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Somerset ( or ) is a county in South West England. The county town is Tauntonmarker, which is in the south of the county. The ceremonial county of Somerset borders the counties of Bristolmarker and Gloucestershiremarker to the north, Wiltshiremarker to the east, Dorsetmarker to the south-east, and Devonmarker to the south-west. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the coast of the Bristol Channelmarker and the estuary of the River Severn. The traditional northern border of the county is the River Avon, but the administrative boundary has crept southwards, with the creation and expansion of the City of Bristolmarker, and latterly the county of Avon and its successor Unitary Authorities in the north.

Somerset is a rural county of rolling hills such as the Mendip Hillsmarker, Quantock Hillsmarker and Exmoor National Parkmarker, and large flat expanses of land including the Somerset Levels. There is evidence of human occupation from Neolithic times, and subsequent settlement in the Roman and Saxon periods. Later, the county played a significant part in the consolidation of power and rise of King Alfred the Great, the English Civil War and the Monmouth Rebellion.

Agriculture is a major business in the county. Farming of sheep and cattle, including for wool and the county's famous cheeses (most notably Cheddarmarker), are traditional and contemporary, as is the more unusual cultivation of willow for basketry. Apple orchards were once plentiful, and to this day Somerset is known for the production of strong cider. Unemployment is lower than the national average, and the largest employment sectors are retail, manufacturing, tourism, and health and social care. Population growth in the county is higher than the national average.


The name derives from Old English Sumorsǣte, which is short for Sumortūnsǣte, meaning "the people living at or dependent upon Sumortūn". The first known use of the name Somersæte was in 845, after the region fell to the Saxons.Sumortūn is modern Somertonmarker and may mean "summer settlement", a farmstead occupied during the summer but abandoned in the winter. However, Somerton is not down on the levels—lower ground, where only summer occupation was possible because of flooding—but on a hill where winter occupation would have been feasible. An alternative suggestion is that the name derives from Seo-mere-saetan meaning "settlers by the sea lakes".The people of Somerset are first mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle's entry for 845 AD, in the inflected form "Sumursætum", but the county is first mentioned in the entry for 1015 using the same name. The archaic county name Somersetshire is first mentioned in the Chronicle's entry for 878. Although "Somersetshire" had been in common use as an alternative name for the county, it went out of fashion in the late 19th century, and is no longer used. This is possibly due to the adoption of "Somerset" as the official name for the county through the establishment of the County Council in 1889. However, as with other counties not ending in "shire", this suffix was superfluous, as there was no need to differentiate between the county and a town within it.

The Old English name continues to be used in the motto of the county, Sumorsǣte ealle, meaning "all the people of Somerset". Adopted as the motto in 1911, the phrase is taken from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Somerset was a part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessexmarker, and the phrase refers to the wholehearted support the people of Somerset gave to King Alfred in his struggle to save Wessex from the Viking invaders.

Somerset is Gwlad yr Haf in Welsh, Gwlas an Hav in Cornish and Bro an Hañv in Breton, which all mean 'Land of Summer'.

Somerset settlement names are mostly Anglo-Saxon in origin, but a few hill names include Celtic elements. For example, an Anglo-Saxon charter of 682 concerning Creechborough Hill defines it as "the hill the British call Cructan and we call Crychbeorh" (we being the Anglo-Saxons). Some modern names are Brythonic in origin, such as Tarnockmarker, while others have both Saxon and Brythonic elements, such as Pen Hillmarker.


The caves of the Mendip Hillsmarker were settled during the Palaeolithic period onward and contain extensive archaeological sites such as those at Cheddar Gorgemarker. Bones from Gough's Cavemarker have been dated to 12,000 BC while a complete skeleton, known as Cheddar man, dates from 7150 BC. Examples of cave art have been found in caves such as Aveline's Holemarker. Occupation of some caves continued until modern times, including Wookey Holemarker.

The Somerset Levels—specifically the dry points such as Glastonburymarker and Brent Knollmarker— also have a long history of settlement, and are known to have been settled by Mesolithic hunters. Travel in the area was helped by the construction of the world's oldest known engineered roadway, the Sweet Trackmarker, which dates from 3807 BC or 3806 BC.

There are numerous Iron Age hill forts, some of which, like Cadbury Castleand Ham Hillmarker, were later reoccupied in the Early Middle Ages. The exact age of the henge monument at Stanton Drew stone circlesmarker is unknown, but it is believed to be Neolithic.

On the authority of the future emperor Vespasian, as part of the ongoing expansion of the Roman presence in Britain, the Second Legion Augusta invaded Somerset from the south-east in AD 47. The county remained part of the Roman Empire until around AD 409, when the Roman occupation of Britain came to an end.A variety of Roman remains have been found, including Pagans Hill Roman Temple in Chew Stokemarker,Low Ham Roman Villa and the Roman Bathsmarker which gave their name to the city of Bathmarker.

