GLOUCESTERSHIRE, a county of the west midlands of England, bounded N. by Worcestershire, N.E. by Warwickshire, E. by Oxfordshire, S.E. by Berkshire and Wiltshire, S. by Somerset, and W. by Monmouth and Herefordshire. Its area is 1243.3 sq. m. The outline is very irregular, but three physical divisions are well marked—the hills, the vale and the forest. (1) The first (the eastern part of the county) lies among the uplands of the Cotteswold Hills (q.v.), whose westward face is a line of heights of an average elevation of 700 ft., but exceeding 1000 ft. at some points. This line bisects the county from S.W. to N.E. The watershed between the Thames and Severn valleys lies close to it, so that Gloucestershire includes Thames Head itself, in the south-east near Cirencester, and most of the upper feeders of the Thames which join the main stream, from narrow and picturesque valleys on the north. (2) The western Cotteswold line overlooks a rich valley, that of the lower Severn, usually spoken of as “The Vale,” or, in two divisions, as the vale of Gloucester and the vale of Berkeley. This great river receives three famous tributaries during its course through Gloucestershire. Near Tewkesbury, on the northern border, the Avon joins it on the left and forms the county boundary for 4 m. This is the river known variously as the Upper, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Stratford or Shakespeare’s Avon, which descends a lovely pastoral valley through the counties named. It is to be distinguished from the Bristol Avon, which rises as an eastward flowing stream of the Cotteswolds, in the south-east of Gloucestershire, sweeps southward and westward through Wiltshire, pierces the hills through a narrow valley which becomes a wooded gorge where the Clifton suspension bridge crosses it below Bristol, and enters the Severn estuary at Avonmouth. For 17 m. from its mouth it forms the boundary between Gloucestershire and Somersetshire, and for 8 m. it is one of the most important commercial waterways in the kingdom, connecting the port of Bristol with the sea. The third great tributary of the Severn is the Wye. From its mouth in the estuary, 8 m. N. of that of the Bristol Avon, it forms the county boundary for 16 m. northward, and above this, over two short reaches of its beautiful winding course, it is again the boundary. (3) Between the Wye and the Severn lies a beautiful and historic tract, the forest of Dean, which, unlike the majority of English forests, maintains its ancient character. Gloucestershire has thus a share in the courses of five of the most famous of English rivers, and covers two of the most interesting physical districts in the country. The minor rivers of the county are never long. The vale is at no point within the county wider than 24 m., and so does not permit the formation of any considerable tributary to the Severn from the Dean Hills on the one hand or the Cotteswolds on the other. The Leadon rises east of Hereford, forms part of the north-western boundary, and joins the Severn near Gloucester, watering the vale of Gloucester, the northern part of the vale. In the southern part, the vale of Berkeley, the Stroudwater traverses a narrow, picturesque and populous valley, and the Little Avon flows past the town of Berkeley, joining the Severn estuary on the left. The Frome runs southward to the Bristol Avon at Bristol. The principal northern feeders of the Thames are the Churn (regarded by some as properly the headwater of the main river) rising in the Seven Springs, in the hills above Cheltenham, and forming the southern county boundary near its junction with the Thames at Cricklade; the Coln, a noteworthy trout-stream, joining above Lechlade, and the Lech (forming part of the eastern county boundary) joining below the same town; while from the east of the county there pass into Oxfordshire the Windrush and the Evenlode, much larger streams, rising among the bare uplands of the northern Cotteswolds.
