History of Warwickshire

See also article on Warwickshire.

Ancient history

The reconstructed Roman Lunt Fort near Coventry.
The reconstructed Roman Lunt Fort near Coventry.

The Warwickshire area has almost certainly been inhabited since Prehistoric times. Remains of barrows and stone tools and axes have been found, mostly along the Avon valley. Also the remains of around twelve iron age hill forts have been found in the Warwickshire area.

For the first few decades following the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43, the Warwickshire area found itself at the frontier of Roman rule. The Watling Street and Fosse Way Roman roads were constructed, and for several decades the Fosse Way marked the western frontier of Roman rule in Britain. The Warwickshire area was heavilly fortified during this period and several military settlements were founded to defend the roads. Later on the Ryknild Street was constructed through the Warwickshire area, which passed through what is now Birmingham.

In time some of these military settlements grew into civilian towns. The largest Roman settlement in Warwickshire was Aluana (modern day Alcester). Other significant Roman settlements included Tripontium (near Rugby) and Manduessedum. (modern day Mancetter near Atherstone).

Aluana was an important walled town, which stood at a junction of the Ryknild Street and an east-west road.

There was also a large fort in what is now Edgbaston in Birmingham, and a fort near Coventry (the Lunt Fort).

There is evidence of extensive industry in the Warwickshire area during the Roman period. The area around Manduessedum in northern Warwickshire, is known to have had an extensive pottery industry, which extended to near what is now Nuneaton, the remains of up to thirty pottery kilns have been found in this area.

Some historians believe that the Battle of Watling Street, the last battle of Boudica, took place in the Warwickshire area. The historian Graham Webster claimed it took place near Manduessedum. Another possible site put forward by Jack Lucas is the area east of Rugby. There is, however, no proof for either of these theories.

Anglo-Saxon period

After the Romans left Britain in the 4th century, the Warwickshire area was settled by Anglo Saxon tribes. By the 8th and 9th century, the Warwickshire area had become a part of the kingdom of Mercia.

In the late 9th century the Mercian kingdom declined and in 874 large parts of Mercia to the east of Warwickshire were ceded to Danish (viking) invaders by King Alfred's Treaty of Wedmore with the Danish leader Guthrum.

Watling Street, on the north-eastern edge of Warwickshire, became the boundary between the Danelaw (the kingdom of the Danes) to the east and the much reduced Mercia to the west. There was also a boundary with the kingdom of Wessex to the south.

Owing to its location at the frontier between two kingdoms, what is now Warwickshire needed to establish defences against the threat of Danish invasion. This task was undertaken by Ethelfleda, "Lady of the Mercians" and daughter of King Alfred, who was responsible for the building of the first parts of Warwick Castle. Defences against the Danes were also built at Tamworth (see Tamworth Castle).

Periodic fighting between Danes and Saxons occurred until the 11th century. Because of its castle, Warwick grew into a prosperous market town and a powerful centre within the Mercian kingdom. In the early 11th century, new internal boundaries within the Mercian kingdom were drawn and Warwickshire came into being as the lands administered from Warwick. The county was innitially divided into ten hundreds.

The first recorded use of the name Warwickshire was in the year 1001, named after Warwick (meaning "dwellings by the weir").

Middle ages

The Normans were responsible for building much of Warwick Castle and Kenilworth Castle following their invasion in 1066.

Many of the main settlements of Warwickshire were established in the middle ages as market towns, including Birmingham, Bedworth, Nuneaton, Rugby and Stratford-upon-Avon amongst others.

The county was dominated throughout the medieval period by Coventry which became an important centre of wool and textiles trades. Coventry became one of the most important cities in England.

In 1451 Coventry became a county corporate in its own right: the County of the City of Coventry.

Civil War

In the English Civil War in the 17th century the Battle of Edgehill (1642) was fought in Warwickshire, near the Oxfordshire border.

Modern period

During the 18th and 19th centuries Warwickshire became one of Britain's foremost industrial counties. The coalfields of northern Warwickshire were amongst the most productive in the country, and greatly enhanced the industrial growth of Coventry and Birmingham.

Warwickshire became a centre of the national canal system, with major arterial routes such as the Oxford Canal the Coventry Canal and later, what is now the Grand Union Canal being constructed through the county.

One of the first intercity railway lines: the London and Birmingham Railway ran through Warwickshire. And during the 19th century, the county developed a dense railway network.

Towns like Nuneaton, Bedworth, and Rugby also became industrialised. The siting of a major railway junction in the town was the key factor in the industrial growth of Rugby.

Towards the end of the 19th century Birmingham and Coventry had become large industrial cities in their own right, and so administrative boundaries had to change. In 1889 the administrative county of Warwickshire was created, and both Coventry and Birmingham became county boroughs which made them administratively separate from the rest of Warwickshire. Solihull later followed as a county borough. These borougs remained part of the ceremonial county of Warwickshire, which expanded into Worcestershire and Staffordshire as Birmingham annexed surrounding villages.

This situation lasted until 1974, when the two cities were removed from Warwickshire altogether, and along with parts of Staffordshire and Worcestershire became a part of the new West Midlands metropolitan county.

The remaining post-1974 county of Warwickshire was left with a rather odd shape, which looks as if a large chunk has been bitten out of it where Coventry and Birmingham used to be.


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