Somerset, EnglandGenWeb



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Somerset is a county in the far west of England, forming part of the southern shore of the estuary of the Severn, which in consequence of the great importance of Bristol as a seaport is better known as the Bristol Channel. It is a county with a character peculiarly its own. Perhaps there is not, among all the forty shires of England, another in which there is so complete a sense of quiet and repose, of rest and peace and pleasant rural charm, as that which characterises the hills and valleys, the green orchard aisles, the broad and fertile meadows of this beautiful land. It is above everything an agricultural county, and its methods of farming have, in the course of many ages, reached a high degree of excellence. But farming, even at its best, is a pursuit which serves but to deepen the sense of rest and peace. Nowhere is Somerset the seat of any important manufacture. It does not possess even one great industrial town, with roaring mills and crowded streets and the noise and stir of hurrying traffic.

Maritime although it is, there is not, in all its sixty miles of sea-board, a single harbour worthy of the name. The ocean highway of the Bristol Channel lies far out from its shores, and the only substantial advantage that it derives from its position is in its watering-places, some of which although the largest of them would elsewhere be called a little town have of late years become popular as health or holiday resorts.

The coast of Somerset, much of which lies very low and some of it even below the level of high-water mark has been formed to a great extent out of mud and sand brought down by the Severn, whose estuary is fringed in many places with broad sands, and still broader mud- flats, where shallow waters make navigation difficult and dangerous.

But the very cause which renders the maritime position of the county of little commercial importance to it, adds greatly to its prosperity in another and very different way. The alluvial lands not only lie along the shore, but extend far into the heart of Somerset. Ages of culti- vation have converted what were once almost impassable morasses into some of the most fertile soil in England, and this it is which has gained for Somerset its reputation as one of the best grazing and dairy districts in the island. There is no land in Britain, for example, to surpass in richness the meadows of Taunton Dean, or the even more famous Pawlett Hams on the shore of the river Parrett.

One might well imagine, looking down from the Mendips or the Quantocks or the eastern slopes of Ex- moor, that this was a district whose peace had never been broken by the clash of arms. It is, no doubt, a county of long tenures. Macaulay declared that he had found in it farmers in possession of lands that their ancestors had held in the time of the Plantagenets. The castle of Dunster has changed hands only once since its founda- tion by one of William the Conqueror's knights, while the manor of East Quantockshead still belongs to the family who owned it when its details were set down in Domesday Book.

And yet the record of Somerset has been a stirring one. It may be doubted if there are many shires in England of greater interest to the historian. Within its borders are some of the most famous spots in Britain; places of national importance, whose names are as familiar as those of Hastings or of Runnymede. Such, for example, is the Isle of Athelney, where Alfred paused for breathing- space before his great victory at Ethandune. Such is Sedgemoor, last of English battlefields. Then, too, of all heroic episodes in the Civil War, what is more stirring than Blake's defence of Taunton? In traces of times before the dawn of history the county is extraordinarily rich. Few English towns have yielded so many Roman remains as the city of Bath. In few other English counties are the hill-tops crowned with so many ancient strongholds. To the naturalist, the student of architecture, and the lover of beautiful scenery, the attractions of Somerset are of a very high order. It is indeed a county to be proud of, a pleasant land to live in, a region of unfailing interest and charm.

SOURCE:  Knight, Francis. Cambridge, University Press. 1909

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This webpage was last updated Tuesday, 21-Oct-2014 15:54:53 MDT