of Southwest England.
Somerset County Council - South Somerset District Council - North Somerset District Council -
Taunton Deane District Council
- Bath & North East Somerset Council
- City of Bristol
|owns and cities
Bath, Taunton (administrative headquarters); Bridgwater, Frome, Glastonbury, Wells, Yeovil
Minehead, Weston-super-Mare (coastal resorts)
||3,460 sq. km / 1,336 sq. miles
is bounded on the Southwest by Devon; on the Southeast by Dorset; on the east by
Wiltshire; on the Northeast by Bath and North East Somerset, and North Somerset; and on
the Northwest by the Bristol Channel. There are low cliffs along the northern coast, which
has long sandy beaches and mud tracts at low tide, particularly in the Northwest.
Bridgwater Bay is the chief inlet; the only important harbour is at the mouth of the River
Parret. The Quantock Hills, the highest point of which is Willsneck (387 m / 1,270ft),
extend from Taunton Northwest towards the sea. In the south of the county is the second
largest area of fen country in England, the Somerset Levels, which includes the area known
as Sedgemoor; peat was formerly cut here.
The wild forest of Exmoor lies partly in the extreme west of the county and partly in
Devon. Dunkery Beacon (518m/1,700 ft), the highest point in the county, is on the edge of
Exmoor. rivers Avon, Axe, Brue, Exe, Parret (the principal river), and Yeo; marshy
coastline on the Bristol Channel; Mendip Hills; Quantock Hills; Exmoor; Blackdown Hills
||Agriculture: apples; dairy farming; cereals (wheat, barley, oats),
vegetables (turnips, mangolds (a root vegetable used as animal feed)); cider ; cattle and
sheep rearing; willows (withies) for wicker-work.
Industries: agricultural implements; Bath-bricks (manufactured at Bridgwater from the sand
of the Parret); chemicals; dairy products (including Cheddar cheese); engineering; food
processing; helicopters; leather; mineral working (iron, lead, zinc); stone quarrying
(slate); textiles; tourism
||John Pym, Henry Fielding, Ernest Bevin. Bristol was the birthplace of the
poet Thomas Chatterton, the cricketer W G Grace, and the film actor Cary Grant. Bath was
the birthplace of the Arctic explorer William Parry, and the painter Thomas Gainsborough
settled here in 1760.
and administrative headquarters of Bath and North East Somerset unitary authority 171 km /
106 miles west of London. Industries include printing, plastics, engineering, and tourism.
Bath was the site of the Roman town of Aquae Sulis, and in the 18th century flourished as
a fashionable spa, with the only naturally occurring hot mineral springs in Britain.
The remains of the Roman baths and adjacent temple are among the finest Roman remains in
Britain. The Gothic Bath Abbey has an unusually decorated west front and fine
fan-vaulting. The city has much 18th-century architecture, including Queen Square and the
Circus, designed by John Wood the Elder, the Assembly Rooms (1771) and Royal Crescent,
designed by the younger John Wood (1728-1782). The Bath Festival Orchestra is based here
and the University of Bath was established in 1966. The city of Bath is a World Heritage
The Roman town of Aquae Sulis (`waters of Sul┤ - the British goddess of wisdom) was
established in the first 20 years after the Roman invasion of AD 43. In medieval times the
springs were crown property, administered by the church, but the city was transformed in
the 18th century to a fashionable spa, presided over by `Beau┤ Nash. The astronomer
William Herschel discovered Uranus while working here in 1781, and visitors to the city
included the novelists Tobias
Smollett, Henry Fielding, and Jane Austen.
The remains of the Roman baths and the temple dedicated to Sulis Minerva, established
around the hot springs after AD 60 and built over during the medieval period, were not
excavated until the late 19th century. Now about 6 m / 20 ft below street level, the
open-air Great Bath was originally covered and occupied a hall measuring about 34 m / 110
ft by 21 m / 68 ft; the pillars date from the 19th century, but the bath itself has its
original lead floor, and the surrounding pavement is well preserved. The baths complex
also includes a tepid bath, a small semicircular bath, a cold circular
bath, remains of the hypocaust (floor raised on tile piers, heated by hot air circulating
beneath it), and the Norman King's Bath. Excavations in 1979 revealed thousands of coins
and `curses┤, offered at a place which was thought to be the link between the upper and
lower worlds. The museum adjoining the baths complex displays examples of these offerings;
other exhibits include a bronze head of Sulis Minerva and the reconstructed pediment of
the temple, with a gorgon's head at its centre.
Rich in radium emanation, the hot spring water (46.5║C/116║F) which surfaces at Bath is
thought to have medicinal and therapeutic properties, beneficial in the treatment of gout,
rheumatism, and skin diseases. The waters may still be taken in the Pump Room.
