Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for SOMERSET, or Somersetshire

SOMERSET, or Somersetshire, a maritime county; bounded on the NW, by the Bristol channel; on the N, by Gloucestershire; on the E, by Wilts; on the SE, by Dorset; on the S, by Dorset and Devon; on the W, by Devon. Its outline is irregular; but may be said to comprise a large oblong, extending south-south-westward from the boundary with Gloucester, and a smaller oblong, extending westward from the S half of the former to the W boundary with Devon. Its greatest length is 71 miles; its greatest breadth is 40 miles; its circuit is about 230 miles; its extent of coast is about 65 miles; and its area is 1,047,220 acres. The coast is low and sandy in most of the N, cliffy and picturesque in much of the S or W; and has no considerable indentation except Bridgewater bay. The surface exhibits almost every variety of feature, from flat fen and luxuriant valley to barren moor and lofty hill. Much of the fen has been highly improved. Many of the valleys have finely contoured flanks and bottoms. Some of the hills are isolated, while others extend in ranges: and some are smooth and verdant, while others are rugged and desolate. Lansdown and Dundry hills adorn the N; the Mendips range across one half or more of the central part of the great oblong; the Poldens range across one-third of the S part of that oblong; the Blackdowns are on the boundary with Dorset; the Quantocks and the Brendons finely diversify the E and the central parts of the smaller oblong; and a moor extends in wild ruggedness over the W border to Devon. The greatest heights range in altitude from 790 to 1,668 feet. The Lower Avon river runs in the N, partly in the interior, but chiefly along the boundary; and the chief other rivers are the Frome, the Yeo, the Axe, the Brue, the Parret, the Isle, the Ivel or Yeo, the Tone, the Carey, and the Exe. Devonian rocks occupy most of the W half of the smaller oblong; trias rocks occupy much of the E half of that oblong, and occur plentifully also throughout the W part of the great oblong; lias and oolite rocks occupy most of the other parts of that oblong; carboniferous rocks, variously lower and upper, the latter inclusive of the coal measures, form considerable tracts of the great oblong, all N of Shepton-Mallet and Wells; lower greensand forms a tract around Wedmore; and alluvial deposits form considerable tracts along the Axe and the Brue, to the coast and northward. The chief useful minerals are iron-ore, lead-ore, calamine, manganese, coal, lime, ochre, fullers' earth, and building stone. Mineral springs are at Bath, Castle-Cary, Queen-Camel, Weston-super-Mare, East Chinnock, Nether Stoney, Alford, Ashill, Wells, Glastonbury, and Wellington.

The soil of the alluvial flats varies from moss to deep strong clay; that of the adjacent slopes is chiefly calca- reous sand; that of Taunton vale is prevailingly a rich loam; that of other valley grounds is variable, but mostly fertile; and that of the hills and moors ranges from deep loam to thin poor gravel. About 900,000 acres are arable and pasture-land; and about 25,000 are woodland. The estates and the farms are well divided. The chief crops are wheat, oats, barley, beans, and potatoes. Hop grounds exist, but not extensively; orchards abound; and market-gardens are numerous. Much butter and much good cheese are made. The cattle are chiefly Devons, Herefords, and short horns; and the sheep are South-downs, Leicesters, or crosses between these and the Cotswolds. Manufactures embrace woollens, broadcloths, cassimeres, serges, linens, silks, haircloths, crapes, stockings, gloves, shoes, paper, leather, iron implements, and malt. Railways traverse the great oblong and the E part of the great oblong, and have plentiful ramifications; but are awanting in the centraland W parts of the small oblong. The aggregate length of turnpikes, in 1839, was 876 miles; of streets and roads under local acts, 89 miles; of all other highways, 3,346 miles.