Geology.—No county in England has a greater variety of geological formations. The pre-Cambrian is represented by the gneissic rocks at the south end of the Malvern Hills and by grits at Huntley. At Damory, Charfield and Woodford is a patch of greenstone, the cause of the upheaval of the Upper Silurian basin of Tortworth, in which are the oldest stratified rocks of the county. Of these the Upper Llandovery is the dominant stratum, exposed near Damory mill, Micklewood chase and Purton passage, wrapping round the base of May and Huntley hills, and reappearing in the vale of Woolhope. The Wenlock limestone is exposed at Falfield mill and Whitfield, and quarried for burning at May hill. The Lower Ludlow shales or mudstones are seen at Berkeley and Purton, where the upper part is probably Aymestry limestone. The series of sandy shales and sandstones which, as Downton sandstones and Ledbury shales, form a transition to the Old Red Sandstone are quarried at Dymock. The “Old Red” itself occurs at Berkeley, Tortworth Green, Thornbury, and several places in the Bristol coal-field, in anticlinal folds forming hills. It forms also the great basin extending from Ross to Monmouth and from Dymock to Mitcheldean, Abenhall, Blakeney, &c., within which is the Carboniferous basin of the forest. It is cut through by the Wye from Monmouth to Woolaston. This formation is over 8000 ft. thick in the forest of Dean. The Bristol and Forest Carboniferous basins lie within the synclinal folds of the Old Red Sandstone; and though the seams of coal have not yet been correlated, they must have been once continuous, as further appears from the existence of an intermediate basin, recently pierced, under the Severn. The lower limestone shales are 500 ft. thick in the Bristol area and only 165 in the forest, richly fossiliferous and famous for their bone bed. The great marine series known as the Mountain Limestone, forming the walls of the grand gorges of the Wye and Avon, is over 2000 ft. thick in the latter district, but only 480 in the former, where it yields the brown hematite in pockets so largely worked for iron even from Roman times. It is much used too for lime and road metal. Above this comes the Millstone Grit, well seen at Brandon hill, where it is 1000 ft. in thickness, though but 455 in the forest. On this rest the Coal Measures, consisting in the Bristol field of two great series, the lower 2000 ft. thick with 36 seams, the upper 3000 ft. with 22 seams, 9 of which reach 2 ft. in thickness. These two series are separated by over 1700 ft. of hard sandstone (Pennant Grit), containing only 5 coal-seams. In the Forest coal-field the whole series is not 3000 ft. thick, with but 15 seams. At Durdham Down a dolomitic conglomerate, of the age known as Keuper or Upper Trias, rests unconformably on the edges of the Palaeozoic rocks, and is evidently a shore deposit, yielding dinosaurian remains. Above the Keuper clays come the Penarth beds, of which classical sections occur at Westbury, Aust, &c. The series consists of grey marls, black paper shales containing much pyrites and a celebrated bone bed, the Cotham landscape marble, and the White Lias limestone, yielding Ostrea Liassica and Cardium Rhaeticum. The district of Over Severn is mainly of Keuper marls. The whole vale of Gloucester is occupied by the next formation, the Lias, a warm sea deposit of clays and clayey limestones, characterized by ammonites, belemnites and gigantic saurians. At its base is the insect-bearing limestone bed. The pastures producing Gloucester cheese are on the clays of the Lower Lias. The more calcareous Middle Lias or marlstone forms hillocks flanking the Oolite escarpment of the Cotteswolds, as at Wotton-under-Edge and Churchdown. The Cotteswolds consist of the great limestone series of the Lower Oolite. At the base is a transition series of sands, 30 to 40 ft. thick, well developed at Nailsworth and Frocester. Leckhampton hill is a typical section of the Lower Oolite, where the sands are capped by 40 ft. of a remarkable pea grit. Above this are 147 ft. of freestone, 7 ft. of oolite marl, 34 ft. of upper freestone and 38 ft. of ragstone. The Painswick stone belongs to lower freestone. Resting on the Inferior Oolite, and dipping with it to S.E., is the “fuller’s earth,” a rubbly limestone about 100 ft. thick, throwing out many of the springs which form the head waters of the Thames. Next comes the Great or Bath Oolite, at the base of which are the Stonesfield “slate” beds, quarried for roofing, paling, &c., at Sevenhampton and elsewhere. From the Great Oolite Minchinhampton stone is obtained, and at its top is about 40 ft. of flaggy Oolite with bands of clay known as the Forest Marble. Ripple marks are abundant on the flags; in fact all the Oolites seem to have been near shore or in shallow water, much of the limestone being merely comminuted coral. The highest bed of the Lower Oolite is the Cornbrash, about 40 ft. of rubble, productive in corn, forming a narrow belt from Siddington to Fairford. Near the latter town and Lechlade is a small tract of blue Oxford Clay of the Middle Oolite. The county has no higher Secondary or Tertiary rocks; but the Quaternary series is represented by much northern drift gravel in the vale and Over Severn, by accumulations of Oolitic detritus, including post-Glacial extinct mammalian remains on the flanks of the Cotteswolds, and by submerged forests extending from Sharpness to Gloucester.
