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Worcestershire


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Is bisected by the river Severn, which enters the county at Bewdley and leaves it near Tewkesbury. The Malverns formed the boundary with Herefordshire in the south‐west. The early importance of Worcester was as a river crossing and it retained its strategic significance until the 17th cent. One form of the name was Wigornaceastre, which may derive from the people of the Wyre forest. The area formed part of the territory of the Hwicce and then of the Mercians.

Though sheltered from Welsh attacks by Hereford to the west, the county was for centuries a border area, and fell under the jurisdiction of the Council of the Marches in Tudor times. Four great abbeys were early established, at Pershore, Evesham, Malvern, and Worcester itself. The cathedral at Worcester was rebuilt several times before the Norman Conquest. The present building was started in 1084 by St Wulfstan but not finished until much later.

In the 16th cent. Camden wrote of Worcester that it ‘really deserved admiration both for its antiquity and beauty’ and noted that the shire was celebrated for its perry and for the salt springs at Droitwich. Worcestershire retained its prosperity in the 18th cent. but the character of the county was beginning to change. There had always been local industries and the Severn was always a busy thoroughfare. Droitwich salt‐pans went back to Domesday, Kidderminster was famous for textiles and then carpets, while there were glass manufactories at Stourbridge from Tudor times. In the 17th cent. the Foleys established nail‐making at Stourbridge on a grand scale. The development of a canal and railway network brought Worcestershire more into the national context, as it did Warwickshire. Stourport was scarcely more than a solitary inn in the 1770s when it became the junction of the new Staffordshire and Worcester canal with the Severn, but subsequently developed into a busy town. Great Malvern jumped from a small local spa to a national one in the middle of the 19th cent. with the popularity of hydropathy. The southern and western towns of Evesham, Pershore, and Tenbury remained small, but the northern parts were sucked into the Black Country complex. Dudley developed into a great mining and industrial centre, far exceeding Worcester in population. By the local government reorganization of 1972, the county was merged with its neighbour Herefordshire. ‘The Malverns are no more,’ it was declared. But the forced marriage, resented by Herefordshire, ended in divorce in 1998.

Subjects: British History.


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