After the Romans left, Britain was invaded by Anglo-Saxon peoples, who had established control over much of what is now England by A.D. 600 but Somerset was still in British hands. The native British held back Saxon advance in the southwest for some time longer, but by the early eighth century King Ine of Wessex had pushed the boundaries of the West Saxon kingdom far enough west to include Somerset. The Saxon royal palace in Cheddarmarker was used several times in the 10th century to host the Witenagemot. After the Norman Conquest, the county was divided into 700 fiefs, and large areas were owned by the crown, with fortifications such as Dunster Castlemarker used for control and defence. Somerset contains HMP Shepton Malletmarker, England's oldest prison still in use, which opened in 1610. In the English Civil War Somerset was largely Parliamentarian. In 1685 the Monmouth Rebellion was played out in Somerset and neighbouring Dorset. The rebels landed at Lyme Regismarker and travelled north, hoping to capture Bristolmarker and Bathmarker, but they were defeated in the Battle of Sedgemoormarker at Westonzoylandmarker, the last pitched battle fought in England. Arthur Wellesley took his title, Duke of Wellington from the town of Wellingtonmarker; he is commemorated on a nearby hill by a large, spotlit obelisk, known as the Wellington Monumentmarker.

The 18th century was largely one of peace in Somerset, but the Industrial Revolution in the Midlands and Northern England spelled the end for most of Somerset's cottage industries. Farming continued to flourish, however, and the Bath and West of England Society for the Encouragement of Agriculture, Arts, Manufactures and Commercemarker was founded in 1777 to improve farming methods. Despite this, 20 years later John Billingsley conducted a survey of the county's agriculture in 1795 and found that agricultural methods could still be improved. Coal mining was an important industry in north Somerset during the 18th and 19th centuries, and by 1800 it was based around Radstockmarker. The Somerset coalfield reached its peak production by the 1920s, but all the pits have now been closed, the last in 1973. Most of the surface buildings have been removed, and apart from a winding wheel outside Radstock Museummarker, little evidence of their former existence remains. Further west, the Brendon Hillsmarker were mined for iron ore in the late 19th century; this was taken by rail to Watchet Harbour for shipment to the furnaces at Ebbw Valemarker

Many Somerset soldiers died during the First World War, with the Somerset Light Infantry suffering nearly 5,000 casualties. War memorials were put up in most of the county's towns and villages; only nine, described as the Thankful Villages, had none of their residents killed. During the Second World War the county was a base for troops preparing for the D-Day landings. Some of the hospitals which were built for the casualties of the war remain in use. The Taunton Stop Linemarker was set up to repel a potential German invasion. The remains of its pill boxes can still be seen along the coast, and south through Ilminstermarker and Chardmarker.

A number of decoy towns were constructed in Somerset in World War II to protect Bristol and other towns, at night. They were designed to mimic the geometry of "blacked out" streets, railway lines, and Bristol Temple Meads railway stationmarker, to encourage bombers away from these targets. One, on the radio beam flight path to Bristolmarker, was constructed on Beacon Batchmarker. It was laid out by Shepperton Film Studios, based on aerial photographs of the city's railway marshalling yards. The decoys were fitted with dim red lights, simulating activities like the stoking of steam locomotives. Burning bales of straw soaked in creosote were used to simulate the effects of incendiary bombs dropped by the first wave of Pathfinder night bombers; meanwhile, incendiary bombs dropped on the correct location were quickly smothered, wherever possible. Drums of oil were also ignited to simulate the effect of a blazing city or town, with the aim of fooling subsequent waves of bombers into dropping their bombs on the wrong location. The Chew Magnamarker decoy town was hit by half-a-dozen bombs on 2 December 1940, and over a thousand incendiaries on 3 January 1941. The following night the Uphillmarker decoy town, protecting Weston-super-Maremarker's airfield, was bombed; a herd of dairy cows was hit, killing some and severely injuring others.

Cities and towns

Somertonmarker took over from Ilchestermarker as the county town in the late thirteenth century, but it declined in importance and the status of county town transferred to Taunton about 1366. The county has two cities, Bathmarker and Wellsmarker, and only a small number of towns. In many cases there are villages which are larger than their neighbouring towns; the village of Cheddarmarker, for example, has three times the population of the nearby town of Axbridgemarker. Many settlements developed because of their strategic importance in relation to geographical features, such as river crossings or valleys in ranges of hills. Examples include Axbridge on the River Axe, Castle Cary on the River Cary, North Pethertonmarker on the River Parrett, and Ilminstermarker, where there was a crossing point on the River Isle. Midsomer Norton lies on the River Somer; while the Wellow Brook and the Fosseway Roman road run through Radstock, which, along with Midsomer Norton, is now designated as a part of Norton Radstockmarker. Chardmarker is the most southerly town in Somerset, and at an altitude of it is also the highest.

Physical geography


Much of the landscape of Somerset falls into types determined by the underlying geology. These landscapes are the limestone karst and lias of the north, the clay vales and wetlands of the centre, the oolites of the east and south, and the Devonian sandstone of the west.To the north-east of the Somerset Levels, the Mendip Hillsmarker are moderately high limestone hills. The central and western Mendip Hills was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1972 and covers 198 km2 (76 squ mi). The main habitat on these hills is calcareous grassland, with some arable agriculture. The Somerset coalfield is part of a larger coalfield which stretches into Gloucestershiremarker. To the north of the Mendip hills is the Chew Valleymarker and to the south, on the clay substrate, are broad valleys which support dairy farming and drain into the Somerset Levels.

