South West England
is one of nine official regions of England
. It consists of the counties of Bristol
(including the Isles of Scilly
. Large cities and towns in the region include Bristol
. It is geographically the largest of the nine regions of England covering 9,200 square miles (23,800 km2
but the third least-populous, with approximately five million residents.
The region is known for its rich folklore
, including the legend of King Arthur
and Glastonbury Tor
, as well as its traditions and customs. Cornwall has its own language, Cornish
, and some regard it as a Celtic nation
. The South West is known for Cheddar cheese
, which originated in the Somerset
village of Cheddar
; Devon cream teas
, Cornish pasties
, and cider
. It is home to the Eden Project
, Aardman Animations
, the Glastonbury Festival
, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
, trip hop
music and Cornwall's surfing
beaches. The region has also been home to some of Britain's most renowned writers, including Daphne du Maurier
, Agatha Christie
and Enid Blyton
, all of whom set many of their works here, and the South West is also the location of Thomas Hardy's Wessex
, the setting for many of his best-known novels.
Geology and landscape
Most of the region is located on the South West Peninsula
, between the English Channel
and Bristol Channel
. It has the longest coastline of all the English regions, totalling over 700 miles (1,130 km).
Much of the coast is now protected from further substantial development because of its environmental importance, which contributes to the region's attractiveness to tourists and residents.
Geologically the region is divided into the largely igneous
west and sedimentary
east, the dividing line slightly to the west of the River Exe
Cornwall and West Devon's landscape is of rocky coastline and high moorland, notably at Bodmin Moor
. These are due to the granite
that underlie the area. The highest point of the region is High Willhays
, at 2,038 feet (621 m), on Dartmoor
In North Devon the slates of the west and limestones of the east meet at Exmoor
National Park. The variety of rocks of similar ages seen has led to the county's name being given to that of the Devonian
The east of the region is characterised by wide, flat clay vales
, and chalk
. The vales, with good irrigation, are home to the region's dairy agriculture. The Blackmore Vale
was Thomas Hardy
's "Vale of the Little Dairies";
another, the Somerset Levels
was created by reclaiming wetlands.
The Southern England Chalk Formation
extends into the region, creating a series of high, sparsely populated and archaeologically rich downs, most famously Salisbury Plain
, but also Cranborne Chase
, the Dorset Downs
and the Purbeck Hills
. These downs are the principal area of arable agriculture
in the region. Limestone is also found in the region, at the Cotswolds
, Quantock Hills
and Mendip Hills
, where they support sheep farming.
All of the principal rock types can be seen on the Jurassic Coast
of Dorset and East Devon, where they document the entire Mesozoic
era from west to east.
The climate of South West England is classed as oceanic
) according to the Köppen climate classification
. The oceanic climate typically experiences cool winters with warmer summers and precipitation all year round, with more experienced in winter. Annual rainfall is about 1,000 millimetres (39 in) and up to 2,000 millimetres (79 in) on higher ground.
Summer maxima averages range from 18 °C (64 °F) to 22 °C (72 °F) and winter minimum averages range from 1 °C (34 °F) to 4 °C (39 °F) across the south-west.
It is the second windiest area of the United Kingdom, the majority of winds coming from the south-west and north-east.
Government organisations predict the region to rise in temperature and become the hottest region in the United Kingdom.
Inland areas of low altitude experience the least amount of precipitation. They experience the highest summer maxima temperatures, but winter minima are colder than the coast. Snowfalls are more frequent in comparison to the coast, but less so in comparison to higher ground.
It experiences the lowest wind speeds and sunshine total in between that of the coast and the moors. The climate of inland areas is more noticeable the further north-east into the region.
In comparison to inland areas, the coast experiences high minimum temperatures, especially in winter, and it experiences slightly lower maximum temperatures during the summer. Rainfall is the lowest at the coast and snowfall is rarer than the rest of the region. Coastal areas are the windiest parts of the peninsula and they receive the most sunshine. The general coastal climate is more typical the further south-west into the region.
Areas of moorland
inland such as: Bodmin Moor
experience lower temperatures and more precipitation than the rest of the southwest (approximately twice as much rainfall as lowland areas), because of their high altitude. Both of these factors also cause it to experience the highest levels of snowfall and the lowest levels of sunshine. Exposed areas of the moors are windier than lowlands and can be almost as windy as the coast.
