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Genealogy and Worcestershire, England

Map showing where Worcestershire is

Click on map to see a larger map of Worcestershire (44,226 bytes)

Contents

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Introduction

This page is devoted to the county of Worcestershire, England, and covers the origin of its name, an outline of its history and geography, links to other web sites concerned with the county, genealogical resources relating to the county and the same types of information in more detail for those cities, towns and villages in the county in which I have a family history interest. In doing this, it is not my intention to duplicate unnecessarily, nor to compete with, web pages which already do some of those things, but to complement such pages and provide links to them, with appropriate description of what they have to offer.

In 1974 the northern part was absorbed into the new metropolitan county of West Midlands, and the remainder was merged with Herefordshire (and that last part has more recently become independent again), but this page deals with the county as it was before these changes, but after those, less dramatic but nevertheless numerous, of 1844, when many parishes were added to and many others removed from the county.

Some views of Worcester Cathedral
Click on the thumbnails to see larger images
Worcester Cathedral Worcester Cathedral Worcester Cathedral

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Origins of the Name

The shire based on Worcester. The city name means the Roman town of the Weogora tribe. The Weogora were Celtic, and the name possibly comes from the river, meaning winding river. The ending "-cester" is a common place name ending, derived from Old English ceaster, meaning Roman station or walled town.

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Geography

Worcestershire lies in the south-west Midlands of England, bounded by Herefordshire in the west, Gloucestershire in the south, Warwickshire in the east, Staffordshire in the north and Shropshire in the north-west. There was also a large detached piece of the county to the north, entirely surrounded by Staffordshire, containing the town of Dudley and the industrial village of Netherton. The area of the county was just under 740 square miles.

The main county area is divided roughly in two by the River Severn (Britain's longest river), which flows north to south a little to the west of the centre. There is also the River Teme, which enters the county in the west on its way from the mountains of Radnor Forest in Wales through Herefordshire and Shropshire to join the Severn about a third of the latter's way through Worcestershire, and the Warwickshire River Avon (England has two other rivers of that name) comes in from the east, further south and flows through the Vale of Evesham on its way to meet the Severn on the Gloucestershire boundary at Tewkesbury. The smaller River Stour wanders in and out of the county in the north before flowing through Stourbridge to join the Severn some miles above the Teme at Stourport.

Worcestershire contains no major ranges of hills, but has some quite high but small area hills just inside its boundaries, including the very steep-sided ridge of Malvern Hills rising to about 1,400 feet in the south-west, the Clent Hills (just over 1,000 feet) in the north-east, Bredon Hill (just under 1,000 feet) in the south-west, and it includes a little of the steep north-west facing escarpment of the Cotswold Hills (just over 1,000 feet) in the extreme south on the Gloucestershire boundary. By contrast, the land at the southern extremity, near the union of the Avon and Severn rivers, is under 50 feet above sea level. There is also a small range of low hills in the north-west (not named on my map), just across the River Teme from the higher Clee Hills of Shropshire.

The northern part of the county, including the whole of the detached part around Dudley, and the town of Halesowen (which was once in a detached part of Shropshire), is a part of the Black Country, almost entirely urban and heavily industrialised in the 18th and 19th centuries. The industry here was based largely on the readily available local coal, iron and limestone.

The remainder of the county is mainly agricultural, undulating, very fertile land, with scattered towns supporting a variety of industries. The main places are the city of Worcester (glass, china and leather goods), Bromsgrove, Evesham, Great Malvern, Droitwich (salt), Kidderminster (carpets), Redditch (needles) and Stourbridge (glass).

Some idea of the importance some of the various towns can be obtained from their populations in the 1921 census (chosen because I happen to have some of the figures readly available):
Droitwich - 4,588
Dudley - 57,100
Evesham - 8,685
Kidderminster - 27,122
Stourbridge - 18,190
Worcester - 48,848

The Vale of Evesham is famous for its orchards (especially apples, pears and hops), and is also a major centre for growing various vegetables. Cattle and sheep farming is a major (but now declining) activity in the remainder of the county.

