THE PROVINCIAL HISTORY OF ENGLAND.
IX.—Tun WEST DOWNS AND THE VALLEY OF THE SEVERN.. -GEOGRAPHY.
WE have grouped together these districts, because though the northern and southern extremities have but little in common, the intermediate district has so large a common element with both that it would not be easy to treat of any of them separately. We include, then, under these designations a tract of country extend- ing from the English Channel to the north part of Worcestershire, that county forming the northern district, and Gloucestershire a. central district, with which it is closely connected in its history ; while Gloucestershire, again, is equally bound up with the history of the southern districts of East Somerset, Wiltshire and East. Dorset. Thus, though Weymouth and Worcester have little in common, each is closely connected in historical events with the fortunes of Bristol, Bath, and Gloucester, which thus form a con- necting link between them.
The general character of this tract of country is described in the titles which we have adopted. Geographically it lies to the east of the closer network of hill and vale of which we have spoken under the name of the "West Country," and also of the southern portion, of the wilder fastnesses of Wales, whilst on its own eastern frontier it passes into the forest lands and wild commons of Hampshire, the downs of Berkshire, and the valley of the Thames, the rich woods of the western parts of Oxfordshire, and the tree-girt en- closures and long avenues of Warwickshire. It thus forms natu- rally the border-land or debateable country between the West and the Centre of Southern England, though it belongs in its essential characteristics to the former rather than the latter. Its climate is very varied, the colder and damper atmosphere of the extensive downlands of South Wiltshire contrasting strongly with the milcl and genial air of the wide southern and western valleys, and the temperature varying rather in accordance with the physical con- formation of the districts than with the degree of geographical latitude, the more northerly portions being in several cases the more genial.
The district may be described in general as one of broad high- ways and wide-spreading and undulating table-land. The higher ranges, commencing in Dorsetshire with a direction nearly parallel to the coast line, and dividing North from South Wilts in lines extending obliquely from south-west to north-east, dip still more in the same direction along the Gloucestershire valleys, until in Worcestershire they form eastern and western frontier lines to the county stretching directly from south to north, the remark- able hill called Bredon standing as a. solitary watch-tower or out- post to guard the southern entrance of the intermediate valley. The water line undergoes a similar change, the east-to-west direction of the south coast gradually inclining on the East. Somerset and Gloucestershire coasts from south-west to north-east, till, as the river Severn, in Worcestershire it runs in a direct lino from north to south parallel to the western hill frontier of that
• fainter and fainter as we recede from the wide river mouth. to the east. Chalk, with the formations which lie above or under The southern coast line of this province is not long, but very it, is the key to the geological structure of East Dorset. The varied in character. Less than a mile of precipitous cliffs from chalk formation is bounded by the plastic clay. The Purbeck and the Hampshire frontier of Dorsetshire is succeeded by a low sandy Portland limestone, and the marl, greensand, the iron-sand, &c., tongue of land, running about a mile further in a south-west between the chalk range and the sea coast, are the principal remain- direction to the narrow entrance of Poole harbour, a piece of ing features. The climate of this country varies much, the warmth water penetrating six miles inland in a westerly direction, ex- natural to its geographical situation being much modified, by the pending to a breadth of four or five miles, and very irregular in soil and the bare elevation of the higher ranges ; but the valleys outline. Into it fall the Frome, Piddle, and other streams, are generally very genial, and in the eleventh century it could and it consists chiefly of banks of mud, which are dry at low boast of vineyards. The surface of the country consists chiefly water, and are separated from each other by deeper channels, of loose sand and gravel, clay and chalk. The most fertile part is The town of Poole is on a peninsula on the north aide of where the three are mixed by the torrent streams in the valleys, the harbour. The harbour contains several islands, the largest and the poorest, the sandy districts near Hampshire. The chalk lies of which, near the entrance, is about a mile and a half long towards Wiltshire, the clay along the coast and towards Devon- by nearly a mile in breadth, and has on it an old castle, shire and Somersetshire. The pasture lands greatly predominate The water over the banks is too shallow for any but small or over the arable, and sheep and cattle over corn.