The boundaries of the South West region are based upon those devised by central government in the 1930s for civil defence administration and subsequently used for various statistical analyses. The region is also similar to that used in the 17th-century Rule of the Major-Generals
. (For further information, see Historical and alternative regions of England
). By the 1960s, the South West region (including Dorset, which for some previous purposes had been included in a Southern region), was widely recognised for government administration and statistics. The boundaries were carried forward into the 1990s when regional administrations were formally established as Government Office Regions. A regional assembly
and regional development agency
were created in 1999, then abolished in 2008 and 2012 respectively.
It has been argued that the official South West region does not possess a cultural and historic unity or identity of itself, which has led to criticism of it as an "artificial" construct. The large area of the region, stretching as it does from the Isles of Scilly to Gloucestershire, encompasses diverse areas which have little more in common with each other than they do with other areas of England. The region has several TV stations and newspapers based in different areas, and no single acknowledged regional "capital". Many people of the region have some level of a 'South West', or 'West Country' regional identity, although this may not necessarily correspond to an identification with the official government-defined region
. It is common for people in the region to identify at a national level (whether English
or a county, city or town level). Identifying as being from 'the Westcountry', amorphous though it is, tends to be more predominant further into the peninsula where the status of being from the region is less equivocal.
in Bath, Somerset: the entire city is a World Heritage Site.
The South West region is largely rural, with small towns and villages; a higher proportion of people live in such areas than in any other English region. The largest cities and towns are Bristol
(which together with Christchurch
make up the South East Dorset conurbation
, and Weymouth
. The population of the South West is about five million.
CrossCountry operates services to Manchester Piccadilly
. Dorset is currently the only county in the region where there are electric trains, though the Great Western Main Line and the South Wales Main Line
in Wiltshire, Somerset, Greater Bristol and Gloucestershire is being electrified
. SWR operate services to and from London Waterloo and serves every county in the region except Gloucestershire and Cornwall. GWR serves all counties in the region and operate to various destinations, some of which run to South Wales and the West Midlands, though almost all intercity trains operated by GWR run through the region.
Three major roads enter the region from the east. The M4 motorway
from London to South Wales via Bristol is the busiest. The A303
cuts through the centre of the region from Salisbury to Honiton
, where it merges with the A30
to continue past Exeter to the west of Cornwall. The A31
, an extension of the M27
, serves Poole and Bournemouth and the Dorset coast. The M5
runs from the West Midlands
through Gloucestershire, Bristol and Somerset to Exeter. The A38
serves as a western extension to Plymouth. There are three other smaller motorways in the region, all in the Bristol area
Within the region the local transport authorities carry out transport planning through the use of a Local Transport Plan (LTP)
which outlines their strategies, policies and implementation programme.
The most recent LTP is that for the period 2006–11. In the South West region the following transport authorities have published their LTP online: Bournemouth
U. A., Torbay
and Wiltshire unitary authority
The transport authorities of Bath and North East Somerset
U. A., Bristol
U. A., North Somerset
U. A. and South Gloucestershire
U. A. publish a single Joint Local Transport Plan as part of the West of England Partnership
There is evidence from flint artefacts
in a quarry at Westbury-sub-Mendip
that an ancestor of modern man, possibly Homo heidelbergensis
, was present in the future Somerset from around 500,000 years ago.
There is some evidence of human occupation of southern England before the last ice age
, such as at Kents Cavern
in Devon, but largely in the south east
. The British mainland was connected to the continent during the ice age and humans may have repeatedly migrated into and out of the region as the climate fluctuated. There is evidence of human habitation in the caves at Cheddar Gorge
11,000–10,000 years BC, during a partial thaw in the ice age. The earliest scientifically dated cemetery in Great Britain
was found at Aveline's Hole
in the Mendip Hills
. The human bone fragments it contained, from about 21 different individuals, are thought to be roughly between 10,200 and 10,400 years old.