Caves and rivers

There is an extensive network of caves, including Wookey Holemarker, underground rivers, and gorges, including Cheddar Gorgemarker and Ebbor Gorgemarker. The county has many rivers, including the Axe, Brue, Cary, Parrett, Sheppey, Tone and Yeo. These both feed and drain the flat levels and moors of mid and west Somerset. In the north of the county the River Chew flows into the Bristol Avon. The Parrett is tidal almost to Langportmarker, where there is evidence of two Roman wharfs. At the same site during the reign of King Charles I, river tolls were levied on boats to pay for the maintenance of the bridge.

Levels and moors

The Somerset Levels (or Somerset Levels and Moors as they are less commonly but more correctly known) are a sparsely populated wetland area of central Somerset, between the Quantockmarker and Mendip hills. They consist of marine clay levels along the coast, and the inland (often peat based) moors. The Levels are divided into two by the Polden Hills; land to the south is drained by the River Parrett while land to the north is drained by the River Axe and the River Brue. The total area of the Levels amounts to aboutand broadly corresponds to the administrative district of Sedgemoor but also includes the south west of Mendip district. Approximately 70% of the area is grassland and 30% is arable.Stretching about inland, this expanse of flat land barely rises above sea level. Before it was drained, much of the land was under a shallow brackish sea in winter and was marsh land in summer. Drainage began with the Romans, and was restarted at various times: by the Anglo-Saxons; in the Middle Ages by the Glastonbury Abbeymarker, from 1400–1770; and during the Second World War, with the construction of the Huntspill River. Pumping and management of water levels still continues.

The North Somerset Levels basin, north of the Mendips, covers a smaller geographical area than the Somerset Levels; and forms a coastal area around Avonmouthmarker. It too was reclaimed by draining. It is mirrored, across the Severn Estuary, in Wales, by a similar low-lying area: the Caldicot and Wentloog Levels.

In the far west of the county, running into Devon, is Exmoormarker, a high Devonian sandstone moor, which was designated as a national park in 1954, under the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act.The highest point in Somerset is Dunkery Beaconmarker on Exmoor, with an altitude of 519 metres (1703 ft). Over 100 sites in Somerset have been designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest.


The marina in the coastal town of Watchet

The 64 km (40 mi) coastline of the Bristol Channelmarker and Severn Estuary forms part of the northern border of Somerset.The Bristol Channel has the second largest tidal range in the world. At Burnham-on-Seamarker, for example, the tidal range of a spring tide is over 12 metres (39 ft).Proposals for the construction of a Severn Barrage aim to harness this energy. The main coastal towns are, from the west to the north-east, Mineheadmarker, Watchetmarker, Burnham-on-Seamarker, Weston-super-Maremarker, Clevedonmarker and Portisheadmarker. The coastal area between Minehead and the eastern extreme of the administrative county's coastline at Brean Downmarker is known as Bridgwater Baymarker, and is a National Nature Reserve.North of that, the coast forms Weston Baymarker and Sand Baymarker whose northern tip, Sand Pointmarker, marks the lower limit of the Severn Estuary. In the mid and north of the county the coastline is low as the level wetlands of the levels meet the sea. In the west, the coastline is high and dramatic where the plateau of Exmoor meets the sea, with high cliffs and waterfalls.


Horner Woods, Exmoor, in winter
Along with the rest of South West England, Somerset has a temperate maritime climate which is generally wetter and milder than the rest of the country. The annual mean temperature is about and shows a seasonal and a diurnal variation, but the range is less than in most other parts of the UK due to the modifying effect of the sea. January is the coldest month with mean minimum temperatures between 1-2 °C. July and August are the warmest months in the region with mean daily maxima around .

The south-west of England has a favoured location with respect to the Azores high pressure when it extends its influence north-eastwards towards the UK, particularly in summer. Convective cloud often forms inland however, especially near hills, reducing the number of hours of sunshine. The average annual sunshine totals around 1,600 hours.

Rainfall, tends to be associated with Atlantic depressions or with convection. The Atlantic depressions are more vigorous in autumn and winter and most of the rain which falls in those seasons in the south-west is from this source. Average rainfall is in the low-lying parts of central Somerset while the Mendip Hills have more than and the Bath-Bristol area has about of rainfall a year. About 8 to 15 days of snowfall is typical. November to March have the highest mean wind speeds, with June to August having the lightest winds. The predominant wind direction is from the south-west.

Economy and industry

Somerset has few industrial centres, but it does have a variety of light industry and high technology businesses, along with traditional agriculture and an increasingly important tourism sector, resulting in an unemployment rate of 2.5%. Bridgwatermarker was developed during the Industrial Revolution as the West Country's leading port. The River Parrett was navigable by large ships as far as Bridgwater. Cargoes were then loaded onto smaller boats at Langport Quay, next to the Bridgwater Bridge, to be carried further up river to Langportmarker; or they could turn off at Burrowbridgemarker and then travel via the River Tone to Taunton. The Parrett is now only navigable as far as Dunballmarker Wharf. Bridgwater, in the 19th and 20th centuries, was a centre for the manufacture of bricks and clay roof tiles, and later cellophane, but those industries have now closed. With its good links to the motorway system, Bridgwater has developed as a distribution hub for companies such as Argos, Toolstation and Gerber Juice. AgustaWestland manufactures helicopters in Yeovilmarker, and Normalair Garratt, builder of aircraft oxygen systems, is also based in the town. Many towns have encouraged small-scale light industries, such as Crewkernemarker's Ariel Motor Company, one of the UK's smallest car manufacturers.

