Counties of England and Wales

( Links to pages  on the counties associated with Jane Austen are arranged in alphabetical order below: more will be added to this page as the site is developed)

Berkshire

Cornwall

Gloucestershire

Hampshire

Kent

Middlesex

Oxfordshire

Somersetshire

Staffordshire

Warwickshire

England, the principal and southern part of the island of Great Britain is situated on the North sea, nearly between latitude 50 and about 55 degrees, 45 minutes north. Its general figure is triangular, with one point to the east, another to the west and a third to the north; gradually narrowing form its southern base to its northern extremity, where, by a narrow neck, it touches upon Scotland. Of its three sides, the western is the longest and most irregular, being broken and intersected by various projections of land and arms of the sea. Its circumference, if reckoned along the indentations of the shore, would admit of a large and indefinite estimate; but right lines drawn form its three points, would give, from Berwick-upon –Tweed to the Land’s end in Cornwall, a western side of 425 statute miles; from thence to the South Foreland in Kent, a southern side of 340 miles; and from the latter, back to Berwick, an eastern side of 345 miles.

This space of land is extensive enough to afford every variety of face of country that the superficies of this globe presents; and although its features are moulded on a comparatively minute scale, they are marked with all the agreeable interchange which constitute picturesque beauty. In some parts, plains clothed in the richest verdure, watered by copious streams, and pasturing innumerable cattle, extend as far as the eye can reach. In others, gently rising hills and bending vales, fertile in corn, waving with woods, and interspersed with flowery meadow, offer the most delightful landscapes of rural opulence and beauty. Some tracts furnish prospects of the more romantic and impressive kind; lofty mountains, craggy rocks, deep dells, narrow ravines and tumbling torrents: nor is there wanting as a contrast to those, scenes in which every variety of nature is a different charm, the vicissitude of black barren moors, and wide unanimated heaths.

The richest parts of England are in general, the midland and southern. Towards the north it partakes much of the sterility of the neighbouring Scotland. The eastern coast is in many parts ,sandy and marshy. To the west the whole country of Wales is a mountainous tract, intermixed indeed with vales of great fertility. Another range of rude elevated lands , sometimes rising into lofty mountains, extends from the borders of Scotland to the very heart of England, running perpendicularly form north to south and forming, during its course, a natural division between the eastern and western sides of the kingdom. In this respect, a resemblance, though a humble one, is afforded in our island, to the Apennines of Italy. The long line of Chalk hills, crossing from the midland to the south–west, though never denuded of verdure, generally exhibits marks of a shallow soil. The whole county of Cornwall, which like a vast promontory, juts into the Atlantic Ocean is a rough, hilly tract, mostly bleak and unsightly, but amply repaying by its mineral treasure the deficiencies on its surface. The same character of country extends inland to the adjacent districts.

The rivers of England are numerous, but the extent of land will not permit them to vie in length of course with those of the continent. The streams of the northern districts, taking their rise from the middle ridge of hills, have but a short tract to cross on each side in their passage to the sea. In the central parts, the Trent and the Ouse find room to wander through a considerable expanse of level country. The Severn, springing in Wales, near the Irish channel, and making a large semicircular sweep to reach the same sea again, flows over a space which entitles it to rank at least as the second river of England. The Thames, taking its origin not far form the western side of the kingdom, and passing in a sinuous course to the German Ocean gains a greater distance from its source to its mouth than any other of the British streams. It also possesses the advantage of admitting large vessels to a greater height form the sea than many other of the superior continental rivers; and in general, the rivers of England are favourable to inland navigation.

The English lakes are few, and not considerable for extent. The principle of them lie in the north-western counties and present in miniature all the picturesque scenery of the lakes in mountainous regions.

The sea-coast is broken into a variety of bays, creeks and inlets. On the eastern sides beginning from the mouth of the border river, Tweed succeed the outlets of the Tyne and Tees. The Humber is an arm of the sea, into which many rivers pour their streams, including all those of Yorkshire and the rent with its numerous tributaries. At no great distance southward is the Wash, a broader but much shallower inlet, the sands of which are for the most part, bare at low water. It is the drain of the fens which extend far inward on that side. The coast then rounds with a enrly unbroken line to Harwich-haven, formed by two rivers conjoined at their mouths. Beyond the Essex coast is deeply indented and in some parts cut into islands, and at length forms one side of the funnel like wide mouth of the Thames, of which the Kentish coast is the opposite side. The seaward coast of Kent after bending inwards between the two Fore-lands commences the southern side of the island with the Straits of Dover.

The coast sweeps westward till it breaks into the irregular indentation in which Portsmouth harbour is seated , succeeded by the inlet called Southampton-water, both faced by the Isle of Wight. The remainder of the southern coast make several bays and semilunar flexures, but without any remarkable inlet, except that which forms Plymouth haven till, after passing the lizard point it reaches its extreme westward progress at Land’s-end.