During this time the tundra gave way to birch
forests and grassland
and evidence for human settlement appears at Salisbury Plain
, Wiltshire and Hengistbury Head
At the end of the last Ice Age the Bristol Channel
was dry land, but subsequently the sea level rose, resulting in major coastal changes. The Somerset Levels
were flooded, but the dry points
such as Glastonbury
and Brent Knoll
are known to have been occupied by Mesolithic
The landscape at this time was tundra
. Britain's oldest complete skeleton, Cheddar Man
, lived at Cheddar Gorge around 7150 BC (in the Upper Palaeolithic
or Old Stone Age), shortly after the end of the ice age;
however, it is unclear whether the region was continuously inhabited during the previous 4000 years, or if humans returned to the gorge after a final cold spell. A Palaeolithic
flint tool found in West Sedgemoor is the earliest indication of human presence on the Somerset Levels.
During the 7th millennium BC the sea level rose and flooded the valleys, so the Mesolithic
people occupied seasonal camps on the higher ground, indicated by scatters of flints.
people continued to exploit the reed swamps for their natural resources and started to construct wooden trackways. These included the Post Track
and the Sweet Track
. The Sweet Track, dating from the 39th century BC, is thought to be the world's oldest timber trackway
and was once thought to be the world's oldest engineered roadway.
The Levels were also the location of the Glastonbury Lake Village
as well as two lake villages at Meare
and Stanton Drew
are perhaps the most famous Neolithic sites in the UK.
During the Roman era
, the east of the region, particularly the Cotswolds and eastern Somerset, was heavily Romanised but Devon and Cornwall were much less so, though Exeter was a regional capital. There are villas, farms and temples dating from the period, including the remains at Bath.
A 19th-century Photochrom
of the Roman Baths in Bath, Somerset
The Roman invasion, and possibly the preceding period of involvement in the internal affairs of the south of England, was inspired in part by the lead mines of the Mendip Hills
, which also offered the potential for the extraction of silver.
Forts were set up at Bath
. The lead and silver mines
in the Mendip Hills were run by the military. The Romans established a defensive boundary along the new military road known the Fosse Way
(from the Latin fossa
meaning "ditch"). The Fosse Way ran through Bath
, Shepton Mallet
and south-west towards Axminster
. The road from Dorchester
ran through Yeovil
to meet the Fosse Way at Ilchester. Salt was produced on the Somerset Levels
took place near Bath, named after the Roman baths
Excavations carried out before the flooding of Chew Valley Lake
also uncovered Roman remains, indicating agricultural and industrial activity from the second half of the 1st century until the 3rd century AD. The finds included a moderately large villa
at Chew Park,
where wooden writing tablets (the first in the UK) with ink writing were found. There is also evidence from the Pagans Hill Roman Temple
at Chew Stoke
In October 2001 the West Bagborough Hoard
of 4th-century Roman silver was discovered in West Bagborough
. The 681 coins included two denarii
from the early 2nd century and 8 miliarensia
and 671 siliquae
all dating from AD 337 to 367. The majority were struck in the reigns of emperors Constantius II
and derive from a range of mints including Arles
in France, Trier
in Germany, and Rome.
In April 2010, the Frome Hoard
, one of the largest ever hoards of Roman coins discovered in Britain, was found by a metal detectorist. The hoard of 52,500 coins dated from the 3rd century AD and was found buried in a field near Frome
, in a jar 14 inches (36 cm) below the surface.
The coins were excavated by archaeologists from the Portable Antiquities Scheme
British kingdoms and the arrival of the Saxons
After the Romans left at the start of the 5th century AD, the region split into several British kingdoms, including Dumnonia
, centred around the old tribal territory of the Dumnonii
The upper Thames area soon came under Anglo-Saxon
control but the remainder of the region was in British control until the 6th century.Bokerley Dyke
, a large defensive ditch on Cranborne Chase
dated to 367, delayed the Saxon
conquest of Dorset, with the Romano-British remaining in Dorset for 200 years after the withdrawal of the Roman legions. The Western Wandsdyke
earthwork was probably built during the 5th or 6th century. This area became the border between the Romano-British Celts
and the West Saxons
following the Battle of Deorham
The Anglo-Saxons then gained control of the Cotswold area; but most of Somerset, Dorset and Devon (as well as Cornwall) remained in British hands until the late 7th century. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
, the Saxon Cenwalh
achieved a breakthrough against the British
Celtic tribes, with victories at Bradford-on-Avon
(in the Avon Gap
in the Wansdyke) in 652,
and further south at the Battle of Peonnum
) in 658,
followed by an advance west through the Polden Hills
to the River Parrett
The Saxon advance from the east seems to have been halted by battles between the British and Saxons, for example at the siege of Badon Mons Badonicus
(which may mave been in the Bath district, perhaps at Solsbury Hill
or Bathampton Down
The Battle of Bedwyn
was fought in 675 between Escuin
, a West Saxon
nobleman who had seized the throne of Queen Saxburga
, and King Wulfhere
The earliest fortification of Taunton
started for King Ine of Wessex
, in or about the year 710. However, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
this was destroyed 12 years later. Alfred the Great
refortified Exeter as a defensive burh
, followed by new erections at Lydford
, although these fortifications were small compared to burhs
further east, suggesting that they were protection for the elite only.