Somerset is an important supplier of defence equipment and technology. A Royal Ordnance Factory, ROF Bridgwatermarker was built at the start of the Second World War, between the villages of Puritonmarker and Woolavingtonmarker, to manufacture explosives. the site is being decommissioned and is due to close in July 2008.Templecombemarker has Thales Underwater Systems, and Taunton presently has the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office and Avimo, which became part of Thales Optics. It has been announced twice, in 2006 and 2007, that manufacturing is to end at Thales Optics' Taunton site, but the Trade Unions and Taunton Deane District Council are working to reverse or mitigate these decisions. Other high-technology companies include the optics company Gooch and Housego, at Ilminstermarker. There are Ministry of Defence offices in Bathmarker, and Norton Fitzwarrenmarker is the home of 40 Commando Royal Marinesmarker. The Royal Naval Air Station in Yeoviltonmarker, is one of Britain's two active Fleet Air Arm bases and is home to the Royal Navy's Lynx helicopters and the Royal Marines Commando Westland Sea Kings. Around 1,675 service and 2,000 civilian personnel are stationed at Yeovilton and key activities include training of aircrew and engineers and the Royal Navy's Fighter Controllers and surface-based aircraft controllers.

Somerset scrumpy cider
Agriculture and food and drink production continue to be major industries in the county, employing over 15,000 people. Apple orchards were once plentiful, and Somerset is still a major producer of cider. The towns of Taunton and Shepton Malletmarker are involved with the production of cider, especially Blackthorn Cider, which is sold nationwide, and there are specialist producers such as Burrow Hill Cider Farmmarker and Thatchers Cidermarker. Gerber Products Company in Bridgwater is the largest producer of fruit juices in Europe, producing brands such as 'Sunny Delight' and 'Ocean Spray'. Development of the milk-based industries, such as Ilchester Cheese Companymarker and Yeo Valley Organic, have resulted in the production of ranges of desserts, yoghurts and cheeses,including Cheddar cheese – some of which has the West Country Farmhouse Cheddar PDO.

Traditional willow growing and weaving is not as extensive as it used to be but is still carried out on the Somerset Levels and is commemorated at the Willows and Wetlands visitor centremarker. Fragments of willow basket were found near the Glastonbury Lake Village, and it was also used in the construction of several Iron Age causeways. The willow was harvested using a traditional method of coppicing, where a tree would be cut back to the main stem. During the 1930s more than 3600 hectares (9000 acres) of willow were being grown commercially on the Levels. Largely due to the displacement of baskets with plastic bags and cardboard boxes, the industry has severely declined since the 1950s. By the end of the 20th century only about 140 hectares (350 acres) were grown commercially, near the villages of Burrowbridgemarker, Westonzoylandmarker and North Currymarker. The Somerset Levels is now the only area in the UK where basket willow is grown commercially.

Towns such as Castle Carymarker and Fromemarker grew around the medieval weaving industry. Streetmarker developed as a centre for the production of woollen slippers and, later, boots and shoes, with C&J Clark establishing its headquarters in the town. C&J Clark's shoes are no longer manufactured there as the work was transferred to lower-wage areas, such as China and Asia. Instead, in 1993, redundant factory buildings were converted to form Clarks Villagemarker, the first purpose-built factory outlet in the UK. C&J Clark also had shoe factories, at one time at Bridgwater and Mineheadmarker, to provide employment outside the main summer tourist season, but those satellite sites were closed in the late 1980s, before the main site at Street. Dr. Martens shoes were also made in Somerset, by the Northampton-based R. Griggs Group, using redundant skilled shoemakers from C&J Clark; that work has also been transferred to Asia.

Stone quarries are still a major employer in Somerset
The county has a long tradition of supplying freestone and building stone. Quarries at Doultingmarker supplied freestone used in the construction of Wells Cathedralmarker. Bath stone is also widely used. Ralph Allen promoted its use in the early 18th century, as did Hans Price in the 19th century, but it was used long before then. It was mined underground at Combe Down and Bathampton Down Minesmarker, and as a result of cutting the Box Tunnelmarker, at locations in Wiltshiremarker such as Boxmarker. Bath stone is still used on a reduced scale today, but more often as a cladding rather than a structural material. Further south, Hamstone is the colloquial name given to stone from Ham Hillmarker, which is also widely used in the construction industry. Blue Lias has been used locally as a building stone and as a raw material for lime mortar and Portland cement. Until the 1960s, Puritonmarker had Blue Lias stone quarries, as did several other Polden villages. Its quarries also supplied a cement factory at Dunballmarker, adjacent to the King's Sedgemoor Drainmarker. Its derelict, early 20th century remains were removed when the M5 motorway was constructed in the mid-1970s. Since the 1920s, the county has supplied aggregates. Foster Yeoman is Europe's large supplier of limestone aggregates, with quarries at Merehead Quarrymarker. It has a dedicated railway operation, Mendip Rail, which is used to transport aggregates by rail from a group of Mendip quarries.

