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Cheltenham

Clifton

THIS county is bounded on the north by part of Warwickshire, Worcestershire, and part of Herefordshire; on the west by the remainder of Herefordshire and Monmouthshire; on the south by Somersetshire and Wiltshire ; on the east by Oxfordshire and the remainder of Warwickshire. From north-east to south-west it stretches more than sixty miles in breadth it never exceeds thirty-five miles. Of its natural boundaries, the Wye takes up a considerable share of the western part, and the Avon a small portion of the southern. Its area in square miles is stated at 1,222. The divisions are four in number, subdivided into twenty-eight hundreds.

The face of country in Gloucestershire is greatly diversified, nature having disposed it into three districts of very different characters. The Hill, the Vale, and the Forest, are placed longitudinally with respect to each other, in an eastern, a middle, and a western stripe. Of these, the eastern is the largest, and is commonly called the Coteswold. This division abounds in springs, almost every dike having its nil, and every valley its brook. The soil is generally a calcareous loam, mostly mixed with gravel and small stones, the latter of which are almost every where found near the surface. Sheep have long been the principal object of the Coteswold husbandry, cattle being secondary, and horses and swine kept only for the use of the farm. In many parts a short fine grass is produced, particularly favourable to sheep, of which Dyer speaks in the following manner:

High Coteswold also ‘mong the shepherd swains

Is oft remember’d, tho’ the greedy plough Preys on its carpet.

The native sheep of this district were a small light kind, with a very fine but scanty fleece. The breed has of late years been much improved by mixtures from other counties with respect to weight of carcass and quantity of wool; though at the same time the wool has been rendered coarser. It is still however in high esteem as combing wool. Coteswold is particularly distinguished for the cultivation of that excellent artificial grass, saintfoin; which is used both for pasture and hay. The Stroud-water hills form a tract connected with the Coteswold, but sinking by gradation into the Vale. The soil is for the most part a light loam. The values, particularly in the neighbourhood of Stroud, possess considerable beauty.

The Vale district includes the entire tract bounded on the east by the Coteswold hills, and on the west by the Severn. It is usually subdivided into the vales of Evesham (so called) and Gloucester, and the vale of Berkeley.; the latter of which is separated from the two first, and is very difrent in rural management. In general they all afford the usual, products of arable, pasture, and meadow; but the cheese, for which the county is peculiarly famous, is the growth of a large part of the vale which bounds the eastern bank of the Severn. The cattle of this quarter are numerous and of various species ; that called the Gloucester breed being the predominating kind, though the long-horned breed of Staffordshire and of other midland counties seems likely to dispossess the original stock. The dairies in the vale of Berkeley are considered as superior to the rest, which is chiefly owing to their better management.

The western, which is by much the smaller district, is separated from the rest of the county by the Severn. It is wholly varied with hill and dale, and is principally occupied by the flirest of Dean, which was once a considerable tract, but has of late years been thinned by frequency of felling, and narrowed by increase , of cultivation It was long ago regarded as particularly valuable for the goodness and strength of its timber; but many sovereigns have granted parts of it away. The vale and forest of Dean abound in orchards which annually produce great plenty of excellent cyder. The Styre, a kind in great esteem, is almost peculiar to the western banks of the Severn. Some of the perry of this district is the basis of most of the champaign sold in the metropolis. The principal minerals which it possesses are iron ore, and coal. The former is found in abundance in the forest of Dean, and many works for smelting and other purposes are carried on within its precincts. Coal is plentiful both here and in Kingswood near Bristol, which last supplies that city for domestic and manufacturing purposes.

Limestone of good quality is met with in these parts; especially from Cromehall to Aust passage westward, and to Sodbury eastward; and to St. Vincent rocks near Bristol, which yields a lime of peculiar whiteness and strength. Stone for building of various qualities is raised from the Coteswold quarries; and in the forest of Dean is found a grit of which the best stones for cyder mills are made.

The Severn, the second commercial river in England, enters this county at Tewkesbury, where it receives the Upper Avon from ‘Worcestershire. Proceeding in a southwestern direction to Gloucester, it divides about a mile above that city into two streams, which unite below it, forming the tract of land called Alney island. At some distance below, it makes a bold turn to the north-west, from which it falls back to the south-east, leaving at its further extremity the cliff on which the church of Newnham is built. It then runs almost directly to the south-west, spreading into a broad channel which terminates at the mouth of the Wye on the northern side, and at the entrance of the Bristol Avon on the southern. This river, particularly below Gloucester, has frequently overflowed its banks, and by sudden risings of the tides has occasioned much damage to the surrounding country. The manner in which the Severn and its tributary rivers encounter the tides of the ocean, has been marked by our early historians under the appellation of the Hygra, denoting the roaring noise and contention with which the meeting of the two was attended.

The other rivers of this county bear a relation to the Severn on one side, and to the Thames on the other, the streams of which they alternately go to replenish. The Wye touches upon Gloucestershire at its extremity before it makes a junction with the Severn. The Frome or Stroud river, rising at Brirnsfield, passes through Stroud, and joins the Severn at Framilode. The Lesser Avon enters the Severn between this county and Somersetshire, and gives a port to the city of Bristol. The Coin, running by Fairford, joins the Thames, or Isis, at Lechiade, where that river first becomes navigable.

The Windrush, rising near Winehcombe, is joined by various streams before it reaches Oxfordshire to mix with the Isis. In this county has been effected the noble plan of the junction of the Severn and Thames by means of a navigable canal. Commencing in the Severn, not far from Stroud, the canal proceeds to Sapperton, where a tunnel of nearly two miles and a half conveys it under a tract of high ground, after which it takes a circuitous course near the Wiltshire border, terminating in the Thames at Lechiade. In its course it sends off a branch to Cirencester.

Another canal takes rise from Gloucester, and has been finished as far as Ledbury in the county of Hereford. A plan for a much improved communication by canal from Gloucester and the lower part of the Severn has been undertaken, but remains incomplete.

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

Map: by John Cary (1797)