Some history on the county of Worcestershire
Overlooked by many a travel writer, Worcestershire has many secret treasures. Bounded by The Malvern and Cotswold Hills and bisected by the River Severn the county is quite beautiful and its fields stretch golden and calm; it is peopled with cottages, brimming with picturesque market towns and is ripe with fruit. The county is bordered by Shropshire, Staffordshire and West Midlands in the north, Warwickshire in the east, Gloucestershire in the south and Herefordshire in the west. The hilly, wooded region in the north-west is the remains of the once mighty Wyre Forest. Since the industrial revolution, the Clent and Lickey Hills have provided the north-eastern barrier that 'sheltered' the county from the urban environment of the Black Country and the City of Birmingham and, indeed, continue to do so. As a Black Country cyclist, I have to climb over this ridge to access Worcestershire, a journey I have undertaken many thousands of times as this is great cycling territory - with some excellent pubs! At 991 feet, Bredon Hill is close to the southern border of the county. In the centre is the fertile vale of the Severn and is eventually joined by the Avon which winds through the wooded vale of Evesham.
Founded in 680AD and located on the River Severn, the cathedral city of Worcester is the county town of Worcestershire. The region was converted to Christianity in that century by missionaries from Lindisfarne and Whitby. The Abbey of Evesham soon followed and was founded in the beginning of the 8th century. The monasteries had to be fortified in defence against raiders. The Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes and Welsh have all contributed to the turbulent history of Worcester. The first real shindig was in 1041 when the city was razed to the ground by Hardicanute in revenge for a revolt by the townsfolk against taxes. The English Civil War inflicted terrible damage to Worcester. It was the first city to declare for the King and the last to surrender in 1646. In 1651 Cromwell's 'crowning mercy' was the final battle at Worcester when Charles II was completely defeated and had to flee for his life. Following the war, non-conformism became prevalent and Quakerism abounded.
The hills of the county form spectacular backdrops - The Malverns and the Clent Hills being the most famous. The Wyre Forest was once a royal hunting forest and still covers an extensive area of mixed heath, scrub and woodland. Monuments and buildings include Worcester Cathedral, much of which dates from the fourteenth century, although it was in 1084 that the Saxon Monk Wulfstan began work on the building. Bretforton Manor is a 16th century gabled mansion built on the site of a ruined monastery. Hartlebury Castle was the residence of the Bishops of Worcester for more than 1,000 years. Pershore Abbey followed when King Ethelred endowed a monastery on the site in AD689. Hanbury Hall is an attractive William and Mary house with re-created 18th century gardens. The house was built in 1701 by William Rudhall for the distinguished barrister, Thomas Vernon [1654-1721], who was, for many years, a Member of Parliament for the City of Worcester.
Some of the famous people born in Worcestershire include A. E. Housman [1859-1936], the scholar and poet who wrote 'A Shropshire Lad.' He was born in 1859 at Fockbury just outside Bournheath. The composer Edward Elgar [1857-1934] was born in Lower Broadheath near Worcester. He is best known for the 'Enigma Variations'  and the march 'Pomp and Circumstance' . Famous People who have lived in Worcestershire include Lucien Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, who lived in exile at Thorngrove for a short time. Mrs.Woodhul-Martin, once the only woman to contend for the Presidency of the USA, once lived at Norton Park.
Worcestershire in the 1868 National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland
"Worcestershire, an inland county in the Western Midland district of England, near the Welsh border, bounded on the west by Herefordshire, on the south and south-east by Gloucestershire, on the east and north-east by Warwickshire, on the north by Staffordshire, and on the north-west by Shropshire, which entirely surrounds a small detached portion. It extends from 52° 0' to 62° 30' N. lat., and from 2° 14' to 3° 0' W. long., being 35 miles in length from north to south, and 40 miles in extreme breadth, but the average does not exceed 17 miles. It is irregular in outline, having a circuit of about 220 miles, with 9 detached pieces. It contains 472,165 statute acres, of which about two-thirds are arable, and 100,000 acres in pasture and meadow; the waste lands not exceeding 20,000 acres at the utmost.
When viewed from the Malvern Hills on the Herefordshire border, which is the highest point in the county, the surface presents the appearance of one vast, fertile plain, two-thirds of which lie to the E. of the Severn, and is varied chiefly by the vales of Worcester and Evesham, the former stretching north and south for at least 30 miles, and the latter, watered by the Avon, occupies the south-eastern part of the county. In the earliest historical period it was inhabited by the British tribes, Cornavii and Dobuni, neighbours of the Silures, and under the Roman dominion formed part of the Flavia Caesariezsis.