The 18th-century buildings of Bath are mostly built of Bath Stone, a white freestone. The
shop-lined Italianate Pulteney Bridge (1769-74) was designed by Robert Adam. The Pump Room
dates from 1792-96. The Assembly Rooms were
destroyed in an air raid in 1942 and re-opened in 1963; they now house the Museum of
Costume. The Royal Crescent (1767-74), to the northwest of the city centre, comprises an
arc of 30 houses overlooking a sloping lawn. The Guildhall (1768-75) includes the Victoria
Art Gallery. The house in which William Herschel lived with his sister Caroline, and from
which he discovered Uranus, now houses a museum. To the northwest of the city on Lansdown
Hill is the Neo-Classical Beckford's Tower (1827), built for the writer William Beckford,
who retired to Bath in 1822.
The city suffered heavy aerial attacks during World War II, particularly in the `Baedeker
raids┤ (April 1942). Over 200 buildings of architectural or historic value were either
destroyed or seriously damaged.
Bath Abbey The present Abbey church, a fine example of Perpendicular Gothic architecture,
was begun in 1499. It
was built on the site of a Saxon abbey (founded in 775), in which Edgar, the first King of
All England, was crowned in 973. The carved decoration on the west front of the present
Abbey depicts angels ascending and descending ladders on the turrets on each side of the
window. Bath has many parks and gardens including the Royal Victoria Park, laid out from
1830, and Sydney Gardens, laid out in 1795.
Industrial port and unitary authority at the junction of the rivers Avon and Frome. Now a
unitary authority area, it was part of the former county of Avon up until 1996.
Industries include engineering, microelectronics, tobacco, printing, metal refining,
banking, insurance, sugar refining, and the manufacture of aircraft engines, chemicals,
paper, soap, Bristol `blue┤ glass, and chocolate.
The old docks have been redeveloped for housing, industry, yachting facilities, and the
National Lifeboat Museum. Further developments include a new city centre, with British
engineer and inventor Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Temple Meads railway station as its focus.
There is a 12th-century cathedral and a 13th-14th-century St Mary Redcliffe church. The
Clifton Suspension Bridge (completed in 1864), was designed by Brunel. His ship SS Great
Britain, the first propeller-driven ocean-going iron ship, was launched from Bristol in
1843 and brought back from the Falklands in 1970; it is now in dry dock at the Great
Western dock, where it is being restored, although it can still be visited and hired out
by the public. There is an aerospace complex at the suburb of Filton. The city is home to
the University of Bristol (founded 1909) and the University of the West of England
(established in 1992), formerly the Bristol Polytechnic. Ashton Court mansion is located
to the west of the city on an 850 acre estate, which serves as the venue for the annual
International Balloon Fiesta and North Somerset show.
Historically Bristol was an important commercial centre and port in medieval times, it was
the second-most important town in England between the 15th and 18th centuries. John Cabot
(Giovanni Caboto) sailed from here in 1497 to Newfoundland in his ship the Matthew,
becoming the first European to discover the American mainland. The town developed in the
17th-18th centuries as the principal British port for trade with the American colonies and
the West Indies. The port was especially important for the slave trade, and was part of a
triangular trading system between West Africa and the West Indian and American
plantations. Jamaican sugar and molasses and West African cocoa were brought into Britain
along this trade route, leading to the development of sugar and chocolate industries in
The cathedral, originally the abbey church of St Augustine (founded in about 1140), is the
only `hall-church┤ in England (with aisles, nave, and choir all of the same height). It
retains its Norman chapter house and its Norman gate house, and the choir dates from
1298-1300. It became a cathedral in 1542 at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries
when the see of Bristol was created. St Mary Redcliffe church was described by Queen
Elizabeth I as `the fairest church in England┤. It has a large 13th-century tower with an
87 m / 285 ft high spire. The Roman Catholic cathedral of St Peter and St Paul in Clifton
was dedicated in 1973, and is of an open circular design. John Wesley's chapel, dating
from 1739, is England's earliest Methodist building.
Northwest of the city centre, the Georgian residential district of Clifton
includes England's longest Georgian crescent, the Royal York Crescent. The Clifton Suspension Bridge, spanning the Avon
Gorge, is 214 m / 702 ft long and 75m / 246 ft high. It was completed after Brunel's
death. Clifton is also the site of Bristol Zoo and Clifton College, a private school
founded in 1862.
The City Museum and Art Gallery includes collections of local archaeology, natural
history, Chinese glass, Assyrian reliefs dating from the 8th century BC, European
paintings, and a large display of English delftware (a type of porcelain). The redeveloped
city docks include the Bristol Industrial Museum (home to the Mayflower, Britain's oldest
working tug) and the Maritime Heritage Centre. The Merchants' Almshouses date from 1699.
