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ENGLISH HISTORY: Warwick (/ˈwɒrɪk/ WORR-ik) is a market town, civil parish county town of Warwickshire

Warwick 🙌

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#AceHistoryDesk –Warwick (/ˈwɒrɪk/ WORR-ik) is a market town, civil parish and the county town of Warwickshire in the Warwick District in England, adjacent to the River Avon. It is 9 miles (14 km) south of Coventry, and 19 miles (31 km) south-east of Birmingham. It is adjoined with Leamington Spa and Whitnash.

HISTORY MAGAZINE

It has ancient origins and an array of historic buildings, notably from the Medieval, Stuart and Georgian eras.

It was a major fortified settlement from the early Middle Ages, the most notable relic of this period being Warwick Castle, a major tourist attraction. Much was destroyed in the Great Fire of Warwick in 1694 and rebuilt with fine 18th-century buildings, such as the Collegiate Church of St Mary and the Shire Hall. The population was estimated at 37,267 in the 2021 Census.[1]

History

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An old map of Warwick published around 1610 by John Speed; the castle is in the south of the town, next to the River Avon.

Neolithic

Human activity on the site dates back to the Neolithic, when there was a sizable settlement on the Warwick hilltop. Artifacts include more than 30 shallow pits containing early Neolithic flints and pottery and several small post holes indicating rectangular buildings. These are believed to have been created by Early European Farmers from Anatolia sometime between 4000-2351 BC. An arrowhead from the Bell Beaker culture was likewise found, believed to date from 2500-1700 BC.[2]

Roman

Archaeological work on the site of Warwick School in 2017–2018 revealed the footings of a sizeable Roman barn from the 2nd century AD.[3] Roman rule in Britain begin to break down with the Great Conspiracy in 367-368,[4]the withdrawal of Roman troops from Britain from 383-406 and the barbarian raids of 408.

Saxon

From the 5th century onwards, Warwick was continuously inhabited. The town’s Old English name, Wæringwīc, is composed of Wæring, which is a clan name or patronymic,[5][6][7] and the suffix wīc, meaning a ‘settlement characterised by extensive artisanal activity and trade.’ Alternatively, it may be derived from wering, meaning a ‘fortification’[8][9] or a ‘weir,’[10] the latter implying that the original settlement was located by a natural weir over the River Avon, possibly on the south side of the river, which offered easily cultivable land.[11]

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 914 reports that the Anglo-Saxon Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of king Alfred the Great and sister of king Edward the Elder of Wessex, built a burh or fortified dwelling there on a hilltop site overlooking the earlier riverside settlement, as one of ten to defend Mercia from the Vikings.[12] Warwick was chosen as a site for the burh because the local outcrop of sandstone alongside the Avon provided an easily defensible position at a strategic location by the river crossing, with a good source of water and building material. 

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In the early 10th century, a shire was founded with Warwick as its county town.[13] During the reign of Æthelstan(924-939) a royal mint was established at Warwick. This was one of two established in Warwickshire at the time, the other being at Tamworth. The Warwick mint continued until the mid-12th century.[14] In 1016 the Danes invaded Mercia and burned down much of Warwick including a nunnery, which stood on the site of today’s St Nicholas Church.[15]

Norman and medieval

West Gate, and Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

William the Conqueror founded Warwick Castle in 1068, while on his way to Yorkshire to deal with rebellion in the north.[13] Building it involved pulling down four houses.[16] The castle stood within the larger Anglo-Saxon burh and a new town wall was created close to the burh ramparts.[17]

The prosperity of medieval Warwick rested on its status as an administrative and militcenterntre. However, it was poorly positioned from the point of view of trade and was consequently never a commercial or industrial center of more than local significance in medieval times.[14] Medieval Warwick was controlled by various Earls of Warwick, mostly of the Beauchamp family. It became a walled town. It is unknown quite when the town wall was built, but references are found as early as the 12th century. It had mainly been demolished by the early 16th century. 

Today the only remains are the east and west gatehouses, there was previously also a north gatehouse, but this was demolished. On the south side, the bridge over the Avon was said to fulfill the role of a gatehouse and likely had a barrier.[11] The west gate was first recorded in 1129 and had a chapel of St James above it, which was reconstructed in the 14th century and extensively restored in 1863–1865.[18][19] The east gate was rebuilt in the 15th century with the Chapel of St Peter above it.[20] It was rebuilt again in 1788 and was once used as part of The King’s High School [21] but is now a holiday home.[22]

4 The town's Priory was founded around 1119 by Henry de Beaumont, the first Earl of Warwick. It was later destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536; it stood on the site of the current Priory Park.[23]Henry de Beaumont also founded the Hospital of St John near the east town gate.[24] It is now the site of the 17th-century St John's House.[25] Few medieval buildings survive in Warwick. However, one of the most notable examples is the Lord Leycester Hospital on the High Street, whose oldest parts date from 1383.[26]Warwick was not incorporated as a borough until 1545.[15]

17th century

Warwick Castle

During the English Civil War the town and castle were garrisoned for Parliament under Sir Edward Peyto. In 1642 the castle underwent a two-week siege by the Royalists commanded by the Earl of Northampton, however, the besiegers lacked any cannons powerful enough to damage the castle. The siege collapsed when, on hearing of the approach of the Earl of Essex to Southam, Lord Northampton marched his force away towards Worcester. Major John Bridges was appointed governor of the castle in 1643, and a garrison was maintained there with artillery and other stores until 1659, which at its height in 1645 consisted of 302 soldiers.[27]

The mid-17th century saw the founding of Castle Hill Baptist Church, one of the oldest Baptist churches in the world. 