There are traces of the Roman roads called Upper Saltway and Rycknield Street, which traversed the county, but being then for the most part low and woody, it received but little attention from the Romans. On the complete conquest of the island by the Saxons, it was occupied by the powerful tribe of the Wicking, or Hwickians, who at first established a separate commonwealth, but soon came under the Kings of the Mercians, or Middle English. The Saxons soon discovered the advantages of this county for agricultural pursuits, and reduced the whole of the surface under cultivation.
In the 9th and 10th centuries it suffered from the predatory incursions of the Danes, but was at an early period very populous, as implied by the comparatively small size of the county, and its extending on both banks of the Severn, then evidently spanned by bridges. In the reign of Henry III. it was the scene of the battle of Evesham, in which Simon de Montfort and the Barons were overthrown by Prince Edward, afterwards Edward I. During the civil war of Charles I. it was the scene of many stirring incidents, and at Worcester, on the 3rd of September, 1651, Oliver Cromwell routed the Scotch army under Prince Charles.
The land is rich, varied in hill and dale, and well wooded and watered. The extensive vales, particularly that of Worcester, extending through it from north to south, a distance of about 30 miles, and from a quarter of a mile to a mile in breadth, consist of meadows and pastures of rich quality, which may be mown at pleasure; other large tracts are in hop-grounds and orchards, for which the county has been long famous. The quantity of cider and perry made is sufficient not only for domestic consumption, but for exportation to other parts of the kingdom, together with quantities of raw fruit.
In various parts of the county are tracts of oak and ash timber, with numerous oak coppices, and many of the heights bordering the Severn are ornamented with plantations of fir. The hedgerows, too, are stocked with valuable elm timber. The most important produce of the underwoods, which are supposed to be the remains of the ancient forest with which this county was once covered, are poles for the hop-yards and charcoal for the iron-works.
Of the hilly wastes the principal are the upper parts of the Malvern Hills, with the Worcestershire Beacon on the S.W., which are the highest points in the county, rising to the height of 1,444 feet above sea level, or 1,313 above the Severn; and in a line north from them are the Abberley hills, with the Lickey and Clent hills in the eastern, and the Bredon hills in the southern part of the county, being offshoots of the Cotswolds, the summits of which are unenclosed, affording only rocky sheep-walks. The Malvern and Lickey hills are of igneous origin, consisting of granite, sienite, and greenstone, intermixed with quartz.
The precipitous swells of Bromsgrove Lickey are composed chiefly of quartz, and the Cawney and Tansley hills chiefly of basalt. The hills to the north of Dudley consist of mountain limestone of the lias formation, which forms the substratum of nearly the whole south-eastern portion of the county. The remainder of the county, including the extensive vales of Worcester and Evesham, belongs mostly to the New Red sandstone formation, called triassic. In the north-west is the Bewdley coal basin, and in the north the Dudley basin, at which latter place are likewise beds of ironstone.
In the vale of Evesham, in the parishes of Badsey, the three Littletons, and Prior's Cleeve, are quarries of a calcareous flagstone, capable of receiving a high polish; freestone for building is obtained in various places; and the limestone hills upon which stand the castle and part of the town of Dudley are completely undermined by quarries, in which the rare fossil called the sea-louse, or Dudley locust, is found. Common rock salt, and a species of gypsum, occur near Droitwich and Stoke Prior, famed for their brine springs, which are 80 feet down; and at Stourbridge is fine clay for crucibles, and sand for glass.
The soil in the vale is fertile, and in parts alluvial, consisting of a deep rich sediment, which has been deposited by floods during a long series of ages. In the middle, southern, and western districts, the soil is chiefly a rich clay or loam, but in the north a rich loamy sand, and in the east there are some light soils. Brick earth is found nearly everywhere, and clay for fire-bricks, chiefly in the northern part of the county. The mines employ about 2,000 persons, the produce consisting of coals, iron, and salt.
In the rivers salmon, grayling, shad, and lampreys abound. The principal river, the Severn, traverses the county from north to south by Bewdley, Stourport, Worcester, and Upton, to Tewkesbury, where is the last of a series of locks. It is navigable for vessels of 80 tons as high as Worcester, and of 60 tons as high as Bewdley, or 180 miles from the sea. Its tributaries are the Stour in the north, which is canalized throughout, the Warwickshire Avon in the south, which is navigable from Stratford-on-Avon, and receives the waters of the Piddle, the Teme in the west, and the Salwarpe and Leadon or Leddon.
The canals are important, connecting the Severn with the other English rivers, including the Staffordshire and Worcester, which communicates with the Grand Trunk by the Stour; the Dudley, which goes from Birmingham, northwards by Dudley to Stourbridge; the Worcester and Birmingham, which traverses the county in a north-easterly direction, and joins the Birmingham and Stafford; the Droitwich, which connects that town with the Severn; and the Leominster and Kingston canal, in the western part of the county.