The Theatre Royal, home to the Bristol Old Vic since 1946, was a Georgian playhouse which
opened in 1766.
It is believed that there was a settlement here as early as the reign of Ethelred the
Unready, King of England from 978. At that time the wealth of the town was derived chiefly
from the export of English slaves to Ireland. Henry II gave the town its first charter in
1155. It was recognized as a staple town in 1353, and it enjoyed a considerable trade in
wool, leather, wine, and salt. The town originally occupied a position wholly on the north
of the Avon. The alteration (1248) of the course of the Frome by digging a fresh channel,
and the erection of a bridge spanning the river added to the area of the town, linking it
also with Redcliffe. It had trading links with France, Holland, Portugal, and Spain. In
1373 Bristol was created a county by royal charter of Edward III. In 1643, during the
Civil War, the city was captured by the Royalist Prince Rupert, and later, in 1645, by
Thomas Fairfax, commander in chief of the Parliamentary army. The political theorist
Edmund Burke was MP for Bristol from 1774 to 1780. In the 17th and 18th centuries slipware
and porcelain were produced at Bristol. The city was important for shipbuilding from the
18th century; the Great Western, Isambard Kingdom Brunel's first steam ship and the first
steamer intended for transatlantic trade, was built in Bristol in 1838. The importance of
the port declined in the 19th century when it was unable to berth increasingly large
vessels. Bristol underwent heavy aerial attacks during World War II. Approximately 1,299
persons were killed and over 3,300 injured. More than 3,000 houses were totally destroyed.
Emigrants from Bristol colonized Newfoundland in 1610. Bristol also developed a strong
interest in the colonization of America, and many communities named after Bristol are
evidence of these links. In St Mary Redcliffe church are the memorial and armour of
Admiral Penn, father of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania.
and administrative headquarters of North Somerset, 20 miles from Bristol, on the Bristol
Channel. Weston-super-Mare was a small fishing hamlet until it expanded rapidly as a
resort in the late 19th century. It became one of the most popular resorts in the
southwest of England by Edwardian times. Amenities include sandy beaches, the Grand Pier, public parks and
gardens, and sports facilities. Weston is typical of a British Victorian holiday centre
with piers, amusements, saucy
postcards and donkeys giving children
rides along the beach.
Village in Somerset in the Mendip Hills, 20 miles southwest of Bristol. It gives its name
to Cheddar cheese, a hard variety first produced here around the beginning of the 12th
century. Nearby are the limestone Cheddar Gorge and caves, owned by the National Trust.
Tourism is important and the village is part of an agricultural, market-gardening, and
St Andrew's Church was built in the 14th and 15th centuries. Cheddar Reservoir, about 2
miles in circumference, lies to the west of the town. Archaeological excavations have
uncovered evidence of prehistoric, Stone Age, Saxon, and
Roman occupation in the area. Roman lead-mines have been found on the Mendip Hills near
Cheddar, and in 1962 the site of a Saxon palace was discovered nearby. The 10,000 year-old
skeleton of Cheddar Man, who lived in the gorge at the end of the last Ice Age, is on
display in the museum.
Cheddar Gorge and caves Limestone cliffs rise to
nearly 150 m / 490 ft on either side of Cheddar Gorge; 274 steps known as Jacob's Ladder
lead to the cliff-top. The caves beneath the gorge, including Gough's Cave and Cox's Cave,
have complex and richly coloured stalactites and stalagmites. Stone Age communities are
believed to have lived in Gough's Cave.
Wookey Hole is a natural cave near Wells, in which flint implements of Old Stone Age
people and bones of extinct animals have been found.
Glastonbury Tor There is a breed of hardy ponies peculiar to the Exmoor district; red deer
are also found there. There is good river fishing, including salmon fishing, particularly
in the west of the county. There are many notable Roman remains in Somerset, including a
large mosaic pavement near Langport, and many later Saxon stone carvings in the church at
Milborne Port. Somerset was originally part of the kingdom of Wessex, and figured largely
in King Alfred's struggle against the Danes. Somerset contains several abbeys, and
castles, notably at Glastonbury and Dunster. A battle was fought at Allermoor in 1645
during the Civil War.
city and market town at the foot of the Mendip Hills. Although tourism is the economic
mainstay, there is some other industry, including printing and electronics and the
production of paper, cheese, textiles, and animal foodstuffs. The cathedral, built near
the site of a Saxon church in the 12th and 13th centuries, has a west front with 386
carved figures. Wells was made the seat of a bishopric about 909 (Bath and Wells from
1244) and has a 13th-century bishop's palace.
Ine, King of Wessex, is said to have founded the first church in Wells in 704. The
bishop's palace, the residence of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, is moated and surrounded
by a defensive wall. It includes the natural wells from which the town derives its name.
Other features include the 15th-century deanery and Vicar's Close, a well-preserved