Agriculture.—The climate is mild. Between three-quarters and seven-eighths of the total area is under cultivation, and of this some four-sevenths is in permanent pasture. Wheat is the chief grain crop. In the vale the deep rich black and red loamy soil is well adapted for pasturage, and a moist mild climate favours the growth of grasses and root crops. The cattle, save on the frontier of Herefordshire, are mostly shorthorns, of which many are fed for distant markets, and many reared and kept for dairy purposes. The rich grazing tract of the vale of Berkeley produces the famous “double Gloucester” cheeses, and the vale in general has long been celebrated for cheese and butter. The vale of Gloucester is the chief grain-growing district. Turnips, &c., occupy about three-fourths of the green crop acreage, potatoes occupying only about a twelfth. A feature of the county is its apple and pear orchards, chiefly for the manufacture of cider and perry, which are attached to nearly every farm. The Cotteswold district is comparatively barren except in the valleys, but it has been famous since the 15th century for the breed of sheep named after it. Oats and barley are here the chief crops.
Other Industries.—The manufacture of woollen cloth followed upon the early success in sheep-farming among the Cotteswolds. This industry is not confined to the hill country or even to Gloucestershire itself in the west of England. The description of cloth principally manufactured is broadcloth, dressed with teazles to produce a short close nap on the face, and made of all shades of colour, but chiefly black, blue and scarlet. The principal centre of the industry lies in and at the foot of the south-western Cotteswolds. Stroud is the centre for a number of manufacturing villages, and south-west of this are Wotton-under-Edge, North Nibley and others. Machinery and tools, paper, furniture, pottery and glass are also produced. Ironstone, clay, limestone and sandstone are worked, and the coal-fields in the forest of Dean are important. Of less extent is the field in the south of the county, N.E. of Bristol. Strontium sulphate is dug from shallow pits in the red marl of Gloucestershire and Somersetshire.
Communications.—Railway communications are provided principally by the Great Western and Midland companies. Of the Great Western lines, the main line serves Bristol from London. It divides at Bristol, one section serving the south-western counties, another South Wales, crossing beneath the Severn by the Severn Tunnel, 41 m. in length, a remarkable engineering work. A more direct route, by this tunnel, between London and South Wales, is provided by a line from Wootton Bassett on the main line, running north of Bristol by Badminton and Chipping Sodbury. Other Great Western lines are that from Swindon on the main line, by the Stroud valley to Gloucester, crossing the Severn there, and continuing by the right bank of the river into Wales, with branches north-west into Herefordshire; the Oxford and Worcester trunk line, crossing the north-east of the county, connected with Cheltenham and Gloucester by a branch through the Cotteswolds from Chipping Norton junction; and the line from Cheltenham by Broadway to Honeybourne. The west-and-north line of the Midland railway follows the vale from Bristol by Gloucester and Cheltenham with a branch into the forest of Dean by Berkeley, crossing the Severn at Sharpness by a great bridge 1387 yds. in length, with 22 arches. The coal-fields of the forest of Dean are served by several branch lines. In the north, Tewkesbury is served by a Midland branch from Ashchurch to Malvern. The Midland and South-western Junction railway runs east and south from Cheltenham by Cirencester, affording communication with the south of England. The East Gloucester line of the Great Western from Oxford terminates at Fairford. The Thames and Severn canal, rising to a summit level in the tunnel through the Cotteswolds at Sapperton, is continued from Wallbridge (Stroud) by the Stroudwater canal, and gives communication between the two great rivers. The Berkeley Ship Canal (161 m.) connects the port of Gloucester with its outport of Sharpness on Severn.