Great fire of Warwick

Collegiate Church of St Mary from Church Street, an example of the 18th century rebuilding of Warwick

Greatly of the medieval town center was destroyed in the Great Fire of Warwick on 5 September 1694, which, within five hours, destroyed 460 buildings and left 250 families homeless.[28][29] Thus most of the town-center buildings are of late 17th and early 18th-century origin, although some medieval timber-framed buildings survive, especially around the edges of the town center.[29]

One of the aims of the rebuilding of Warwick following the fire was to encourage the gentry and professional men to settle in the town, so impetus was given to rebuilding the city in the then-contemporary Georgian style. Many of the buildings in the revamped town were designed by the architects Francis Smith and later William and David Horne, who gave Warwick its 18th-century appearance. Daniel Defoe gave his opinion that Warwick had been ‘rebuilt in so noble and so beautiful a manner that few towns in England make so fine an appearance.’[30]

The fire burnt down much of the medieval church of St Mary. However, the chancel and the Beauchamp Chapel survived, the latter having been built between 1443 and 1464 according to the wishes of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who had died in Rouen in 1439. A full-size reclining copper-gilt effigy of him lies on his Purbeck marble tomb – a fine piece of medieval metalwork cast in 1459.[31]

18th century to present

The Eastgate, Warwick

In 1788 the Earl of Warwick obtained an Act of Parliament to enable him to build a new bridge over the Avon: Castle Bridge, which consists of a single sandstone arch, was opened in 1793.[32] It replaced an older 14th-century bridge further downstream, known as Old Castle Bridge, which fell into ruin, although remains of it can still be seen.[33] The Warwick and Birmingham and Warwick and Napton canals opened through Warwick in 1800. They now form parts of the Grand Union Canal.[34]

The Borough of Warwick was reformed under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, which reconstituted it as a municipal borough with an elected Town Council.[35]

The railway arrived in Warwick in 1852 when the Great Western Railway opened its man line between Birmingham, Oxford and London through the town, along with Warwick railway station. However, the train service proved to be a disappointment to Warwick, as no express trains served the town, stopping at nearby Leamington Spa railway station instead.[35] Warwick was largely bypassed by the industrial revolution; during the early 19th century, only minor industrial activities developed in the town, such as hat making. By the early 20th century, some engineeringindustry had been established locally.[35]

The Warwick Pageant was a major festival in the grounds of Warwick Castle in 1906, organised by Louis N. Parkerfrom a house in Jury Street. As Pageant House, this subsequently served as the offices of Warwick Borough Council,[36][37] until the enlarged Warwick District Council was formed in Leamington Spa in 1974.[38]

The Leamington & Warwick Tramways & Omnibus Company was established in 1881, and operated a tramwayservice between Warwick and Leamington Spa until 1930.[39]

In 2021 it was announced that Warwick had entered a competition with 38 other contenders to be awarded city status as part of the Platinum Jubilee Civic Honours. However, it was not among the eight winners ultimately chosen in May 2022.[40][41]

Population change

Populations before the 1801 census can be based on indirect measures. Historians suggest that Warwick had a population of about 1,500 in 1086. Indicators for ensuing centuries are sparse, but by the mid-16th century it is thought to have been about 2,000, which increased by the late 17th century to over 3,000.[42] At the time of the first national census in 1801, Warwick had 5,592 inhabitants. This population nearly doubled by 1851, when it reached 10,952, but thereafter growth was slower for more than a century, reaching 15,349 in 1951 and 16,051 in 1961.[43] Since then it has almost doubled, to 31,315 in 2011.[44]

Governance

Shire Hall, Warwick, the meeting place of Warwickshire County Council

Population growth has led to Warwick adjoining its larger and younger neighbour Leamington Spa and also Whitnash as part of a conurbation of some 95,000 inhabitants.[45] Along with Kenilworth, they are administered as part of the Warwick District, which has its headquarters in Leamington, although each is a separate civil parishand retains its own town councilWarwickshire County Council is based in Warwick itself.

Warwick is represented in Parliament as part of the Warwick and Leamington constituency, seat of Anthony EdenPrime Minister 1955-7, from 1923-57. It has been held by the Labour Party since the 2017 general election, when Matt Western was elected as the constituency’s MP. From the 1945 general election until 1997 the constituency elected a Conservative MP. In the 1997 United Kingdom general election a Labour MP was elected and held the seat until 2010 when Chris White was elected for the Conservatives.[46] White lost his seat when Theresa Maycalled a snap election in 2017.

