester in 1541, after the dissolution of the monasteries, gave a shot in the arm to the county town.

As the cloth industry in the east and mining in the west went into decline, the county's industries diversified—wagon works at Gloucester, aeronautics at Bristol, piano‐making, printing, furniture, chemicals, and tourism in the Cotswold valleys. In the 1960s the county was criss‐crossed by the M4 running east–west and by the M5 running north–south: the interchange at Almondsbury was briefly a traffic sensation. Even more important was the Severn bridge in 1966 which brought to an end the old Beachley–Aust ferries. A second bridge opened in 1996.

Subjects: British History.

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