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About Warwickshire

Warwickshire truly is at heart of the country, with some of the most attractive towns and villages in England set amongst beautiful countryside. The county is split into five districts each with their own distinctive feel, but wherever you are in the county there is always a sense that you can access everything you need without the hassles that go with life in the large cities.

Warwickshire was inhabited as early as prehistoric times, as archaeological findings of ancient artefacts along the Avon valley indicate. These include remains of pottery and stone tools as well as a number of iron age hill forts scattered throughout the region. There is also the megalithic stone circle of the Rollright Stones in the south of the county.

The Romans invaded Britain in AD 43 and built a number of forts to strengthen the region, such as Lunt Fort in Coventry. Important Roman roads that criss-cross the country such as the Fosse way, Ryknild Street and Watling St were also constructed through Warwickshire. The Fosse way was in fact the Western Frontier of the Roman empire for a number of decades.

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).

Queen Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni tribe who revolted against the Roman occupation, also may have had her final stand in AD 60 at the fields of Mancetter at the hands of Paulinus's troops.

After the departure of the Romans in the 4th century, the native Celts lived peaceably in the area up until the 7th century when a Saxon tribe called the Hwicce took possession of the land. No sooner had the area become part of the Saxon kingdom of Mercia, that King Alfred the Great, after battles with the Danes, agreed the Peace of Wedmore and ceded all territory to the North and East of Watling St to the Viking invaders. This area became known as the Danelaw and saw periodic fighting between Danes and Saxons well into the 11th century.

Faced also with the nearby southern boundary to Wessex, the region was further fortified with the beginnings of Warwick Castle and Tamworth castle by Ethelfleda "Lady of the Mercians", daughter of King Alfred.

The protection of the castle let Warwick grow 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 first recorded use of the name Warwickshire was in the year 1001, named after Warwick meaning "dwellings by the weir".
Coventry is also believed to have developed around this time from a founding of a Benedictine Abbey by Leofric Earl of Mercia and his wife Lady Godiva. A settlement soon sprang up from the market established at the abbey gates.

The legend of Guy of Warwick and Guy’s Cliffe also stems from this era. This Saxon noble, the legendary killer of the Dun Cow, returned from his many travels and unbeknown to his wife, retired to live out the rest of his days in a cave by the river Avon as a hermit. His wife, the lady Felice of Warwick, remained ignorant of his unannounced presence until just before Guy died. On his death-bed he finally revealed his true identity to the poor lady who, overcome by grief threw herself from the cliff where her husband had lived for so many years. It is said that her ghost, distraught with grief, still haunts the site.

The Normans were responsible for extending much of Warwick Castle and Kenilworth Castle following their invasion in 1066. Many of the main settlements of Warwickshire were also established as market towns, including Birmingham, Bedworth, Nuneaton, Rugby and Stratford-Upon-Avon.

The earldom, to which considerable power was attached, passed through the hands of a number of important families, including the Beauchamps, the Mauduits, and the Nevilles.
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick from 1449 to 1470 who supported the Yorkists during the Wars of the Roses became known as “Warwick the Kingmaker”.
Neville helped depose Henry from the throne of England and proclaim the Yorkist Edward IV king in 1461. Warwick then virtually ruled the kingdom until 1464 when, increasingly at odds with Edward, he fled to France. That same year Warwick invaded England as a Lancastrian and defeated Edward IV, released Henry from imprisonment and restored him back to the throne. When Edward IV returned and the Yorkists rallied to his banner, Warwick was outmanoeuvred and slain in the Battle of Barnet.

The county throughout the medieval period was dominated by Coventry which had become an important centre for the wool and textile trades. It was one of the most important cities in England at this point, and on several occasions Coventry briefly served as the second capital of England.

In 1400 the city walls were completed. These surrounded the city providing a safe enclave 2 ½ miles (4km) across and consisted of two red sandstone walls in-filled with rubble 9 feet (3 metres) thick. Five main gatehouses served the roads that entered the city. With its impressive walls Coventry was described as being the best defended city in England outside of London.

Due to its importance, in 1345 Coventry was granted a city charter by King Edward III, and later in 1451, King Henry VI granted Coventry a full charter which made Coventry a county in itself. This status was retained until 1842 when it reverted back to being a part of Warwickshire.