lightly laden boats, and only four of the channels are navigable Chalk is the principal geological feature of Wiltshire, forming for large vessels. The shore of Poole harbour is low, and is the downs which spread over its eastern, central, and southern embanked near the infall of the Frome river. Three miles inland districts. This chalk region is divided into two parts by the vale to the west from this portion of the harbour, on an eminence of Pewsey (composed of greensand). To the northern of these between the rivers Frome and Piddle, stands the town of Ware- chalk divisions belong Marlborough Downs, to the southern, ham. From the sea entrance of Poole harbour "a low shore runs Salisbury Plain. The boundaries of the northern district extend southward for nearly three miles, and then becomes steep and from Bishopton (on the Berkshire frontier) on the south-east of turns eastward," forming a bay, the southern limit of which is Swindon, to Ileddington, its westernmost point, a little to the south- Headfast Point. "It then runs for about four miles south by east of Caine, and thence round again to the frontier of Berkshire, west to Peverel Point and Darlston Head ; thence west by south by Great Bedwin, at Great Shelburne. The chalk district thus five miles to St. Aldhelm's or St. Alban's Head (344 feet high), enclosed is divided into two parts by a valley from Hungerford to and continues in an irregular line west by north to Weymouth Avebury, through which the river Kennet runs, with high downs Bay," forming in the intermediate coast line several smaller bays. on each side. The most remarkable elevation historically is "The shore of Weymouth Bay is low, and extends two miles Boundway Down, above Devizes, where Sir William Waller
south to the towns of Melcombe-Regis and Weymouth, where the fought and lost one of his battles during the Civil Wars of the cliffs recommence, and ran a mile south-west to Sandsfoot Castle, reign of Charles I. This western chalk district (in shape something where a low shore extends two miles south by east to Portland like a horse-shoe) is to a great extent still uncultivated and un- Castle, on the peninsula or island of Portland." The lofty coast enclosed. The southern chalk district, commencing on the north•
of this island takes a circuit of five or six miles to the Bill of side of Inkpen Beacon (the highest point in England of the chalk Portland, the south-west part of the province, and thence about formation, 1,011 feet above the sea), sweeps round in a very three miles northward, to the commencement of the Chesil Bank, irregular boundary line westward to Westbury, and thence by which connects the north-western extremity of the isle of Port- Maiden Bradley and Shaftesbury to Wilton. It is a great hilly land with the mainland. "The isle of Portland is about four district, " furrowed " by several valleys with their river-cords,
miles long, and in the widest part nearly a mile and a half broad," these valleys uniting near Salisbury to form the valley of the and is composed entirely of freestone rock. Its highest point is Lower Avon. Salisbury Plain is an elevated platform of wide 458 feet above the sea, the cliffs on the western aide being very downs covered with scanty herbage ; and though some progress steep, but at the Bill the elevation is not more than twenty or has been made of late years in enclosing and cultivating parts of county. The corresponding line of the valleys gradually thirty feet. To the south of Weymouth and to the east of the passes from the horizontal to the perpendicular of a right angle, neck of land connecting Portland with the mainland is Portland the whole province thus turning in succession, as it were, a Road, a natural place of refuge for shipping ; but a dangerous friendly but wary front to corners from all directions. No wonder, surf called Portland Race runs from the west of Portland Island then, that its valleys have been the roadways of so many con- to St. Alban's Head. Portland Island thus forms a sea-coast tending armies, that its high places are crowned by the remains boundary mark between the western and the central portions of of so many strong entrenchments, and that its towns and cities the South coast line of England, whil3 the cut de sac of Poole have been the pivots on which the fate of all England has so harbour displays much the same guarded gateway towards the more many times turned. The situation of the towns is a remarkable eastern coasts that the valley openings do along the whole eastern feature in the historical geography of the province. From Poole frontier of this province.
and Weymouth to Worcester they stand at points of critical Passing inland, the principal elevations of Dorsetshire are the importance, and form a chain of stations from which every aspect chalk downs, which " entering the county from Wiltshire on the of the approaches is covered. The two first-named places watch northern side of Cranborne Chase, two or three miles south-east the southern coast line, while the minor outposts of Shaftesbury from Shaftesbury, turn to the south and run to the valley of the and Sherborne guard the eastern and western approaches on the Stour, in the neighbourhood of Blandford. From this valley they other side of the county of Dorset. The chain is resumed in run nearly west to the neighbourhood of Beaminster," at the Wiltshire, with Salisbury and a line of outposts all along the beginning of the West Country district, " and form the northern eastern frontier watching the entrances of the valleys on that boundary of the basin whose drainage is received by Poole side, while on the western side of that county another succession of harbour." From Beaminster a spur of these chalk hills