Population and Administration.—The area of the ancient county is 795,709 acres, with a population in 1891 of 599,947 and in 1901 of 634,729. The area of the administrative county is 805,482 acres. The county contains 28 hundreds. The municipal boroughs are—Bristol, a city and county borough (pop. 328,945); Cheltenham (49,439); Gloucester, a city and county borough (47,955); Tewkesbury (5419). The other urban districts are—Awre (1096), Charlton Kings (3806), Circenester (7536), Coleford (2541), Kingswood, on the eastern outskirts of Bristol (11,961), Nailsworth (3028), Newnham (1184), Stow-on-the-Wold (1386), Stroud (9153), Tetbury (1989), Westbury-on-Severn (1866). The number of small ancient market towns is large, especially in the southern part of the vale, on the outskirts of the forest, and among the foot hills of the wolds. Those in the forest district are mostly connected with the coal trade, such as Lydney (3559), besides Awre and Coleford; and, to the north, besides Newnham, Cinderford and Mitcheldean. South from Stroud there are Minchinhampton (3737) and Nailsworth; near the south-eastern boundary Tetbury and Marshfield; Stonehouse (2183), Dursley (2372), Wotton-under-Edge (2992) and Chipping Sodbury along the western line of the hills; and between them and the Severn, Berkeley and Thornbury (2594). Among the uplands of the Cotteswolds there are no towns, and villages are few, but in the east of the county, in the upper Thames basin, there are, besides Cirencester, Fairford on the Coln and Lechlade, close to the head of the navigation on the Thames itself. Far up in the Lech valley, remote from railway communication, is Northleach, once a great posting station on the Oxford and Cheltenham road. In the north-east are Stow-on-the-Wold, standing high, and Moreton-in-the-Marsh near the headwaters of the Evenlode. In a northern prolongation of the county, almost detached, is Chipping Campden. Winchcomb (2699) lies 6 m. N.E. of Cheltenham. In the north-west, Newent (2485) is the only considerable town. Gloucestershire is in the Oxford circuit, and assizes are held at Gloucester. It has one court of quarter sessions, and is divided into 24 petty sessional divisions. The boroughs of Bristol, Gloucester and Tewkesbury have separate commissions of the peace and courts of quarter sessions. There are 359 civil parishes. Gloucestershire is principally in the diocese of Gloucester, but part is in that of Bristol, and small parts in those of Worcester and Oxford. There are 408 ecclesiastical parishes or districts wholly or in part within the county. There are five parliamentary divisions, namely, Tewkesbury or northern, Cirencester or eastern, Stroud or mid, Thornbury or southern, and Forest of Dean, each returning one member. The county also includes the boroughs of Gloucester and Cheltenham, each returning one member; and the greater part of the borough of Bristol, which returns four members.
History.—The English conquest of the Severn valley began in 577 with the victory of Ceawlin at Deorham, followed by the capture of Cirencester, Gloucester and Bath. The Hwiccas who occupied the district were a West Saxon tribe, but their territory had become a dependency of Mercia in the 7th century, and was not brought under West Saxon dominion until the 9th century. No important settlements were made by the Danes in the district. Gloucestershire probably originated as a shire in the 10th century, and is mentioned by name in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 1016. Towards the close of the 11th century the boundaries were readjusted to include Winchcomb, hitherto a county by itself, and at the same time the forest district between the Wye and the Severn was added to Gloucestershire. The divisions of the county for a long time remained very unsettled, and the thirty-nine hundreds mentioned in the Domesday Survey and the thirty-one hundreds of the Hundred Rolls of 1274 differ very widely in name and extent both from each other and from the twenty-eight hundreds of the present day.
