Warwickshire Back to Homepage >>

County-landscape

. Not more than 70 miles or so from the coast, Warwickshire is a peaceful place of fertile fields, often with dry stone walls, woods and pastures.

. The hilly edge of the beautiful rolling Cotswolds runs up from neighbouring Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire in the south into Warwick so at the southeastern edges you have chalk hills and typical Cotswold scenery with neat fields and mellow mossed stone houses reminiscent of Oxfordshire villages. Plenty of sheep and cattle too on the extensive farmland of this area.

. The centre is lush and well watered, with the River Avon running right through from Bidford to Rugby. The river valley is a principal contributor to the land formation and serves several towns and villages.

. A second valley threads through the north of the county, that of the Blythe, running between the ever-extending Birmingham and Coventry and entering Staffordshire at Tamworth. The open land adds to the sum of the varied scenery. Here, between the cities, it is pleasantly undulating countryside, with good communications which in part account for Warwickshire's large industrial conurbations being founded here.

County-facts

Origin of name: Anglo-Saxon, meaning "the farm by a river dam". War means an offshoot from a larger farm; Wic is a weir or dam, constructed for catching fish. Name first recorded: 1016 as Waeinewiscscr. County Mono: Non Sanz Droict ("Not Without Right").

COUNTY TOWN

WARWICK At the centre of the county, this old town has picturesque half-timbered houses, including the Elizabethan Oken's House which is a doll museum.

Other Towns

ASTON Famous football team (Villa). Aston Hall is a great Jacobean house dating from 1635 with a panelled long gallery that is one of the finest in the land.

BIRMINGHAM Ring-road city but if you can navigate through it well worth a visit to the City Museum and Art Gallery and Science & industry Museum. Bournvllle, home to Cadbury's chocolate, is an absolutely fascinating garden-suburb-factory estate established by George and Richard Cadbury with their Quaker idealism to provide pleasant and healthy working surroundings for their workers. Cadbury World is a must for any chocoholics!

COVENTRY Known as the city of three spires: the original 303 feet cathedral spire that survived German bombs; Holy Trinity Church at 231 feet; and Christ Church's spire at 204 feet.

EDGBASTON A mere six-minute drive from the city centre, this is home to the famous international cricket ground but there are also fine Botanical Gardens laid out in 1831, and Cardinal Newman's Classical church, the Oratory.

KENILWORTH The castle is its glory with Norman. Plantagenet and Tudor add-ons - Henry I, Henry II, John of Gaunt, Henry Vlll and Elizabeth I all had connections with it. Cromwell had it dismantled and it remains the grandest fortress ruin in the country.

NUNEATON Busy manufacturing town with 12th- century Church of St Nicholas.

ROYAL LEAMINGTON SPA Fashionable 19th-century s pa town with lovely Georgian, Regency, and early Victorian terraced houses. Napoleon III resided here awhile, and the Duke of Wellington, Sarah Bernhardt and others took its waters.

RUGBY Apart from the obvious - the market dates back to Henry III.

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON There is much to see here, and it is also a lively market and shopping centre for local people, in the many pubs try the local beer..

SUTTON COLDFIELD Saxon ties. Glorious Sutton Park has altered little since Norman times.

. Alcester . Bedworth . Coleshill . Knowle . Solihull

COUNTY RIVERS

Avon, Tame, Anker.

HIGHEST POINT

llmington Downs at 854 feet.

county-calendar

. Regular performances at three theatres - the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Swan Theatre and The Other Place - during the long summer season at Stratford. You can see famous plays and works of Shakespeare's contemporaries and even modern plays.

. There are celebrations in Stratford-upon-Avon on the Bard's birthday, 23 April - also St George's Day.

. June: Stratford Regatta. Boat race on River Avon.

. Warwick: Year-round pageants and banquets at Warwick

Castle.

. The Royal Show is held at Stoneleigh in July.

. Birmingham's NEC (National Exhibition Centre) plays host to anything from motor shows to Meatloaf and Cliff Richard concerts. Huge antiques fairs happen here in January and April; Crufts Dog Show is in March, with over 100 breeds competing for the Best in Show title.

. Warwickshire County Cricket Club hosts the first test match for overseas visitors at Edgbaston, Birmingham, with County matches throughout the season.

. Mid-October: Warwick Mop. Now a funfair but traditionally a hiring fair where people looked for work.

. December (first week): Victorian street fayre.

. January (second Saturday): Warwick National Race (jump racing).

. July: Warwick Folk Festival.