In 1562 Elizabeth I gave Warwick Castle to her favourite, Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester and on his death it was returned to royal possession.

It was also around this time that William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. Born in 1564 the bard wrote or collaborated on 38 plays during his life and established himself as the foremost literary talent of his own Elizabethan Age. Since his death he is now regarded as a genius whose creative achievement has never been surpassed in any age.

1605 also saw the failings of the Gunpowder Plot, an event that is closely tied to Warwickshire. Many of powerful Catholic families associated with the plot lived in grand stately homes within the county and preperations for the Midlands uprising were gathering pace with a small army gathered on Dunsmore Heath a short distance from Coombe Abbey where the daughter of King James I was residing.

At the outbreak of the English Civil War, Warwickshire was Parliamentarian. In the first battle which took place at Edgehill near the Oxfordshire border in 1642, Charles I and Oliver Cromwell were both present and both claimed victory. Charles I is also said to have used the Old Mint at Southam in order to mint coins for his troops after the battle.

During the Civil War, Coventry became a firm stronghold of the Parliamentarian forces. On several occasions Coventry was attacked by Royalists but they were unable to breach the strong city walls.

Coventry was used to house Royalist prisoners. It is believed that the phrase "sent to Coventry" grew out of the hostile attitude of residents of the city to either the troops billeted there, or the Royalist prisoners held in St. John's church.

In 1662 after the restoration of the monarchy, in revenge for the support Coventry gave to the Parliamentarians during the Civil War, the city walls were demolished on the orders of King Charles II. Now only a few short sections survive, the best examples being found in Lady Herbert's garden.

Another buildings that suffered from the Civil War was Kenilworth Castle. This was destroyed in 1649 and the great mere drained away by Oliver Cromwell's forces to ensure that it could not be used as a defensive fortress again.

During the industrial age of the 18th and 19th centuries, Warwickshire became one of Britain's foremost industrial counties. The highly productive coalfields of northern Warwickshire, coupled with the development of an excellent train and canal network, enhanced the industrial growth of Coventry and Birmingham as well as nearby towns like Nuneaton, Bedworth, and Rugby. The traditional industries of coal mining, textiles, cement production, and engineering flourished within the region.

Towards the end of the 19th century administrative boundaries changed as Birmingham and Coventry became large industrial cities. Therefore 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.

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.

This left Warwickshire with its unique and recognisable shape.

Coventry played a pivotal role in World War Two (1939-1945) as a main munitions centre for the war effort. As a result it became a prime target for German air raids during the blitz years of 1940-41.

On 14 November 1940, 500 German bombers dropped 500 tons of explosives and nearly 900 incendiary bombs on Coventry, claiming many lives and nearly destroying the city. Industry was hit hard with 75% of factories being damaged, although war production was only briefly disrupted with much of it continuing in shadow factories around the city.

After the war, the city was extensively rebuilt. The new city centre built in the 1950s was designed by young town planner Donald Gibson and included one of Europe's first traffic free shopping precincts. The city is now a popular place for shopping and features many excellent shops.

A new modern cathedral designed by Sir Basil Spence was also built and opened in 1962 next to the ruins of the old cathedral. The city, as an act of reconciliation, was further twinned with the German town of Dresden which had also suffered a devastating bombing attack.

A number of Bomber bases within Warwickshire operated during the war. Wellesbourne airfield was home to the No.22 Operational Training Unit who trained many aviation personnel, and is in fact still in operation as a private airfield. Gaydon had a large RAF base near the village that is now the Heritage Motor Centre, and Baginton Aerodrome was an RAF fighter station. Today, it is known as Coventry Airport and houses the Midland Air Museum.

The Midland Air Museum is one of the top aviation attractions and features an excellent collections of wartime aircraft as well as celebrating the work of Sir Frank Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine.

The Royal Show started in Warwickshire at the NAC, Stoneleigh in 1963. The Royal Show is the biggest agricultural show in England and celebrates all aspects of farming and rural life, from the best of British livestock to the latest business and technological innovations in the farming industry. It is well worth a visit.

Statue of Lady Godiva with the spires of the Holy Trinity church and the ruined Coventry Cathedral

Useful Links to information on Coventry and organisations within Coventry.

Map of Coventry City Centre

Weather forecast for Coventry

Local buses serving Coventry

Medieval buildings in Spon St