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History

Prehistory
Pollen from ancient soils and the results of excavations help us to make an educated guess about the landscape of Worcestershire in prehistory. Up until about 6,500 years ago the area was probably a woodland environment managed by a small group of hunter-gatherers. By this time, the beginning of the Neolithic period, people had started to domesticate animals and grow a few crops, and over the next 2,500 years the land was gradually cleared.

By about 4,000 years ago, the Early Bronze Age, the population had increased considerably and the land particularly in the south east of the county would have been quite open with permanent settlements.

By the Iron Age the landscape was made up of small groups of circular houses within enclosures linked by trackways between small fields. These small farms in the vale were overlooked by tribal centres such as the hillforts on the Malverns and at Bredon. There was a great deal of contact with other parts of the country and the continent at this period.

Romano-British Worcestershire
There is more evidence of how people lived in the Romano-British period (1st to 5th century AD) than for earlier times. In part this is because more of the items used in everyday life were made of materials which survive being buried.

Worcestershire had two towns in the Roman period, Worcester (Wigorna Castra) and Droitwich. These were important industrial and market centres but there is no evidence of the type of civic buildings such as baths associated with Roman towns elsewhere in the country. Some villas are found in the south east of the county but most people lived in scattered farmsteads. The people who farmed the land in this period were descended from the Iron Age inhabitants, although their way of life was influenced by the economic and social changes that nearly 400 years of Roman rule brought about. For example, as time went on there was a change from the roundhouses used in the Iron Age to rectangular buildings. Some of these might have had tiled roofs.

Another change in lifestyle over this period was the increase in the use of pottery for storing, cooking and serving food. This shows that cooking and eating habits were changing. Most of the pottery used in Worcestershire at this time was made at kiln sites in the Malvern area but even in farming communities people were using small amounts of pottery imported from elsewhere in England and the Roman Empire. This imported pottery included Mediterranean forms such as mortaria, bowls used for grinding food, and amphora made for transporting wine and olive oil. It is thought that the population of Worcestershire at this time might have been as high as it was in the mediæval period before the Black Death.

Post-Roman Worcestershire
We know very little about everyday life in this part of Worcestershire between the end of Roman rule (about AD 410) and AD 600 when the area came under pagan Anglo-Saxon influence. No pottery dating to this period has been found. This is probably because wood or leather vessels, which decay when buried, were used for the storage, cooking and eating of food. No coins have been found which indicates that a barter system was probably in use. Many of the people were Christian and so were buried without grave goods. Even the houses of this period are very hard to find archaeologically. This suggests that they were constructed of wood and other organic materials with little or no foundations unlike the more substantial structures of earlier times.

The reasons for this great change in how people lived is not well understood but is probably due to a combination of factors such as the breakdown of society, climatic deterioration and plague. Some of these factors would have resulted in slow changes whilst others, such as plague, would have had a rapid result, but throughout it all it is likely that the inhabitants of Worcestershire would have carried on working the land as they had always done.

The amount of surviving evidence for life in Worcestershire gradually increases after about AD 600. Coins and personal ornaments such as bracelets, brooches and strap ends dating from the 7th to 11th centuries have been found but very little pottery. It is in this period that documentary evidence first becomes really important in our understanding of the landscape. By the 8th century AD we have direct evidence of landmarks in the form of documents which note the boundaries of estates given to and by the church.

The West Saxons took over the area in the sixth century, driving out the Celtic population, only to be replaced themselves 50 years later by the Anglian Hwicce, who established Worcester as their chief military, administrative and religious centre, and the basis for trade with Wales. Their kingdom covered the whole of what we know as Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, plus the southern part of Warwickshire.

Early in the seventh century they were absorbed into the kingdom of Mercia, but maintained a degree of independence as a sub-kingdom until Mercia fell to the invading Danes in the later part of the ninth century. The administrative county of Worcestershire came into being when the Saxon kingdom of Wessex took over the area not long afterwards.