. August: Warwickshire and West Midland Game Fair in Alcester.

famous-names

. Comedian Tony Hancock came from Birmingham.

. Writer David Lodge teaches English at Birmingham University, which provides the background for many of his wry novels.

. Shakespeare, of course, was born in Stratford- upon-Avon.

. The 18th-century Earl of Warwick known as the Kingmaker lived at Warwick Castle, now owned and run by Madame Tussaud's.

. Francis Galton, who studied heredity and found that everyone's fingerprints are unique, lived in Claverdon.

. George Eliot (real name Mary Ann Evans), authoress of the novel on which TV's popular Middlemarch was based, was born in 1819 at Arbury near Nuneaton and moved with her family to Griff House in Nuneaton four years later.

. The TV soap Crossroads, now a cult programme, was set in a fictitious Birmingham suburb called King's Oak. an amalgam of King's Heath and Sell/ Oak.

local government

The County of Warwickshire is an administrative mixture: Warwickshire County Council along with the five districts of North Warwickshire, Nuneaton & Bedworth, Rugby, Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick complete the two-tier line-up. The City of Coventry and the Borough of Solihull are single-tier authorities exclusively covering Warwickshire land while Birmingham Council provides services for not only parts of Warwickshire's territory but Staffordshire's and Worcestershire's too. Tardebigge and Hewell Grange is Warwickshire detached in Worcestershire under that County and Bromsgrove

intro

YOU COULD ASK for no more typical English countryside than this spectacular rich green spread that is a quilt of quintessential England. An Englishness centred on Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick itself, though I have a fondness for Birmingham and Coventry, too, where the people are so friendly although there is a city rivalry between the two.

towns-and-villages

Warwickshire's very varied settlements range from the bucolic beauty of villages and towns made rich from agriculture (notably wool) such as Shipston-on-Stour and Stratford by the winding Avon and Stour rivers in the south to elegantly laid out Royal Leamington Spa and Warwick in the centre. In the leafy west towards Worcestershire are characterful towns like Henley- in- Arden and Alcester, old, atmospheric and comfortable. In the far east is the commercial centre of Rugby, famous as the school town where Tom Brown spent his early days. As the county climbs north towards Leicestershire and Staffordshire it becomes more urbanized with busy Coventry city and ever- spreading Birmingham all but elbowing Sutton Coldfield, Atherstone and Nuneaton into the northernmost corner of this exquisite county. Birmingham is a city not as unwelcoming as its growing urban sprawl might indicate. With its National Exhibition Centre and Symphony Hall it aspires to become the cultural, artistic and commercial centre of the land. In and around Birmingham you have more olde-worlde pleasures such as the 17th-century Aston Hall, once a grand house and now an important local museum of furniture and paintings, while other period rooms can be seen at 16th- century Blakesley Hall with its wall paintings. Birmingham's Anglican cathedral St Philip's is in unusual early Georgian baroque style, and St Chad's, its Catholic cathedral of 1841, was designed by Pugin. The City Museum and Art Gallery has a number of excellent collections (pictures, drawings, ceramics and silver - the city has long had its own assay office). There are several theatres (the Birmingham Royal Ballet is at home here) and a lively shopping centre as well as many markets of all kinds offering often exotic goods from new settlers. One of the finest of Britain's small museums is the Barber Institute, with a small yet very fine collection of pictures, antique bronzes and ivories in an immaculate suburban setting. Birmingham has a jewellery quarter, and makes many foodstuffs from chocolate to Indian specialities. Sutton Coldfield is marked by its high television mast, and nearby is a Jacobean castle, Bromwich Hall. At Merevale, near Athelstan, the church was the original gate chapel of a large Cistercian abbey, now lying in scattered ruins. Astley possesses a church with ancient choir stalls, while Nuneaton offers a museum with varied collections from mementoes of George Eliot to local pottery. South of Nuneaton you pass through Bedworth to come to Coventry, which is well worth investigating.

The World War II blitz that destroyed so much of this motor making town did leave some ancient pockets that are all the more treasured for being survivors - there is an unusually fine Elizabethan hospital, a set of almshouses, and a net of narrow streets around the ruins of the great parish church that became Coventry's cathedral, only to burn at the height of the fiery onslaught. The striking new cathedral by Basil Spence, which seems peculiarly stuck in the 1960s, is built next to the ruins of its precursor. Imagine the old cathedral as it appeared after that blazing night in 1940, its floor littered with charred timbers and thousands of medieval nails freed by the flames. The red stone walls and spired tower, almost 300 feet high, are all that remain. In the city of the famous ride of Lady Godiva you will find a thriving motor museum and the Belgrade Theatre, named after its twin Serbian capital..

