Links to Places in Somersetshire associated with Jane Austen


THIS county, lying in a crescent-like form on the Bristol channel, to which its north-western concave side is turned; has to the north-east Gloucestershire, separated from it in great measure by the Avon; to the east Wiltshire; to the south Dorsetshire and Devonshire; and the latter county to the west. Its longest line from north to south is about fortyfive miles, from east to west sixty-five. Its area in square miles amounts to 1549; and it numbers forty hundreds and seven liberties.

Few counties contain a greater variety of soil and situation than Somersetshire. The north-eastern quarter is in general stony, and possesses a lofty mineral tract, called the Mendiphills. Towards the center, where its principal rivers unite, are fens and marshy moors of great extent. On the western side is the ridge of the Quantock-hill, together with many downy and open heaths; and in the farthest north-western corner lies the bleak steril region of Exmoor. In this part is Dun/cery, considered as the highest mountain in the west of England, the summit of which, called the Beacon, affords a most extensive view of the circumjacent country, and takes in the Bristol and British channels. The southern part, towards Dorsetshire, is high, but well cultivated; and throughout the county, especially in its south-western quarter, vales are interspersed of the greatest fertility, exuberant in arable and pasturage.

Much cheese is made in the lower parts of the county in general, of which a considerable quantity is exported. An extraordinarily rich kind is made at Chedder, a village in the north, which is said to surpass in quality any in the kingdom. Many cattle, of bulk nearly equal to those of Lincolnshire, are bred in the luxuriant meadows about the head of the Parret. The best goose feathers come from the Somershire marshes. To finish the catalogue, it may be mentioned that cyder is a common product in this county.

The subterraneous products of Somersetshire are various and important. The Mendip-hills afford in abundance coal, lead, and calamine. The coal is carried upon horses backs to Bath, Wells, Frome, and other circumjacent places. The lead is said to be of a harder quality than that of other countries, and is mostly exported for making bullets and shot. The calamine is carried in great quantities to Bristol and other places to be used in the making of brass. Copper, manganese, bole, and red oker, are also found in these hills. On their tops are large swampy flats, dangerous to cross.

The rivers of Somersetshire are numerous, but not large, as their whole course, for the most part, is within the county. The principal are The Parret, which rising at the most northern part on the Dorsetshire border, runs up to Langport, where it becomes navigable. Proceeding somewhat further, it is joined from the west by the Tlmone, which becomes navigable from Taunton. Passing through Bridgewater, the two rivers fail into the Bristol channel below the bay of that name. Several minor streams join to compose the main branch of the Parret. Into the same bay falls the Brue or Brent, which takes its rise from Selwood forest, on the edge of Wiltshire, and receives several rivulets, particularly one coming down froni Shepton-Mallet and Wells. It is navigable from Highbridge.

Further north, the little river Ax, passing the town of Ax bridge, winds its way through marshes into the Bristol channel.On the north-east, several small streams unite to form the Lower Avon, which after visiting and half encompassing Bath, from which it becomes navigable, separates the counties of Somerset and Gloucester, and the city of Bristol, and hastens to meet the Severn.

Various plans have been undertaken for improving the water communications of this county by canals. Of those which have been brought to effect are the following: A canal from Tiverton to Taunton, connecting the rivers Exe and Thone. A canal from Bristol to Bath. And the Somersetshire coal canal, in two branches, communicating with the Kennet and Avon canal.

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.