The church was very strong in Worcestershire throughout the mediæval period. Bishop Oswald founded the first great Benedictine monastery in England here in the ninth century, the first of many monasteries to be created in the county. The Franciscans and Dominicans settled in Worcester, Benedictines in Evesham and Malvern, Cluniacs in Dudley and Austin Friars in Droitwich. The Domesday Book shows that over half the county (700 hides out of 1,200) belonged to the church in 1086, compared with only 175 out of about 1,135 in neighbouring Warwickshire.

This had the great benefits for the inhabitants in that they were saved from the upheavals of takeover by Norman lords and later depredations of the robber barons during the unstable years of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The county was the site of one major battle in those days, however, when the future Edward I defeated Simon de Montfort, who died in the battle at Evesham in 1265. However, it led to major changes later when Henry VIII abolished the monasteries.

In the seventeenth century Worcestershire saw a number of battles and skirmishes in the Civil Wars between King and Parliament. The final decisive battle took place at Worcester in 1651, when Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentary army ended the second Civil War in beating Charles II's Scottish army and forcing the young king into exile.

A few years later Huntington Court in Worcestershire was the base from which the (in)famous Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament was hatched, and where the conspiritors returned briefly after its failure.

Thereafter Worcestershire remained clear of wars and violence, until the bombing of the industrial north of the county during World War 2. That same northern area was at the heart of the industrial revolution 150 years or so earlier, when the Black Country became known as the Workshop of the World, and atmospheric pollution reached heights never seen before or since. Mines, quarries and slag heaps defaced the land and people flocked to move from the depressed agricultural areas to live in the slums thrown up around the new factories.

Today the air is relatively clean, the slums have been swept away, and Worcestershire is a quite pleasant, reasonably prosperous, place for a modern genealogist to visit.

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Web Pages about Worcestershire

Worcestershire County Council.
This Is Worcestershire.
This Is the Black Country.

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Genealogical Resources for Worcestershire

The UK Genealogy Interests Directory, a new and growing facility, has a page of surname interests in Worcestershire.

As with other counties, the first resource to look at should be the GENUKI pages.

Worcestershire comes within the area covered by the Birmingham and Midland Society for Genealogy and Heraldry, which is the local family history society.

Worcestershire Lookup Exchange is a list of volunteers willing to do free lookups, as and when they have time, in resources they happen to have available to them.

At the time of writing the main place in Worcestershire to consult records such as parish registers, wills, newspapers, etc. is the Worcestershire History Centre, at Trinity Street, Worcester (microform copies, not original records). However, that office will be closing on 21st April 2012 in preparation for a move to new premises at The Hive, Sawmill Walk, The Butts, Worcester, WR1 3PB, which will open as the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service in July 2012..For up to date opening hours and services available it is probably best to consult the Worcester County Council web site or the main Records office web site. For the latest information about the new facilities, see The Hive web site.

The Midmarch mailing list covers Worcestershire and a number of neighbouring counties. To subscribe send a message containing just the word:
subscribe
to MIDMARCH subscribe.

The 1842 Pigot's Directory for Worcestershire has been transferred to CD-ROM, and is available from The Society of Genealogists Bookshop.

Looking4kin offers free membership of a chat room for Worcestershire researchers, as well as similar resources for other areas.

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A Worcestershire Bibliography

T. Nash: Collections for the History of Worcestershire (2 vols, 1781 & 1782 + supplement 1799)

Victoria County History of Worcestershire (5 vols, 1901-1926)

F.T.S. Houghton: Little Guide: Worcestershire (Methuen, 1922, 3rd edition 1952 revised by M. Moore)

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Some Places in Worcestershire

To appear in this section a town or village has to meet a number of criteria. First, it has to be of family history interest to me; in other words, one or more of my or my wife's ancestors lived there. Second, I must have, or have access to, the appropriate information to be able to set up the page. Third, I must have managed to find the time to do it. Finally, if I am aware that it has already been done by someone else, all that will be found here is a link to that other site.

However, for completeness sake, if the place meets the first criterion but fails on one or more of the others, then it will at least appear here as a heading, so the reader will have some idea which places may "get the treatment" at some time in the future.