Tourism is a major industry, estimated in 2001 to support around 23,000 people. Attractions include the coastal towns, part of the Exmoor National Parkmarker, the West Somerset Railway (a heritage railway), and the museum of the Fleet Air Arm at RNAS Yeoviltonmarker. The town of Glastonburymarker has mythical associations, including legends of a visit by the young Jesus of Nazareth and Joseph of Arimathea, with links to the Holy Grail, King Arthur, and Camelot, identified by some as Cadbury Castle, an Iron Age hill fort. Glastonbury also gives its name to an annual open-air rock festival held in nearby Piltonmarker. There are show caves open to visitors in the Cheddar Gorge, as well as its locally produced cheese, although there is now only one remaining cheese maker in the village of Cheddarmarker.

In November 2008, a public sector inward investment organisation was launched, called Into Somerset, with the intention of growing the county's economy by promoting it to businesses that may wish to relocate from other parts of the UK (especially Londonmarker) and the world.


Somerset Compared
UK Census 2001 Somerset C.C. North Somerset UA BANES UA South West England England
Total population 498,093 188,564 169,040 4,928,434 49,138,831
Foreign born 7.6% 9.5% 11.2% 9.4% 9.2%
White 98.8% 97.1% 97.3% 97.7% 91%
Asian 0.3% 1.7% 0.5% 0.7% 4.6%
Black 0.2% 0.9% 0.5% 0.4% 2.3%
Christian 76.7% 75.0% 71.0% 74.0% 72%
Muslim 0.2% 0.2% 0.4% 0.5% 3.1%
Hindu 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 1.1%
No religion 14.9% 16.6% 19.5% 16.8% 15%
Over 75 years old 9.6% 9.9% 8.9% 9.3% 7.5%
Unemployed 2.5% 2.1% 2.0% 2.6% 3.3%
In the 2001 census the population of the Somerset County Council area was 498,093with 169,040 in Bath and North East Somerset,and 188,564 in North Somersetgiving a total for the historic county of 855,697. This was estimated to have risen to 895,700 in 2006.

Population growth is higher than the national average, with a 6.4% increase, in the Somerset County Council area, since 1991, and a 17% increase since 1981. The population density is 1.4 persons per hectare, which can be compared to 2.07 persons per hectare for the South West region. Within the county, population density ranges 0.5 in West Somerset to 2.2 persons per hectare in Taunton Deane. The percentage of the population who are economically active is higher than the regional and national average, and the unemployment rate is lower than the regional and national average.

The black minority ethnic proportion of the total population is 2.9% in Somerset. Chinese is the largest ethnic group, and although there is no official recording, it is believed that Romany Gypsies are a significant ethnic minority. Over 25% of Somerset's population is concentrated in Taunton, Bridgwater and Yeovil. The rest of the county is rural and sparsely populated. Over 9 million tourist nights are spent in Somerset each year, which significantly increases the population at peak times.

Population since 1801
Year 1801 1851 1901 1911 1921 1931 1941 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001
Somerset CC area 187,266 276,684 277,563 280,215 282,411 284,740 305,244 327,505 355,292 385,698 417,450 468,395 498,093
BANES 57,188 96,992 107,637 113,732 113,351 112,972 123,185 134,346 144,950 156,421 154,083 164,737 169,045
North Somerset 16,670 33,774 60,066 68,410 75,276 82,833 91,967 102,119 119,509 139,924 160,353 179,865 188,556
Total 261,124 407,450 445,266 462,357 471,038 479,758 520,396 563,970 619,751 682,043 731,886 812,997 855,694


The county is divided into nine constituencies for the election of Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commonsmarker. As of November 2007, the constituencies of Bridgwater, Wells, Weston-super-Mare and Woodspringmarker elect Conservative MPs, while Bathmarker, Somerton and Frome, Taunton and Yeovil return Liberal Democrats. Only Wansdykemarker, which will become North East Somersetmarker at the next election, returns a Labour politician. Residents of Somerset also form part of the electorate for the South West England constituency for elections to the European Parliamentmarker.

Local government

The ceremonial county of Somerset consists of a non-metropolitan county, administered by Somerset County Council, and two unitary authorities.

The districts of Somerset are West Somerset, South Somerset, Taunton Deane, Mendip and Sedgemoor. The two administratively independent unitary authorities, which were established on 1 April 1996 following the break up of the county of Avon, are North Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset. These unitary authorities include areas that were once part of Somerset before the creation of Avon in 1974. In 2007, proposals to abolish the district councils in favour of a single Somerset unitary authority were rejected following local opposition.


Somerset has traditions of art, music and literature. Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote while staying in Coleridge Cottagemarker, Nether Stoweymarker.The writer Evelyn Waugh spent his last years in the village of Combe Floreymarker.Traditional folk music, both song and dance, was important in the agricultural communities. Somerset songs were collected by Cecil Sharp and incorporated into works such as Holst's A Somerset Rhapsody. Halsway Manormarker near Willitonmarker is an international centre for folk music. The tradition continues today with groups such as The Wurzels specialising in Scrumpy and Western music.

The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Artsmarker takes place most years in Piltonmarker, near Shepton Malletmarker, attracting over 170,000 music and culture lovers from around the world, and world-famous entertainers.The Big Green Gatheringmarker which grew out of the Green fields at the Glastonbury Festival is held in the Mendip Hills between Charterhousemarker and Compton Martinmarker each summer.The annual Bath Literature Festival is one of several local festivals in the county; others include the Frome Festival and the Trowbridge Village Pump Festival, which, despite its name, is held at Farleigh Hungerfordmarker in Somerset. The annual circuit of West Country Carnivals is held in a variety of Somerset towns during the autumn, forming a major regional festival, and the largest Festival of Lights in Europe.