A few miles west and you are in the Forest of Arden, used by Shakespeare in his comedy As You Like It, though some claim it is the Ardennes of Belgium that is the setting. Berkswell has a famous well, a set of stocks on its green and a cannon from the Crimean War outside the District Councils. Tudor half-timbering and thatch of the Bear Hotel. There are Victorian almshouses and a church with a rare feature - two crypts. East you come to Rugby, a major rail junction, via Brinklow and here arethe school buildings framed in playing fields. To the southwest Royal Leamington Spa and Warwick are as close as Minneapolis is to St Paul. The former received its prefix from Queen Victoria and it possesses some charming Regency houses, formal gardens, and an art gallery with modern pictures and collections of 18th-century glasses and ceramics.

Warwick's stern towers are reflected in the Avon. In the unusually complete medieval castle, which preserves curtain walls and immense towers, there is a parade of grand state rooms and a collection of arms and armour. At one end of the steeply sloping main street picturesque Lord Leycester's hospital, built 600 years ago, leans over the street, and contains a half-timbered courtyard. The huge castle ruins at Kenilworth loom majestically on a hill. This now empty shell has recorded much history since it was built as a vital fortress in 1122. It has seen John of Gaunt's banquets and lavish and legendary entertainments by Queen Elizabeth Is favourite, the Earl of Leicester. Not far off, Claverdon's cluster of brick and timber-framed buildings include a curious forge with an entryway shaped like a horseshoe. Towards the Worcestershire border, Henley-in-Arden has a wide main street and attractive old shops and Alcester is a lovely old market town with timber-framed medieval buildings: ale was brewed at the old Malt House which was built almost 500 years ago In the county's deep south Shipston-on-Stour (historically Worcestershire detached) has associations with magic and witchcraft while nearby in pretty Ilmington with its pair of greens you are in a Cotswold village, all cottage gardens and clumped houses twinkling with small-paned windows and sheltering under stone roofs.

Undoubtedly the county's most famous town, Stratford- upon-Avon had the good fortune to be the birthplace of William Shakespeare in 1564. It is a charming place with many old buildings, quite a few associated with the poet, and a plenitude of half-timbering and thatch. Passing under the many arches of the still used medieval Clopton Bridge, the winding Avon with its wildfowl and swans ties the whole place up with a silver ribbon. Shakespeareis buried in the spired church of Holy Trinity and across the way is Hall's Croft, home of his son-in-law, with its garden and Elizabethan pharmacy. You can troop through the Bard's supposed birthplace and wander round the foundations of the grand house he built for himself when a rich man. (The owner in the 18th century got so fed up with tourists gawping at his home he pulled the place down.) The Memorial Theatre stands by the river, and within it is the handsome Jacobean- style Swan Theatre, while the Other Place is a space used for experimental and new Avon escarpment, plays. You can get to Stratford easily by train now, in two hours from Paddington in London going via Oxford. It means the possibility of seeing a play and getting back after the show. Outside the long spring and summer season these buildings are often used for local events. The nearby Shottery has a seductive atmosphere and Anne Hathaway's thatched cottage and garden. If you don't mind taking a trip (or a 3-mile walk) you can visit the house of Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden, in Wilmcote - there is a railway station. It is now a museum of local farming and is probably one of the most genuine of the buildings that are associated with Shakespeare's life.

local-history

Arguably the finest medieval castle in England is to be found at Warwick, standing proud on the banks of the Avon on a rock which rises 40 feet straight above the river. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, resided here till his death in 1471. A supporter of the Yorkists, he was the unseen power behind the throne during the Wars of the Roses and was responsible for the seizure of the throne by Edward I, though he later changed sides and restored Henry VI to the throne. His story is vividly re-created in the walk-through 'Kingmaker Experience'. The first battle of the Civil War, at Edgehill, was fought on 23 October 1642: a stone tower marks the Royalist position at the start of the struggle. Compton Wynyates was a centre for the Royalists. It is an extraordinary survivor of the period, a vast Tudor brick and stone mansion, fortified and moated until Cromwell's forces overtook it. The chapel was destroyed, but later rebuilt in 1665 with handsome box pews. The park is a parade of shrubs with connecting hedges in fantastical clipped shapes.

In the same period Birmingham was already a small industrial town and its Bull Ring was the centre for metal making with 16,000 sword blades tempered for Cromwell's troops in the 1640s. By 1889 it had expanded so rapidly Queen Victoria declared it a city.

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