Dudley

St. Thomas's Church, DudleyMy wife's maternal grandmother's maternal grandfather was baptised in St. Thomas's Church, Dudley in 1794 (photo 41,410 bytes, taken 28th July 2000), and her paternal grandmother's paternal grandmother married her first husband in that same church in 1818.

 

 

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Halesowen

My interest in this town stems from the fact that my mother-in-law's maternal grandparents married at the parish church in 1863. This map (4,264 bytes) of the south and central parts of the Black Country shows the location of Halesowen (near the south-east corner).

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Hasbury

My wife's maternal grandmother was born in this village, and lived here with her parents for some time. It lies just south-west of Halesowen, right on the southern edge of the Black Country, and has now been swallowed up by the town. This map (4,264 bytes) of the south and central parts of the Black Country shows the location of Hasbury (near the south-east corner).

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Lutley

My wife's maternal grandmother's paternal grandfather was born in this tiny hamlet.

It is situated in a surprisingly rural area roughly midway between Halesowen and Stourbridge (which are less than four miles apart), and appears to consist of three farms. One of the farms (Grange Farm) has recently gone out of business, and both the farmhouse and barns have been converted to flats and new houses. The second (Whitehouse Farm) is still operating (the farmer told me now growing grain and potatoes and providing grazing for horses, but until quite recently a cattle farm), but its barns have also been sold and converted to houses, as have those of Four Elms Farm.

I suspect it was once a larger, more important place, because it possessed two mills at one time.

This map (4,264 bytes) of the south and central parts of the Black Country shows the location of Lutley (near the south-east corner).

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Netherton

St. Andrew's Church, Netherton, WorcestershireMy wife's maternal grandparents were married in St. Andrew's Church, Netherton (photo 93,762 bytes) in 1889, and the groom's mother was a shopkeeper in Netherton before and after that date. His parents and brother share an impressive grave in the parish churchyard.

The groom may also have been born in Netherton. His 1863 birth certificate gives the address as Cinder Bank, Dudley, but I find that this is the main road from Dudley to Netherton, and runs right into the centre of the latter, and Netherton is (and was then) administratively a part of Dudley.

This map (4,264 bytes) of the south and central parts of the Black Country shows the location of Netherton in the detached part of Worcestershire, between Dudley and Halesowen.

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Old Swinford

My wife's great great grandparents William Willetts and Phoebe Jones married here in 1812.

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Pensax

St. James the Great Church, Pensax St. James the Great Church, Pensax St. James the Great Church, Pensax St. James the Great Church bells, Pensax
My wife's great great great grandfather Thomas Glazzard was born here in 1757.
The bells in the last photo were taken down relatively recently for safety reasons. The biggest, nearest to the camera, was cast in 1681, the furthest one from the camera in 1669 and the middle one in 1627.
St. James the Great Church, Pensax
Click on the thumbnails for larger images

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My Surname Interests in Worcestershire

COLE, 18th century, Halesowen
GLAZZARD, 18th century, Pensax
JONES, 19th century, Old Swinford
WARD, 19th century, Dudley(?)
WARD, 19th century, Netherton
WILLETTS, 19th century, Halesowen
WILLETTS, 19th century, Hasbury
WILLETTS, 19th century, Lutley
WOODHOUSE, 18th century, Halesowen

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Acknowledgements

I am especially grateful to Victoria Bryant, Information and Records Officer of the Worcestershire County Archaeological Service, who supplied the first few paragraphs of historical information to correct my earlier erroneous entry.

The following have provided information which I have paraphrased on this page:

C.R.J Currie and C.P.Lewis: A Guide to English County Histories (Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1994), ISBN 0-7509-1505-6.

A. Room: Dictionary of British Place Names (1988), ISBN 1 85605 1775.

A.D. Mills: A Dictionary of English Place-Names (Oxford University Press, 1991, revised 1995), ISBN 0-19-869156-4.

Whitakers Almanack, 1923.

Encyclopædia Britannica

F.T.S. Houghton: Little Guide: Worcestershire (Methuen, 1922, 3rd edition 1952 revised by M. Moore)

R. Bryan: Worcestershire chapter in The English Counties (ed . C.E.M.Joad, published by Odhams Press Ltd., 1949 reprint)

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