Glastonbury Tor
In Arthurian legend, Avalon became associated with Glastonbury Tormarker when monks at Glastonbury Abbeymarker claimed to have discovered the bones of King Arthur and his queen. What is more certain is that Glastonbury was an important religious centre by 700 and claims to be "the oldest above-ground Christian church in the World" situated "in the mystical land of Avalon". The claim is based on dating the founding of the community of monks at AD 63, the year of the legendary visit of Joseph of Arimathea, who was supposed to have brought the Holy Grail. During the Middle Ages there were also important religious sites at Woodspring Priorymarker and Muchelney Abbeymarker. The present Diocese of Bath and Wellsmarker covers Somerset and a small area of Dorset. The Episcopal seat of the Bishop of Bath and Wells is now in the Cathedral Church of Saint Andrewmarker in the city of Wellsmarker, having previously been at Bath Abbeymarker. Before the English Reformation, it was a Roman Catholic diocese. The Benedictine monastery Saint Gregory's Abbey, commonly known as Downside Abbeymarker, is at Stratton-on-the-Fossemarker, and the Cistercian Cleeve Abbeymarker is near the village of Washfordmarker.
The county has several museums; those at Bath include the American Museum in Britainmarker, the Building of Bath Museummarker, the Herschel Museum of Astronomymarker, the Jane Austen Centremarker, and the Roman Bathsmarker. Other visitor attractions which reflect the cultural heritage of the county include: Claverton Pumping Stationmarker, Dunster Working Watermillmarker, the Fleet Air Arm Museummarker at Yeovilton, Nunney Castlemarker, The Helicopter Museummarker in Weston-super-Mare, King John's Hunting Lodgemarker in Axbridgemarker, Radstock Museummarker, Somerset County Museummarker in Taunton, the Somerset Rural Life Museummarker in Glastonbury, and Westonzoyland Pumping Station Museummarker.

Somerset has 11,500 listed buildings, 523 Scheduled Monuments, 192 conservation areas, 41 parks and gardens including those at Barrington Courtmarker, Holnicote Estatemarker, Prior Park Landscape Gardenmarker and Tintinhull Gardenmarker, 36 English Heritage sites and 19 National Trust sites, including Clevedon Courtmarker, Fyne Courtmarker, Montacute Housemarker and Tyntesfieldmarker as well as Stembridge Tower Millmarker, the last remaining thatched windmill in England. Other historic houses in the county which have remained in private ownership or used for other purposes include Halswell Housemarker and Marston Bigotmarker. A key contribution of Somerset architecture is its medieval church towers. Jenkins writes, "These structures, with their buttresses, bell-opening tracery and crowns, rank with Nottinghamshire alabaster as England's finest contribution to medieval art."

Bath Rugby play at the Recreation Groundmarker in Bath, and the Somerset County Cricket Club are based at the County Groundmarker in Taunton. The county gained its first Football League club in 2003, when Yeovil Town won promotion to Division Three as Football Conference champions. They had achieved numerous FA Cup victories over Football League sides in the past 50 years, and since joining the elite they have won promotion again – as League Two champions in 2005. They came close to yet another promotion in 2007, when they reached the League One playoff final, but lost to Blackpool at the newly reopened Wembley Stadiummarker. Horse racing courses are at Tauntonmarker and Wincantonmarker.

In addition to English national newspapers the county is served by the regional Western Daily Press and local newspapers including: the Weston & Somerset Mercury, the Bath Chronicle, Chew Valley Gazette, Clevedon Mercury and the Mendip Times. Television and radio are provided by BBC Somersetmarker, GWR FM Bristol, Orchard FM Taunton, Ivel FM Yeovil, and HTV, now known as ITV Wales & West Ltd, but still commonly referred to as HTV.

Recently there have been proposals for the introduction of an official Somerset flag for the ceremonial county.


Somerset has 6,531 km (4,058 mi) of roads. The main arterial routes, which include the M5 motorway, A303, A37, A38 and A39, give good access across the county, but many areas can only be accessed via narrow lanes.Rail services are provided by the West of England Main Line through Yeovil, the Bristol to Taunton Line, Heart of Wessex Line which runs from Bristol to Weymouth and the Reading to Plymouth Line. Bristol International Airportmarker provides national and international air services.

The Somerset Coal Canal was built in the early 19th century to reduce the cost of transportation of coal and other heavy produce. The first , running from a junction with the Kennet and Avon Canalmarker, along the Cam valley, to a terminal basin at Paultonmarker, were in use by 1805, together with several tramways. A planned 11.7 km (7.25 mi) branch to Midford was never built, but in 1815 a tramway was laid along its towing path. In 1871 the tramway was purchased by the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway (S&DJR), and operated until the 1950s.

The 19th century saw improvements to Somerset's roads with the introduction of turnpikes, and the building of canals and railways. Nineteenth-century canals included the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal, Westport Canal, Glastonbury Canal and Chard Canal. The Dorset and Somerset Canal was proposed, but little of it was ever constructed.