The county contains 466 parishes, parts of 2 others, and 6 extra-parochial tracts; is divided into 42 hundreds or liberties, and 6 boroughs; has 27 market-towns, 13 towns with each upwards of 2,000 inhabitants, and about 1,385 smaller towns, villages, and hamlets; and was cut, till 1867, into the two divisions E and W for parliamentary representation, but is now cut into three divisions, E, Mid, and W. The act of 1844, for consolidating detached parts of counties, transferred Holwell parish to Dorset. The registration county excludes 95,100 acres of the electoral county; includes 47,435 acres of adjoining electoral counties; comprises altogether 1,009,555 acres; and is divided into 17 districts. The chief seats amount to about 160. The county is governed by a lord lieutenant, a high sheriff, about 65 deputy lientenants, and about 280 magistrates; is in the W military district, and the W j judiciary circuit; and, with exclusion of Bedminster parish, constitutes the diocese of Bath and Wells. The assizes and the quarter sessions are held at Taunton, Bridgewater, and Wells; county jails are at Taunton and Shepton-Mallet; and a city jail is at Bath. The police force in 1864, inclusive of that for Bath, Bridgewater, and Chard, comprised 382 men, at an annual cost of £25,133. The crimes committed in 1864, were 565; the persons apprehended, 492; the known depredators and suspected persons at large, 2,722; the houses of bad character, 327. Electors in 1865, of the E div., 11,867; of the W div., 8,632. Poor rates of the registration county in 1863, £229,426. Marriages in 1863, 3,207,-of which 730 were not according to the rites of the Established church; births, 14,528,-of which 852 were illegitimate; deaths, 9,799,-of which 3,503 were at ages under 5 years, and 358 at ages above 85. The places of worship, within the electoral county, in 1851, were 553 of the Church of England, with 174,723 sittings; 110 of Independents, with 27,087 s.; 89 of Baptists, with 20,653 s.; 15 of Quakers, with 3,235 s.; 8 of Unitarians, with 1,794 s.; 1 of Moravians, with 300 s.; 202 of Wesleyans, with 39,553 s.; 33 of Primitive Methodists, with 3,745 s.; 44 of Bible Christians, with 4,881 s.; 4 of the Wesleyan Association, with 918 s.; 26 of Wesleyan Reformers, with 4,177 s.; 4 of Lady Huntingdon's Connexion, with 1,160 s.; 2 of the New Church, with 440 s.; 12 of Brethren, with 1,526 s.; 9 of isolated congregations, with 2,253 s.; 2 of the Catholic and Apostolic Church, with 230 s.; 6 of Latter Day Saints, with 678 s.; 8 of Roman Catholics, with 940 s.; and 1 of Jews, with 40 s. The schools were 490 public day-schools, with 36,512 scholars; 891 private day-schools, with 17,208 s.; 719 Sunday schools, with 56,090 s.; and 16 evening schools for adults, with 230 s. Real property in 1815, £2,308,723; in 1843, £2,991,746; in 1860, £3,184,282,-of which £4,171 were in quarries, £34,024 in mines, £220 in ironworks, £17,326 in canals, £187,677 in railways, and £25,993 in gasworks. Pop. in 1801, 273,577; in 1821, 355,789; in 1841, 435,599; in 1861, 444,873. Inhabited houses, 87,456; uninhabited, 4,147; building, 552. Pop. of the registration county, in 1851, 462,282; in 1861 ,463,261. Inhabited houses, 91,297; uninhabited, 4,340; building, 603.

The territory now forming Somerset belonged to the Belgæ; was included, by the Romans, in their Britannia Prima; became part of the Saxon Wessex; suffered severely from the Danes, and gave refuge to Alfred from their incursions; and was the scene, at later periods, of the battles of Sedgemoor and Lansdown, and the sieges of Bristol, Bridgewater, and Taunton. The title of Earl of Somerset, along with 61 lordships in the county, was given by William the Conqueror, to Sir W. Mohun; descended to his posterity; was transmuted into the title of Duke in 1442; and was revived by James I., in favour of his minion Robert Carr. The title of Duke of Somerset became attainted in 1472; was afterwards given successively to the third son of Henry V., to an illegitimate son of Henry VIII., and to Protector Seymour; became attainted at the Protector s condemnation; and was restored, in 1660, to the Protector's great grandson, the Marquis of Hertford.-Drnidica1 circles are at Stanton-Drew, Monkton-hill, Withycombe, and Chew-Magna; British camps, at Leigh-down, Ashton, Doleberry, Bleadonhill, Maesknoll, Portbury, Banwell, and Worlehill; Roman camps, at Doleberry, North Cadbury, Hawkridge, Douxborough, Bunwell, Bowditch, Modbury, Neroche, and about 13 other places; Saxon or Danish camps, at Wiveliscombe, Porlock, and about 8 other places; and an enormous tumulus, at Uphill. The Roman Fosse way and other Roman roads have left vestiges; and many Roman monuments, of great interest, have been found at Bath, Cadbury, Portbury, Ilchester, and other places. Old abbeys or interesting remains of them, are at Glastonbury, Bath, Wells, Keynsham, Hinton, Banwell, Bruton, Muchelney, and Athelney; and old churches, or parts of them, with artistic features, at Uphill, Cannington, Dunster, Stogursey, Taunton, Compton-Martin, Christon, and Portbury.

(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a maritime county"   (ADL Feature Type: "countries, 2nd order divisions")
Administrative units: Somerset AncC
Place: Somerset

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