Gloucestershire formed part of Harold’s earldom at the time of the Norman invasion, but it offered slight resistance to the Conqueror. In the wars of Stephen’s reign the cause of the empress Maud was supported by Robert of Gloucester who had rebuilt the castle at Bristol, and the castles at Gloucester and Cirencester were also garrisoned on her behalf. In the barons’ war of the reign of Henry III. Gloucester was garrisoned for Simon de Montfort, but was captured by Prince Edward in 1265, in which year de Montfort was slain at Evesham. Bristol and Gloucester actively supported the Yorkist cause during the Wars of the Roses. In the religious struggles of the 16th century Gloucester showed strong Protestant sympathy, and in the reign of Mary Bishop Hooper was sent to Gloucester to be burnt as a warning to the county, while the same Puritan leanings induced the county to support the Parliamentary cause in the civil war of the 17th century. In 1643 Bristol and Cirencester were captured by the Royalists, but the latter was recovered in the same year and Bristol in 1645. Gloucester was garrisoned for the parliament throughout the struggle.
On the subdivision of the Mercian diocese in 680 the greater part of modern Gloucestershire was included in the diocese of Worcester, and shortly after the Conquest constituted the archdeaconry of Gloucester, which in 1290 comprised the deaneries of Campden, Stow, Cirencester, Fairford, Winchcombe, Stonehouse, Hawkesbury, Bitton, Bristol, Dursley and Gloucester. The district west of the Severn, with the exception of a few parishes in the deaneries of Ross and Staunton, constituted the deanery of the forest within the archdeaconry and diocese of Hereford. In 1535 the deanery of Bitton had been absorbed in that of Hawkesbury. In 1541 the diocese of Gloucester was created, its boundaries being identical with those of the county. On the erection of Bristol to a see in 1542 the deanery of Bristol was transferred from Gloucester to that diocese. In 1836 the sees of Gloucester and Bristol were united; the archdeaconry of Bristol was created out of the deaneries of Bristol, Cirencester, Fairford and Hawkesbury; and the deanery of the forest was transferred to the archdeaconry of Gloucester. In 1882 the archdeaconry of Cirencester was constituted to include the deaneries of Campden, Stow, Northleach north and south, Fairford and Cirencester. In 1897 the diocese of Bristol was recreated, and included the deaneries of Bristol, Stapleton and Bitton.
After the Conquest very extensive lands and privileges in the county were acquired by the church, the abbey of Cirencester alone holding seven hundreds at fee-farm, and the estates of the principal lay-tenants were for the most part outlying parcels of baronies having their “caput” in other counties. The large estates held by William Fitz Osbern, earl of Hereford, escheated to the crown on the rebellion of his son Earl Roger in 1074–1075. The Berkeleys have held lands in Gloucestershire from the time of the Domesday Survey, and the families of Basset, Tracy, Clifton, Dennis and Poyntz have figured prominently in the annals of the county. Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, and Richard of Cornwall claimed extensive lands and privileges in the shire in the 13th century, and Simon de Montfort owned Minsterworth and Rodley.
Bristol was made a county in 1425, and in 1483 Richard III. created Gloucester an independent county, adding to it the hundreds of Dudston and King’s Barton. The latter were reunited to Gloucestershire in 1673, but the cities of Bristol and Gloucester continued to rank as independent counties, with separate jurisdiction, county rate and assizes. The chief officer of the forest of Dean was the warden, who was generally also constable of St Briavel Castle. The first justice-seat for the forest was held at Gloucester Castle in 1282, the last in 1635. The hundred of the duchy of Lancaster is within the jurisdiction of the duchy of Lancaster for certain purposes.