The West Somerset Railway

The usefulness of the canals was short-lived, though some have now been restored for recreation. The 19th century also saw the construction of railways to and through Somerset. The county was served by five pre-1923 Grouping railway companies: the Great Western Railway (GWR); a branch of the Midland Railway (MR) to Bath Green Parkmarker (and another one to Bristol); the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway,Awdry, Christopher (1990). Encyclopaedia of British Railway Companies. Patrick Stephens Ltd. p. 237. and the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR). The former main lines of the GWR are still in use today, although many of its branch lines were scrapped. The former lines of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway closed completely, as has the branch of the Midland Railway to Bath Green Park (and to Bristol St Philipsmarker); however, the L&SWR survived as a part of the present West of England Main Line. None of these lines, in Somerset, are electrified. Two branch lines, the West and East Somerset Railways, were rescued and transferred back to private ownership as "heritage" lines. The fifth railway was a short-lived light railway, the Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Railway. The West Somerset Mineral Railway carried the iron ore from the Brendon Hillsmarker to Watchetmarker.

Until the 1960s the piers at Weston-super-maremarker, Clevedonmarker, Portisheadmarker and Mineheadmarker were served by the paddle steamers of P and A Campbell who ran regular services to Barrymarker and Cardiffmarker as well as Ilfracombemarker and Lundy Islandmarker. The pier at Burnham-on-Seamarker was used for commercial goods, one of the reasons for the Somerset and Dorset Railway was to provide a link between the Bristol Channelmarker and the English Channelmarker. The pier at Burnham-on-Sea is the shortest pier in the UK. In the 1970s the Royal Portbury Dockmarker was constructed to provide extra capacity for the Port of Bristolmarker.

For long-distance holiday traffic travelling through the county to and from Devon and Cornwall, Somerset is often regarded as a marker on the journey. North–south traffic moves though the county via the M5 Motorway. Traffic to and from the east travels either via the A303 road, or the M4 Motorway, which runs east–west, crossing the M5 just beyond the northern limits of the county.


State schools in Somerset are provided by three Local Education Authorities: Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset, and the larger Somerset County Council. All state schools are comprehensive. In some areas primary, infant and junior schools cater for ages four to eleven, after which the pupils move on to secondary schools. There is a three-tier system of first, middle and upper schools in West Somerset, while most other schools in the county use the two-tier system. Somerset has 30 state and 17 independent secondary schools; Bath and North East Somerset has 13 state and 5 independent secondary schools; and North Somerset has 10 state and 2 independent secondary schools, excluding sixth form colleges.
% of pupils gaining 5 grades A-C including English and Maths in 2006 (average for England is 45.8%)
Education Authority %
Bath and North East Somerset (Unitary Authority) 52.0%
West Somerset 51.0%
Taunton Deane 49.5%
Mendip 47.7%
North Somerset (Unitary Authority) 47.4%
South Somerset 42.3%
Sedgemoor 41.4%

Some of the county's secondary schools have specialist school status. Some schools have sixth forms and others transfer their sixth formers to colleges. Several schools can trace their origins back many years, such as The Blue Schoolmarker in Wells, Richard Huish Collegemarker in Taunton and Oldfield Schoolmarker in Bath. Others have changed their names over the years such as Beechen Cliff Schoolmarker which was started in 1905 as the City of Bath Boys' School and changed to its present name in 1972 when the grammar school was amalgamated with a local secondary modern school, to form a comprehensive school. Many others were established and built since the Second World War. In 2006, 5,900 pupils in Somerset sat GCSE examinations, with 44.5% achieving 5 grades A-C including English and Maths (compared to 45.8% for England).

Sexey's Schoolmarker is a state boarding school in Brutonmarker that also takes day pupils from the surrounding area. The Somerset LEA also provides special schools such as Farleigh Collegemarker, which caters for children aged between 10 and 17 with special educational needs. Provision for pupils with special educational needs is also made by the mainstream schools.

There is also a range of independent or public schools. Many of these are for pupils between 11 and 18 years, such as King's College, Tauntonmarker and Taunton Schoolmarker. King's School, Brutonmarker was founded in 1519 and received royal foundation status around 30 years later in the reign of Edward VI. Millfieldmarker is the largest co-educational boarding school, and the largest co-educational independent school in the country, catering for 1,260 pupils, of which 910 are boarders. There are also preparatory schools for younger children, such as All Hallowsmarker, and Hazlegrove Preparatory Schoolmarker. Chilton Cantelo Schoolmarker offers places both to day pupils and boarders aged 7 to 16. Other schools provide education for children from the age of 3 or 4 years through to 18, such as King Edward's School, Bathmarker, Queen's College, Tauntonmarker and Wells Cathedral Schoolmarker which is one of the five established musical schools for school-age children in Britainmarker. Some of these schools have religious affiliations, such as Monkton Combe Schoolmarker, Prior Park Collegemarker, Sidcot Schoolmarker which is associated with the Religious Society of Friends, Downside Schoolmarker which is a Roman Catholic public school in Stratton-on-the-Fossemarker, situated next to the Benedictine Downside Abbeymarker, and Kingswood Schoolmarker, which was founded by John Wesley in 1748 in Kingswood near Bristol, originally for the education of the sons of the itinerant ministers (clergy) of the Methodist Church.