9th century and the arrival of the Danes
The English defeated a combined Cornish and Danish force at Hingston Down
(near Gunnislake) in 838. Edward the Elder
built similarly at Barnstaple
. But sporadic Viking incursions continued until the Norman Conquest
, including the disastrous defeat of the Devonians at the Battle of Pinhoe
. In 876 King Alfred the Great trapped a Danish fleet at Arne
and then drove it out; 120 ships were wrecked at Studland
Although King Alfred had lands in Cornwall, it continued to have a British king. It is generally considered that Cornwall came fully under the dominion of the English Crown in the time of Athelstan
's rule, i.e. 924–939.
In the absence of any specific documentation to record this event, supporters of Cornwall's English status presume that it then became part of England. However, in 944, within a mere five years of Athelstan's death, King Edmund
issued a charter styling himself "King of the English and ruler of this province of the Britons
". Thus we can see that then the "province" was a territorial possession, which has long claimed a special relationship to the English Crown.
King Alfred was driven to seek refuge from the Danes at Athelney
before defeating them in 878 at the Battle of Ethandun
, usually considered to be near Edington, Wiltshire
, but possibly the village of Edington
in Somerset. Alfred established a series of forts and lookout posts linked by a military road, or Herepath
, to allow his army to cover Viking movements at sea. The Herepath has a characteristic form which is familiar on the Quantocks: a regulation 20 m wide track between avenues of trees growing from hedge laying
embankments. A peace treaty with the Danes was signed at Wedmore
and the Danish king Guthrum the Old
was baptised at Aller
(fortified places) had been set up by 919, such as Lyng
. The Alfred Jewel
, an object about 2.5-inch (64 mm) long, made of filigree gold, cloisonné
-enamelled and with a rock crystal covering, was found in 1693 at Petherton Park
, North Petherton
This is believed to have been owned by King Alfred. Monasteries
churches were set up all over Somerset, with daughter churches of the minsters in manors. There was a royal palace at Cheddar
, which was used at times in the 10th century to host the Witenagemot
In the late pre-Norman period, the east coast of modern-day England came under the growing sway of the Norsemen
. Eventually England came to be ruled by Norse monarchs, and the Anglo-Saxon
kingdoms fell one by one, Wessex
being conquered in 1013 by King Sweyn Forkbeard
Sweyn's realms included Denmark
, and parts of England such as Mercia
(an Anglian kingdom roughly coinciding with the English Midlands
), much of which, along with northern England, fell under the Danelaw
. Sweyn ruled Wessex, along with his other realms, from 1013 onwards, followed by his son Canute the Great
. But Cornwall was not
part of his realm of Wessex. A map by the American historian called "The Dominions of Canute" (pictured just above) shows that Cornwall, like Wales and Scotland, was part neither of Sweyn Forkbeard's nor of Canute's Danish empire. Neither Sweyn Forkbeard nor Canute conquered or controlled Scotland, Wales or Cornwall; but these areas were "client nations": subject to payment of a yearly tribute or danegeld
to Sweyn and later Canute, all three areas retained their autonomy from the Danes. Ultimately, the Danes lost control of Wessex in 1042 on the death of both of Canute's sons. Edward the Confessor
retook Wessex for the Saxons.
In 1016 Edmund Ironside
was crowned king at Glastonbury.