There are mineral spas at Malvern, where is a hydropathic establishment, Abberton, Bromsgrove, Churchill, Dudley, Evesham, Tenbury, and a chalybeate spring at Kidderminster. The climate is mild and healthy, even on the Malverns, but on the eastern hills it is colder. Branches of the Midland and West Midland railways traverse the county; the former, which is part of the Birmingham and Bristol line, passes by Bromsgrove and Worcester, and the latter, which takes a circuitous route through the county, passes by Evesham, Worcester, Droitwich, Kidderminster, and Stourbridge, to Dudley; and about 8 miles of the tram railway from Stratford to Moreton, go by Alderminster and Eatington.
The main lines of road from Worcester are, that by Pershore and Evesham to Shipston-on-Stour, that down the valley of the Severn, by Upton and Tewkesbury, to Gloucester, that by Powick and Great Malvern to Ledbury, that by Droitwich and Bromsgrove to Birmingham, that by Spetchley and Kington to Stratford, and another up the valley of the Severn, by Stourport and Kidderminster, to Stourbridge.
The northern part of the county is the chief seat of the hardware and iron manufactures, which are the most flourishing, employing together above 10,000 hands, chiefly at Dudley, Stourbridge, Old Swinford, Wolverley, Cradley, Belbroughton, Bewdley, Hartlebury, King's Norton, Redditch, Feckenham, etc., the last two named places being the seats of the needle and fish-hook manufactures. Other manufactures are those of carpets and rugs at Kidderminster, employing 1,500 hands; porcelain and gloves at Worcester, the former employing 500, and the latter 2,000 hands; glass at Dudley and Stourbridge, employing 400; besides woollens, worsteds, bombazines, silk, ribbons, plush, coach lace, and horsehair, employing together 2,000 persons, chiefly at Bromsgrove and Kidderminster.
There are salt-works, breweries, maltings, tanneries, coke-ovens, alkali, vitriol, and vinegar works, paper mills, horn factories for making combs and lanterns, and several minor branches of industry. For purposes of civil government the shire is divided into East and West Worcestershire, each returning two members to Parliament; and since 1831 into ten divisions, viz:, Worcester, Kidderminster, Hundred House, and Upton, in West Worcestershire; and Blockley, Droitwich, Dudley, Northfield, Pershore, and Stourbridge, in East Worcestershire, instead of the five ancient hundreds of Blackenhurst, Doddingtree, Halfshire, Osbaldstow, and Pershore.
Its capital is Worcester, a cathedral city, assize town, and parliamentary borough, returning two members, and containing a population of 31,227. The other boroughs are Bewdley, Droitwich, Dudley, Evesham, Kidderminster, and Stourbridge, each returning one member to parliament; also 13 market towns, and about 300 villages and hamlets. There are 286 townships and 197 parishes, besides 8 extra parochial places. In the ecclesiastical arrangement it belongs to the dioceses of Worcester and Hereford, in the province of Canterbury. It is governed by a Lord-Lieutenant, custos rotulorum, high sheriff; and 40 deputy-lieutenants, assisted by about 300 magistrates.
The shire is within the Oxford circuit and Midland military district, and belongs to the jurisdiction of the Birmingham Court of Bankruptcy. The population of the whole county in 1861 was 307,397, viz:, 186,431 within the eastern, and 120,966 in the western division, of whom about a third are resident in Worcester, Dudley, Kidderminster, Bromsgrove, Evesham, and Redditch. The remains of antiquity are not numerous, the principal being those of the Roman station Saline, now Droitwich; of Bredon Hill, Witchbury and Kemsey Roman camps; a British barrow on Clent Heath, and a Danish camp at Conderton, near Witchbury. There are ruins of abbeys at Bordesley and Evesham, and of religious houses at Dodford, Dudley, and Coles Hill."
Based in Kidderminster's, this brewery was established in 1807. It was amalgamated with the Delph Brewery of Brierley Hill in 1896 to form the Worcestershire Brewing and Malting Company Ltd. This was not a successful venture and, in a bid to save shareholder's investment, the company was restructured - the name was changed in 1904 to the Kidderminster Brewery Co. Ltd. Brewing ceased at the Blackwell Street site in 1914, a year after the company was acquired by Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries Ltd.
John Jordan & Co.
I have posted some information on this brewery at Oldbury within the story of the British Queen public-house, the brewery tap.
Thomas Plant & Co. Ltd.
This brewery can be traced back to the mid-1830s when William Round opened a beer house called the Cottage Spring Inn fronting the High Street at Netherton. His home-brewed ales proved popular, encouraging him to increase production to supply other pubs in the locality. Over a number of years the site behind the pub was developed with a new brewery building and a malthouse.