bends similar stations form the portal towers to the openings of the same south and south-east, running nearly parallel to the coast, and valleys towards Somersetshire and Gloucestershire. As we lose the forming the South Downs. These Downs gradually approach supporting backbone of the West Country, and pass beyond the the coast to within four miles' distance, a few miles to the entrenched camps of South Wiltshire, we find the water frontier on north-east of Melcombe. From Lulworth the chalk hills run the west and the great valley opening from the east and north eastward to Headfast Point. Some of the elevations in this guarded by the three important cities of Bristol (with its outwork, quarter are considerable. Swyre Hill, on the coast in the Bath), Gloucester, and Worcester, the interval between the two last district between Wareham and the sea (the western portion of cities being covered by the Malvern ranges. Towards the north- what is called the Isle of Purbeck), is 669 feet high. The basin eastern frontier, meanwhile, Cirencester and Evesham hold corn- enclosed between the North and South Downs is called the mending positions intheir respectivecountiesof Gloucesterand Wor- "Trough of Poole." A water-cord is stretched across East Dorset caster, and continue the line of observation over the valley breaks. by its principal river, the Stour, which, rising in Stourhead Park, on The sea-water frontier is comparatively small, and inland influ- the borders of Somersetshire, runs south by east through Dorset- ences necessarily preponderate, but the great artery of the Severn shire, joins the Avon near Christchurch, in West Hampshire, and pierces the northern district with a stream of maritime life and then forms with it a little estuary on the coast. The more southern activity, the influence of which is felt to some distance beyond its part of the country is watered by the river Frome, which, rising to banks, though its intelligent force may be gentler than that of the the north-east of Beaminster, runs along the basin between the vehement tidal wave of the river itself. It is, indeed, in connec- North and South Downs in a south-easterly direction to Dorchester, tion with this Severn system that we find the three leading towns and thence eastward until it falls into Poole harbour. The Piddle of Bristol, Gloucester, and Worcester, the influence becoming passes to the same place froln the North Downs, at a point more The southern coast line of this province is not long, but very it, is the key to the geological structure of East Dorset. The varied in character. Less than a mile of precipitous cliffs from chalk formation is bounded by the plastic clay. The Purbeck and the Hampshire frontier of Dorsetshire is succeeded by a low sandy Portland limestone, and the marl, greensand, the iron-sand, &c., tongue of land, running about a mile further in a south-west between the chalk range and the sea coast, are the principal remain- direction to the narrow entrance of Poole harbour, a piece of ing features. The climate of this country varies much, the warmth water penetrating six miles inland in a westerly direction, ex- natural to its geographical situation being much modified, by the pending to a breadth of four or five miles, and very irregular in soil and the bare elevation of the higher ranges ; but the valleys outline. Into it fall the Frome, Piddle, and other streams, are generally very genial, and in the eleventh century it could and it consists chiefly of banks of mud, which are dry at low boast of vineyards. The surface of the country consists chiefly water, and are separated from each other by deeper channels, of loose sand and gravel, clay and chalk. The most fertile part is The town of Poole is on a peninsula on the north aide of where the three are mixed by the torrent streams in the valleys, the harbour. The harbour contains several islands, the largest and the poorest, the sandy districts near Hampshire. The chalk lies of which, near the entrance, is about a mile and a half long towards Wiltshire, the clay along the coast and towards Devon- by nearly a mile in breadth, and has on it an old castle, shire and Somersetshire. The pasture lands greatly predominate The water over the banks is too shallow for any but small or over the arable, and sheep and cattle over corn. it, much still is open and barren. In the deep valleys, where the villages nestle beside the streams, cultivation is more general. All this chalk district has but few patches of wood, and is gene- rally in the fullest extent of the word "open country," being one of the great sheep-walks of England.
The northern part of Wiltshire presents a singular contrast to the hilly and bare district which predominates in the south. Here we have a nearly flat plain, extending to the foot of the Gloucestershire hills, "chequered with corn-fields and rich pastures ; and here are produced the cheeses for which the county is known." In early times this district was covered by a forest which is said to have proved a serious obstacle to the Roman Vespaaian, and the district is still richly wooded over its larger part. Such elevations as occur are so gradual as to be scarcely perceptible. The rivers of Wiltshire are few of them navigable, and these only for a few miles, but this defect has been to a great extent repaired by the system of canals, which found here one of its earliest fields of enterprise. The water meadows are also extremely well managed. The population of Wiltshire is from the nature of the country much greater proportionally in the smaller northern district, though every succeeding census will probably alter these relations to the advantage of the south, with the progress of cultivation and farming.