The physical characteristics of the three natural divisions of Gloucestershire have given rise in each to a special industry, as already indicated. The forest district, until the development of the Sussex mines in the 16th century, was the chief iron-producing area of the kingdom, the mines having been worked in Roman times, while the abundance of timber gave rise to numerous tanneries and to an important ship-building trade. The hill district, besides fostering agricultural pursuits, gradually absorbed the woollen trade from the big towns, which now devoted themselves almost entirely to foreign commerce. Silk-weaving was introduced in the 17th century, and was especially prosperous in the Stroud valley. The abundance of clay and building-stone in the county gave rise to considerable manufactures of brick, tiles and pottery. Numerous minor industries sprang up in the 17th and 18th centuries, such as flax-growing and the manufacture of pins, buttons, lace, stockings, rope and sailcloth.
Gloucestershire was first represented in parliament in 1290, when it returned two members. Bristol and Gloucester acquired representation in 1295, Cirencester in 1572 and Tewkesbury in 1620. Under the Reform Act of 1832 the county returned four members in two divisions; Bristol, Gloucester, Cirencester, Stroud and Tewkesbury returned two members each, and Cheltenham returned one member. The act of 1868 reduced the representation of Cirencester and Tewkesbury to one member each.
Antiquities.—The cathedrals of Gloucester and Bristol, the magnificent abbey church of Tewkesbury, and the church of Cirencester with its great Perpendicular porch, are described under their separate headings. Of the abbey of Hayles near Winchcomb, founded by Richard, earl of Cornwall, in 1246, little more than the foundations are left, but these have been excavated with great care, and interesting fragments have been brought to light. Most of the old market towns have fine parish churches. At Deerhurst near Tewkesbury, and Cleeve near Cheltenham, there are churches of special interest on account of the pre-Norman work they retain. The Perpendicular church at Lechlade is unusually perfect; and that at Fairford was built (c. 1500), according to tradition, to contain the remarkable series of stained-glass windows which are said to have been brought from the Netherlands. These are, however, adjudged to be of English workmanship, and are one of the finest series in the country. The great Decorated Calcot Barn is an interesting relic of the monastery of Kingswood near Tetbury. The castle at Berkeley is a splendid example of a feudal stronghold. Thornbury Castle, in the same district, is a fine Tudor ruin, the pretensions of which evoked the jealousy of Cardinal Wolsey against its builder, Edward Stafford, duke of Buckingham, who was beheaded in 1521. Near Cheltenham is the fine 15th-century mansion of Southam de la Bere, of timber and stone. Memorials of the de la Bere family appear in the church at Cleeve. The mansion contains a tiled floor from Hayles Abbey. Near Winchcomb is Sudeley Castle, dating from the 15th century, but the inhabited portion is chiefly Elizabethan. The chapel is the burial place of Queen Catherine Parr. At Great Badminton is the mansion and vast domain of the Beauforts (formerly of the Botelers and others), on the south-eastern boundary of the county.
See Victoria County History, Gloucestershire; Sir R. Atkyns, The Ancient and Present State of Gloucestershire (London, 1712; 2nd ed., London, 1768); Samuel Rudder, A New History of Gloucestershire (Cirencester, 1779); Ralph Bigland, Historical, Monumental and Genealogical Collections relative to the County of Gloucester (2 vols., London, 1791); Thomas Rudge, The History of the County of Gloucester (2 vols., Gloucester, 1803); T. D. Fosbroke Abstract of Records and Manuscripts respecting the County of Gloucestershire formed into a History (2 vols., Gloucester, 1807); Legends, Tales and Songs in the Dialect of the Peasantry of Gloucestershire (London, 1876); J. D. Robertson, Glossary of Dialect and Archaic Words of Gloucester (London, 1890); W. Bazeley and F. A. Hyett, Bibliographers’ Manual of Gloucestershire (3 vols., London, 1895–1897); W. H. Hutton, By Thames and Cotswold (London, 1903). See also Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society.