Following William Round's death around 1849, sons Samuel and James took over the business. They proved to be as successful as their father and expansion of the brewery continued. Borrowing from the success of beers produced in Burton-on-Trent, the brothers introduced a Union Fermentation System at Netherton - quite a Black Country brewing revolution.
Samuel later bought out his brother's share in the business and, following his death in 1872, bequeathed much of the business to his son Jabez. Judging simply from his age, Jabez was still wet behind the ears and, in 1875, he sold the business to Thomas Plant.
Born in Brierley Hill in 1844, Thomas Plant moved the business forward. He was constantly on the lookout for another retail outlet in which he could sell the beers produced at the Steam Brewery behind the Cottage Spring Inn. At one time a range of sixteen different beers were being produced by the company.
Thomas Plant died in 1896 and, with no son to succeed him, the firm stumbled on in the hands of his executors. John Shaw was appointed as manager in 1901, a date that coincided with the registration of the company. Thomas Plant & Co. Ltd. was acquired by the Hereford and Tredegar Brewery Ltd. in 1912 and the brewery was closed two years later. However, with John Shaw at the helm again, production was restarted in 1915. The Steam Brewery was producing beers for a tied estate of 63 public-houses by the time Ansell's Brewery acquired the business in 1936. The brewery was finally closed in 1947 and later demolished.
John Rolinson and Son Ltd.
Netherton's Five Ways Brewery of John Rolinson and Son Ltd. opened around 1835 as a homebrew house run by Thomas Penbury. John Rolinson was not the licensee until 1877. Joined by his son Daniel in 1885 the business began to grow slowly.
John Rolinson could hardly be described as an aggressive expansionist - he simply bought other local properties as and when they came onto the market. He died at the age of 74 on January 13th 1896. Son Daniel had to raise a mortgage to keep control of the brewery and tied estate. He became a Dudley Town Councillor in 1896 but made several inexplicable business decisions that caused much concern among the board.
Edwin John Thompson of Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries was brought in to steady the ship. Daniel Rolinson went his own way buying pubs of inordinate size or in odd locations - he even acquired one in Bodmin before he was declared bankrupt in August 1910. He ended up working at the Green Dragon in Dudley until his death in 1920. The brewery he left continued to wobble and eventually folded in 1925. The tied estate of 59 public-houses was taken over by Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries Ltd.
Showell's Brewery Company Ltd.
This brewery was established by Walter Showell in the mid-19th century and by the end of the Victorian age he and his sons were at the head of a large regional brewery with a tied estate of almost 200 public-houses. Not bad going for a man who started out from a modest background. Walter Showell was born in Birmingham in September 1832 and spent his formative years living with his aunt on Ashted Row. He initially pursued a career as a chemist and druggist and moved to Oldbury to work as an apprentice to Charles Tonge who had a chemist's shop in Birmingham Street. His change of career path came as a result of his marriage in 1854 to Sarah Hartill, the daughter of a master miller based in Oldbury.
With a background in chemistry, his association with a family working with malt perhaps inevitably led to a new career in brewing. He may have also had some financial backing from his father-in-law Joseph Hartill. He established a small brewery in Simpson Street, a short distance from the Dog and Pheasant. His recipes seemingly proved successful because the expansion of his brewing operation was swift. He accumulated enough capital to buy a large tract of land that included the Crosswells Spring. He constructed a new brewery on the site and started production at this larger brewery in 1874.
With a healthy growth of sales, continued expansion came in the mid-1880s when another brewery was built in order to increase production. The outlets for the beer were mainly in Birmingham, along with some houses dotted around the Black Country. The business was registered in March 1887, a time when control of the company was taken over by his son Charles.
Showell's acquired the Brewers' Investment Corporation Ltd. in 1894 which doubled the company's tied estate in Birmingham to around eighty public-houses. The firm moved their head office to Great Charles Street and established a warehouse and stores just off Broad Street, the canal link between Birmingham and Oldbury, thus enabling the transportation of goods between the brewery and the supply depot.
The company acquired the Hockley Brewery in 1889 which was arguably logical in their regional expansion plans. However, they took over the Brookfield Brewery in Stockport which brought considerable risk as the firm were suddenly having to supply and service pubs in remote locations. Pubs in London, the south-west and the coast were acquired in the company's ambitious plans of expansion. Some of the board's grand plans however proved to be the firm's downfall and a downturn in the economic climate hit the company hard. They were forced to sell the brewery at Stockport and they also offloaded their London houses to Refell's Bexley Brewery.
Walter Showell died in 1901 at the family home of Stourton Hall near Kinver. Thirteen years later his sons sold the company to Allsopp's of Burton-on-Trent. The sale included 194 public houses and 30 outdoors. The brewery was closed by Allsopp's and they subsequently supplied the tied estate with their beers produced at Burton-on-Trent.