Turning north-eastward, the sea-coast forms one side of the Bristol Channel; the most remarkable of the inlets, which, terminating in the wide mouth of the Severn, cuts deeply into the broadest part of the island. Its opposite side is formed by the Welsh coast, broken by various bays and indentations. One of these composes Milford Haven , regarded as the most secure and capacious natural harbour in South Britain. Beyond the next turn of the land succeeds the deep and extensive by of Cardigan., limited northward by the hooked promontory of Caernarvon. The Isle of Anglesey then presents itself as a barrier against the Irish sea, and gives a new direction to the coast, which running inwards, forms a kind of vast bay, into which the estuaries of the Dee, Mersey, Ribble and other streams enter, and which is protected to the seaward by the Isle of Man. The English coast terminates in Solway Firth, a wide but shallow inlet, interposed between the two kingdoms of Great Britain.

The situation of England with respect to Climate places it in the northern part of the temperate zone, whence it can boast only a scanty share of the genial influence of the sun. Its atmosphere is inclined to moisture , subject to frequent and sudden changes, and is more favourable to the growth,than to the ripening of the products of the earth. No country is clothed with a more beautiful and continued verdure; but its harvests, especially in the northern districts, frequently suffer from unseasonable rains; and the fruits often fall short of perfect maturity. The rigours of winter, however, as well as the parching heats of summer, are here experienced in a much more moderate degree than in parallel latitudes on the continent; a circumstance common to islands. Whilst the sea ports in Holland and Germany are every winter locked up with ice, those of England and even of Scotland are never known to undergo this inconvenience. The western side of the island first receiving the heavy clouds form the Atlantic Ocean, which are afterwards intercepted in their passage by the elevated land in the center,is considerably more exposed then the eastern; but the latter is more frequently involved in fogs and mists. The whole country, some particular spots excepted, is sufficiently salubrious; and the natural longevity of its inhabitants is scarcely surpassed by any other region.

Al the most valuable productions, both animal and vegetable of England have been imported and have owed their subsistence and improvement to constant care and attention. Originally this great island sees to have been a wilderness, almost over-run with wool and peopled only by the natives of the forest. Her roamed the bear,the wolf and the wild boar, now totally extirpated. Herds of stags ranged through the woods , roe-bucks bounded over the hills and wild bulls grazed in marshy pastures. By degrees,the woods were cleared to make way for cultivation; the marches were drained; and the wild animals , invaded in their retreats, gradually disappeared, and their places were supplied by the domestic kinds. England now possesses no other wild quadrupeds than some of the smaller species; such as the fox, the wild cat, the badger, the martin, and others of the weasel tribe; the otter, the hedgehog, the hare, the rabbit, the squirrel, the mole, the dormouse and various species of the rat and the mouse. On the other hand every kind of domestic animal imported form abroad has been reared to the highest degrees of perfection. The horse by the mixture of different breeds, has been trained for all eh purposes of swiftness and strength, so as to surpass in those qualities the same animal in every other country. The horned cattle have been brought to the largest bulk and greatest justness of from. The different races of sheep in England are variously distinguished either for uncommon size, goodness of flesh or plenty and fineness of wool. The deer of our parks, which are originally a foreign breed, are superior in beauty of skin and delicacy of flesh to those of most countries. Even the several kinds of dogs have been trained to degrees of courage ,strength and sagacity, rarely met with elsewhere.

The improvement in the vegetable products of this island is not less striking than in the animal. Nuts, acorns, crabs, and a few wild berries were almost all the variety of food offered by our naive woods. To foreign countries and to the efforts of culture we are indebted for our bread, the roots and greens of our tables and all out garden fruit. The barley and hops for our malt liquors and the apples for our cyder are equally the gifts of other lands. Even the peasant is now fed with delicacies unknown at the rude feasts of the petty kings of the country in its savage and uncultivated state.

The rivers and seas of England are stocked with a great variety of fish, which yield a plentiful article of provision. The river fish, indeed, from the great increase of populations are in many parts much diminished. But the sea is an inexhaustible source and every exertion to procure food from thence is amply repaid. The fisheries are at present a great object of attention; and the whole sea-coast is enlivened with numerous inhabitants who gain their chief subsistence from the deep.

In subterranean riches nature has been peculiarly bountiful to this country, though it is an advantage which skill and industry are requisite to bring to effect, and therefore belong to its civilized state. Its metallic products, especially its tin, were known by foreigners probably before the natives were acquainted with their value. It now derives vast emolument from a plentiful store of the most useful metals, the extraction and working of which are singularly assisted by an abundance of fuel, also derived from the earth. Fossil coal is more largely distributed over this island than over any other equal tract; and no one circumstance contributes so essentially to its comfort and opulence, now that the population and agriculture have laid waste its ancient forests. Other useful minerals are found in different parts, and will require notice under the districts which produce them.

Such, in its main points, is the country we are now to describe; a land n the whole well adapted to human habitation, provided the industry of man assiduously avails itself of the gift of nature. But were this powerful spring to slacken, it would soon relapse to the condition primarily attached to a northern climate and a turbid atmosphere.

The principal divisions into which civil policy has distributed this kingdom are counties or shires, of which England properly so named contains forty and Wales twelve.

Text: England Described etc (1818) by John Aikin M.D.

Map: Cary’s Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc.,(1812) by John Cary

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