Geography

Map of Leamington, Warwick and Whitnash

The 17th-century antiquarian William Dugdale wrote that Warwick was “standing upon a rocky ascent from every side, and in a dry and fertile soil, having… rich and pleasant meadows on the south part… and… woodland on the north.”[47] Two factors have affected Warwick’s built environment: the Great Fire of 1694 and the lack of industrialisation. In the 19th century, the widespread industrialisation of England largely passed Warwick by.[48]One reason was that the town did not lie on important roads and the River Avon was not navigable as far as Warwick.[49]

Suburbs

Suburbs of Warwick include Bridge End, Cliff Hill, Emscote, Woodloes Park, Forbes, Myton (connecting Warwick with Leamington Spa), Packmores, The Cape, The Percy, Warwick Gates, Chase Meadow and Myton Green. Warwick Gates is a housing estate and business park in Heathcote, south-east Warwick, which was built in the late 1990s. Although separated from Warwick town centre by open fields, Warwick Gates falls within the Warwick South and Bishops Tachbrook parish. 

It is adjacent to Whitnash, a small town near Leamington Spa, and the village of Bishops Tachbrook. The Tachbrook Park and Heathcote industrial estates are also nearby. The NHS Leamington Spa Hospital is adjacent to Warwick Gates. In the early 2010s another new estate, Chase Meadow, was built to the south-west of the town next to Warwick Racecourse. Its amenities include a public house, a Chinese takeaway and a fish and chip shop. Ten year later a new estate south of Myton, named Myton Green was built.

Climate

Warwick experiences the usual English maritime climate, marked by a narrow temperature range, mild winters and cool summers. The nearest official Met Office weather station is at Wellesbourne, about 6 miles (10 km) south of the town centre and at a similar elevation. The absolute maximum temperature (also the absolute maximum for the county of Warwickshire) stands at 36.1 °C (97.0 °F)[50] recorded in August 1990. During a typical year, the warmest day should reach 30.0 °C (86.0 °F),[51] and 16.5 days[52] should report a maximum of 25.1 °C (77.2 °F) or higher. The lowest recorded temperature is −17.8 °C (0.0 °F),[53] recorded in January 1982. Typically, 53.3 air frosts are recorded in an “average” year. Rainfall averages out at 608 millimetres (23.9 in) per year,[54] with over 114 days[55] seeing 1 mm (0.04 in) or more falling. All averages refer to the 1971–2000 period.

Warwick town is a destination often overlooked by visitors to this part of the country.

Whilst many visit Warwick Castle, one of the most popular tourist attractions in England, few stay on to sample the delights of this historic market town.

Narrow streets crowd around the central square where a thriving market is held every Saturday. Here you will also find The Market Hall, home to the excellent Warwickshire Museum. This 17th century Market Hall hosts exhibitions downstairs on the prehistory of Warwickshire (including a huge dinosaur exhibit!). Upstairs the history of the county continues, including the famous Sheldon Tapestry map. Also upstairs is a natural history section with plenty of hands-on activities for children.

Browsing the many antique shops in Warwick is a delight. Every other shop seems to be an Aladdin’s Cave of forgotten treasures! Not to mention the delicatessens, restaurants and cafes where you can choose from a tasty snack to an elegant meal.

A recommended venue for a light bite is the excellent tea-room housed within the Lord Leycester Hospital. This magnificent building, over 600 years old, is a little gem! The unique chantry chapel, galleried courtyard, superb Great Hall and Guildhall form what Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, established as an old soldier’s home in 1571. There are several reminders of Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley, on the walls of the tea-rooms. She accidentally, if rather conveniently, fell downstairs and broke her neck, allowing her husband to woo Queen Elizabeth I. The location of the building, built into the ancient walls and West Gate of the town, is unique. The small garden here offers a quiet place to sit.

Another little oasis of calm, a lovely walled garden, is located next to St. Mary’s Church, whose tower dominates the skyline. For just £1 for adults, 50p per child, you can climb to the top for a birds eye view of Warwick, the castle, the river and the historic town buildings.

If you have children to entertain, a favourite place is the lovely folk museum at St. John’s House. This early Jacobean building houses several Victorian displays, including a schoolroom, parlour and a kitchen where you can hand-pump the water into the sink, open all the draws and take part in many activities. Dolls houses, costume displays and the museum of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment are also to be found here. The walled garden is an excellent place for a picnic, or just through the garden gate you will find Warwick’s park which borders the river. Here are formal gardens, play areas and best of all, a boathouse offering rowing and motor boats for hire.

Warwick Castle

It is not very well known, but the best views of Warwick Castle are from the river. On a sunny summer’s afternoon, it is particularly enjoyable to row slowly down the river, gazing up at the huge castle walls. But mind you watch out for the weir!

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