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Warwickshire was an archetypal Mercian shire, regular in shape and taking its name from the chief town. The southern parts are drained by the Avon and its tributaries, the northern by the river Thame, which joins the Trent. The eastern border runs along the line of Watling Street, the west along Icknield Street, and the shire is bisected north-east to south-west by the Fosse Way. Camden placed it in the territory of the Cornovii and divided it into the arable south, or Fielden, and the wooded north around the forest of Arden. The Fielden territory had been part of the land of the Hwicce. The area was included in the diocese of Lichfield in the early 7th cent. but the southern parts were hived off to the see of Worcester. Warwickshire formed the heartland of the kingdom of Mercia: in the 8th and 9th cents. Tamworth was the chief residence of the Mercian monarchs and Warwick was refounded in 914 by Æthelfleda, lady of the Mercians.

It remained a rural county throughout the Middle Ages. Warwick itself was a significant provincial city, Kenilworth and Warwick castles important until the civil wars, and Coventry had a reputation for cloth-making. During the civil wars, the shire was held for the most part by the parliamentarians Lords Warwick and Brooke, with strong support from Coventry and Birmingham, proving too powerful for the royalist Lord Northampton. The gradual improvement in transport through inland navigation, turnpikes, and finally railways brought Warwickshire into the national orbit. In 1825, just before the railway era, the Birmingham canal was paying 70 per cent, the Coventry canal via Atherstone 44 per cent, the Oxford canal via Rugby 32 per cent, the Grand Junction linking up with the Thames 13 per cent, and the Warwick and Birmingham canal 11 per cent. The Liverpool to Birmingham railway opened in 1837, the London to Birmingham in 1838.

The modern history of the county is the development of industry in the northern parts around Birmingham and Coventry, exploiting the proximity of woodland, coal, and iron resources. Camden described Birmingham in Elizabeth's reign as ‘swarming with inhabitants and echoing with the noise of anvils’. It passed Coventry in size during the 17th cent. and by 1700 had grown to around 15,000 people. Birmingham's dissatisfaction with its lack of representation in Parliament was demonstrated in 1774 when it captured one of the two county seats, previously the preserve of Tory country gentlemen. The demand for direct representation grew. In 1812 one of the county MPs was censured for his ‘inattention’ to the commercial interests of the shire and in 1819, to dramatize the situation, Birmingham radicals ‘elected’ a legislative attorney. Attwood's Birmingham Political Union played an important part in the passing of the Great Reform Act of 1832, whereby Birmingham received two MPs. In the later 19th cent. Birmingham was granted city status and under Joseph Chamberlain led the way in progressive local government. To nail-making, small arms, cutlery, and button-making was added industry of all kinds: Cadbury's moved to Bournville in 1879 and the Austin Motor Company opened at Longbridge in 1905. By 1911 the population was well over half a million.

Stratford-upon-Avon owed its fame as a tourist attraction largely to the Shakespeare jubilee of 1769, organized by David Garrick. The Memorial theatre opened in 1932. The salt springs at Leamington had been known since Tudor times, but the expansion of the town was 19th cent., the Pump Room opening in 1814. Nuneaton developed as a textile centre, Courtauld's setting up a factory in 1920, and Rugby grew steadily after the opening of the London to Birmingham railway, on which it was an important junction. The county lost several parishes to West Midlands in the local government reorganization of 1972. In the 1990s Warwickshire retained its county council, with Birmingham, Coventry, and Solihull as unitary authorities, and Warwick, Rugby, Stratford, North Warwickshire, and Nuneaton and Bedworth as district councils.

J. A. Cannon

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Warwickshire (wŏ´rĬkshĬr), county (1991 pop. 477,000), 975 sq mi (2,525 sq km), central England. The county seat is Warwick. Warwickshire is divided into five administrative districts: North Warwickshire, Nuneaton and Bedworth, Rugby, Warwick and Stratford-on-Avon. Historically, Birmingham, Coventry, and Solihull were also part of the county. The terrain is gently rolling, with outcroppings of the Cotswold Hills in the south. The Avon, flowing southwesterly, is the chief river. There are vestiges of the ancient Forest of Arden.

The region is a varied one, largely given to agriculture (wheat and other grains, dairying, sheep and cattle grazing). Some light industry is practiced. There are deposits of limestone and fireclay; coal is in the northeast. One of England's most known public schools is at Rugby. Numerous traces of the Roman occupation remain, such as the abbeys of Merevale and Stoneleigh and the ruins of the castle at Kenilworth. Warwick Castle is largely intact. The county is rich in literary associations as well. Shakespeare's birthplace at Stratford-upon-Avon (see under Stratford-on-Avon) is one of England's most popular literary attractions. In 1974, Warwickshire was reorganized as a nonmetropolitan county.

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Warwickshire County in central England. The land is gently rolling, rising to the Cotswold Hills in the s, and is drained chiefly by the River Avon. Cereals are the principal crops, and dairy cattle and sheep are raised. There is growing light industry, especially near Nuneaton, Rugby, and Leamington. The county town of Warwick (1992 pop. 116,299), Kenilworth and Stratford upon Avon all draw considerable numbers of tourists. Area: 1981sq km (765sq mi). Pop. (1996) 500,600.

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