Further and higher education

A wide range of adult education and further education courses is available in Somerset, in schools, colleges and other community venues. The colleges include Bridgwater Collegemarker, Frome Community Collegemarker, Richard Huish Collegemarker, Somerset College of Arts and Technologymarker, Strode Collegemarker and Yeovil Collegemarker.

The University of Bathmarker and Bath Spa Universitymarker are higher education establishments in the north-east corner of the county. The University of Bath gained its Royal Charter in 1966, although its origins go back to Bristol Trade School (founded 1856) and Bath School of Pharmacy (founded 1907). It has a purpose-built campus at Clavertonmarker on the outskirts of Bath, and has 12,000 students. Bath Spa University, which is based at Newton St Loemarker, achieved university status in 2005, and has origins including the Bath Academy of Art (founded 1898), Bath Teacher Training College, and the Bath College of Higher Education. It has several campuses and 5,500 students.

See also


  1. Brunning, Richard (2001). "The Somerset Levels". In: Current Archaeology, Vol. XV, (No. 4), Issue Number 172 (Wetlands Special Issue), (February 2001), Pp 139-143. ISSN 0011-3212.
  2. Cornwell, John (2005). Collieries of Somerset & Bristol. Ashbourne, Derbyshire: Landmark Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-84306-170-8.
  3. Brown, Donald (1999). Somerset v Hitler: Secret Operations in the Mendips 1939 - 1945. Newbury: Countryside Books. ISBN 1-85306-590-0.
  4. Hadfield, Charles (1999). Canals of Southern England. London: Phoenix House Ltd.
  5. Williams, Michael (1970). The Draining of the Somerset Levels. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-07486-X.
  6. Rippon, Stephen (1997). The Severn Estuary: Landscape Evolution and Wetland Reclamation. London: Leicester University. ISBN 0-7185-0069-5
  7. Lawrence, J.F. (2005). A History of Bridgwater. (revised and compiled by J.C. Lawrence) Chichester: Phillimore & Co. ISBN 1-86077-363-X.
  8. Hudson (1971). The Fashionable Stone. Bath: Adams & Dart. ISBN 0-239-00066-8
  9. Bezzant, Norman (1980). Out of the Rock... London: William Heinemann Ltd. ISBN 0-434-06900-0
  10. Perkins, J.W., Brooks, A.T. and McR. Pearce, A.E. (1979). Bath Stone: a quarry history. Cardiff: Department of Extra-mural Studies, University College Cardiff. ISBN 0-906230-26-8
  11. (n/a)(1998).Images of England: Bridgwater (Compiled from the collections at Admiral Blake Museum). Stroud: Tempus Publishing. ISBN 0-7524-1049-0
  12. Shannon, Paul (2007). "Mendip Stone", In: Railway Magazine, Vol. 153, No. 1,277, pp 22-26. (September 2007). ISSN 0033-8922.
  13. Somerset - Where you and your business can grow - Into Somerset official website
  14. Athill, Robin (1967). The Somerset & Dorset Railway. Newton Abbot, Devon: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-4164-2.
  15. St. John Thomas, David (1960). A Regional history of the railways of Great Britain: Volume 1 - The West Country. London: Phoenix House.
  16. Smith, Martin (1992). The Railways of Bristol and Somerset. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 0-7110-2063-9.
  17. Casserley, H.C. (1968). Britain's Joint Lines. London: Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-0024-7.
  18. Williams, R. A. (1968) The London & South Western Railway, v. 1: The formative years, and v. 2: Growth and consolidation. Newton Abbot, Devon: David & Charles, ISBN 0-7153-4188-X; ISBN 0-7153-5940-1
  19. Atthill, Robin and Nock, O. S. (1967). The Somerset & Dorset Railway. Newton Abbot, Devon: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-4164-2.
  20. Handley, Chris (2001). Maritime Activities of the Somerset & Dorset Railway. Cleckheaton: Millstream Books. ISBN 0-9488975-63-6.
  21. Charlesworth, George (1984). A History of British Motorways. London: Thomas Telford Limited. ISBN 0-7277-0159-2.

Further reading

  • Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911, "Somersetshire".
  • Victoria History of the Counties of EnglandHistory of the County of Somerset. Oxford: Oxford University Press, for: The Institute of Historical Research.
    • Note: Volumes I to IX published so far ** 1st link to on-line version (not all volumes)
    • 2nd link to on-line version (not all volumes)
    • Volume I: Natural History, Prehistory, Domesday
    • Volume II: Ecclesiastical History, Religious Houses, Political, Maritime, and Social and Economic History, Earthworks, Agriculture, Forestry, Sport.
    • Volume III: Pitney, Somerton, and Tintinhull hundreds.
    • Volume IV: Crewkerne, Martock, and South Petherton hundreds.
    • Volume V: Williton and Freemanors hundred.
    • Volume VI: Andersfield, Cannington and North Petherton hundreds (Bridgwater and neighbouring parishes).
    • Volume VII: Bruton, Horethorne and Norton Ferris Hundreds.
    • Volume VIII: The Poldens and the Levels.
    • Volume IX: Glastonbury and Street, Baltonsborough, Butleigh, Compton Dundon, Meare, North Wootton, Podimore, Milton, Walton, West Bradley, and West Pennard.

External links

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