We have already spoken of the general character of East Somerset, as a district of hills and wide, marshy valleys. The higher ranges between the Parret and the Bristol Avon generally ran parallel to the course of the river along their valleys, from south-east to north-west. Passing from the line of the Parrot to the north-east of Bridgewater, Langport, Ilchester, and Yeovil, which form a series of frontier outposts, we cross a valley to the long low range called the Polden Hills. The natural gate towers of this valley eastward are the line of hills extending in a southerly direction from Wincanton to the north-east of Sherbome, on the Dorsetshire frontiers, at each extremity of which are valley passages to Dorsetshire and Wiltshire. Passing the wide level of the Brue and Axe rivers, in which lies Glastonbury, and at the extremity of which we arrive by Bruton at the junction of Somer- set, Wilts, and Dorset, we reach the great and wide range of the Mendip Hills, the southern boundary of which is marked by the towns of Axbridge, Wells, and Shepton Mallet. They extend from the hills near Frome to the sea. Their length is twenty-five miles, and breadth in one part six and seven miles. They rise in some parts to more than 1,000 feet, and the defile of Cheddar cliffs is too well known to need description. The mineral treasures of the Mendips are zinc and calamine, while north-west of Frome are numerous coal-pits. Another valley, rather narrow at its western end, where the little river Yeo finds its way to the sea, separates the Mendip range from the hills and high downs which lie around Bristol and Bath, to the north of which flows the Avon, whose feeders intersect this hilly district in various directions. The great and inferior oolite formations of these hills are quarried at Bath and Duudry, and the city of Bath is built of this stone. Somerset- shire is a corn-growing county, the soil in some parts being very good ; but there are also rich pastures, and the Cheddar cheese has obtained a considerable reputation. Though it is not bare of wood, there are no forests in East Somerset.
Gloucestershire is divided into two portions by a long range of hills and hill district, which runs from north-east to south-west, right across the country, in a diagonal nearly parallel to the mouth of the Severn. These are the Cotswold Hills, divided into the upper and lower ranges, and they extend from Chipping Camp- den to Bath. Two hills of the range are 1,086 and 1,134 feet high respectively. This range divides the basin of the Thames from that of the Severn. We have already spoken of the plain which extends through North Wiltshire to the southern side of these hills. The vale which lies on the northern side, between them and the Severn, is divided into two portions—the upper and lower—or the vales of Gloucester and Berkeley. The proper boundaries of the whole valley are Bristol and Stratford- on-Avon, the vale of Evesham forming a continuation of the Gloucestershire valleys. On the western side of the Severn is the district called the Forest of Dean, which long preserved nearly entire its forest character. The south-west portion of the county is a coal district, which extends into Somersetshire, and the Forest of Dean is one great coal-field, and was from early times known for its iron-works. It produces chestnut, oak, and beech trees, and has been long famous for its apple orchards, with which the valleys on the other side of the Severn are also inter- spersed. It has possessed peculiar privileges and exemptions from rates and taxes, as being extra-parochial. its western boundary (and that of the county in this part) is the river Wye. The rich vales of Gloucester and Berkeley are among the most famous of the dairy and cheese districts of England. The climate varies much in these valleys and on the Cotswold, the air of which, being keen and the soil not deep, they are naturally fitted for pasture only. It is only where they have been carefully cultivated that crops of oats, barley, and wheat can be produced. The soil of the valleys is much deeper and proportionately productive. The county of Gloucester, besides its rivers, is watered by canals, one line of which connects the rivers Severn and Thames. The principal source of the latter river is in this county. The two Avons form frontier lines on the north-east and south-west, between this county and Warwickshire and Somersetshire respectively, the Upper Avon falling into the Severn near Tewkesbury, the lower, below Bristol.
Worcestershire is generally a flat county, but "on the eastern and western sides are two ranges of hills nearly parallel, which partly bound and partly intersect it. The eastern range com- mences in the north with the Clent Hills, extends to the north- west of Bromsgrove, and forming near Redditch the boundary between this county and Warwickshire, terminates to the north of Evesham." The western range begins "in the neighbour- hood of Bradley, and runs southward to the great chain of the Malvern Hills, in which it terminates" near the south- western limits of the county. The climate, especially in the middle, south, and west of the county, is particularly mild, and the soil very productive. The elevation of the valleys of the Severn and Avon is but little above that of the sea, the higher elevations of the county being between Bromsgrove and Birming- ham. The county is an apple and pear orchard-growing and cider and perry-producing district. There are large market-gar- den grounds in the neighbourhood of Evesham, which yield a con- siderable traffic, and there are also many hop gardens in various parts. The average produce of wheat is greater in this county than in many others, and indeed it appears to lack hardly anything of the natural wealth of the soil. The hedge-rows abound in fine-grown timber, and there is no deficiency of woods and coppices. The rich pastures are excellent feeding-grounds for sheep, but the breed of cattle is taken from Herefordshire. The valleys of the Severn and the Avon particularly afford the best pasture-grounds. Be- sides these rivers, the principal are the Teme, a rapid river, which enters from the west, and partly divides Worcestershire from Herefordshire, falling into the Severn not far from Worcester, but not navigable ; and the small river, the Salwarp, on which stands Droitwich. There are also several canals traversing the northern part of the county. Such is the northernmost and probably, on the whole, the part most favoured by nature, of the province whose geography we have attempted to describe.