After the Norman Conquest the region was controlled by various Norman as well as Breton
lords and later by local gentry, a few of whom appear to have been descended from pre-Conquest families. In 1140, during the civil war
of King Stephen
's reign, the castles of Plympton and Exeter
were held against the king by Baldwin de Redvers
and this gave rise to the defensive castles at Corfe Castle
. The period saw the growth of towns such as Truro
in the west of the region, but these were small compared with the established wealth of ancient cathedral cities
in the east of the region such as Exeter
. Wealth grew from sheep farming in the east of the region: church controlled estates such as Glastonbury Abbey
became among the richest in England, while tin
and silver mining was important in Devon and Cornwall; Stannary Parliaments
with semi-autonomous powers were established. Farming prospered until it was severely hit by the Black Death
which arrived in Dorset
in 1348 and quickly spread through Somerset, causing widespread death, with mortality rates perhaps as high as 50% in places. The resulting labour shortage led to changes in feudal practices. Crafts and industries also flourished; the Somerset woollen industry was then one of the largest in England.
Coal mining in the Mendips
was an important source of wealth while quarrying
also took place.
Many parish churches were rebuilt in this period. Between 1107 and 1129 William Giffard
, the Chancellor of King Henry I
, converted the bishop's hall in Taunton into Taunton Castle
. [It passed to the king in 1233
and in 1245 repairs were ordered to its motte
and towers. During the 11th-century Second Barons' War
against Henry III
, Bridgwater was held by the barons against the King. During the Middle Ages
sheep farming for the wool trade came to dominate the economy of Exmoor
. The wool was spun into thread on isolated farms and collected by merchants to be woven, fulled, dyed and finished in thriving towns such as Dunster
. The land started to be enclosed and from the 17th century onwards larger estates developed, leading to establishment of areas of large regular shaped fields. During this period a royal forest
and hunting ground was established, administered by the Warden. The royal forest was sold off in 1818.
Where conditions were suitable, coastal villages and ports had an economy based on fishing. The larger ports such as Fowey
contributed vessels to the naval enterprises of the King and were subject to attack from the French in return. Bridgwater was part of the Port of Bristol
until the Port of Bridgwater was created in 1348,
covering 80 miles (130 km) of the Somerset coast line, from the Devon
border to the mouth of the River Axe
Historically, the main port on the river was at Bridgwater; the river being bridged at this point, with the first bridge being constructed in 1200. Quays
were built in 1424; with another quay, the Langport slip
, being built in 1488 upstream of the Town Bridge.
the port began to develop in the 11th century.
By the 12th century Bristol was an important port, handling much of England's trade with Ireland. During this period Bristol also became a centre of shipbuilding and manufacturing. Bristol was the starting point for many important voyages, notably John Cabot
's 1497 voyage of exploration to North America.
By the 14th century Bristol was one of England's three largest medieval
towns after London, along with York
, with perhaps 15,000–20,000 inhabitants on the eve of the Black Death
The plague resulted in a prolonged pause in the growth of Bristol's population, with numbers remaining at 10,000–12,000 through most of the 15th and 16th centuries.
During the Wars of the Roses
, there were frequent skirmishes between the LancastrianThomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon
and YorkistWilliam, Lord Bonville
. In 1470, Edward IV
pursued Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick
and George, Duke of Clarence
as far as Exeter after the Battle of Lose-coat Field
. The organisation of the region remained based on the shires and Church estates, which were largely unchanged throughout the period.
In 1497, early in Henry VII
's reign, the royal pretender Perkin Warbeck
, besieged Exeter. The Cornish Rebellion of 1497
led by An Gof
and Thomas Flamank
ended in a march to Blackheath
in London where the Cornish
forces were massacred.
Great disturbances throughout both Cornwall and Devon followed the introduction of Edward VI
's Book of Common Prayer
. The day after Whit Sunday
1549, a priest at Sampford Courtenay
was persuaded to read the old mass
This insubordination spread swiftly into serious revolt. The Cornish quickly joined the men of Devon in the Prayer Book Rebellion
and Exeter was besieged until relieved by Lord Russell.
The Cornish had a particular motivation for opposing the new English language prayer book, as there were still many monoglot Cornish
speakers in West Cornwall. The Cornish language
declined rapidly afterwards and the Dissolution of the Monasteries
resulted in the eventual loss of the Cornish language as a primary language. By the end of the 18th century it was no longer a first language.
The Council of the West
was a short-lived administrative body established by Henry VIII for the government of the western counties of England. It was analogous in form to the Council of the North
. The council was established in March 1539, with Lord Russell
as its Lord President. Members included Thomas Derby, Sir Piers Edgcumbe, Sir Richard Pollard and John Rowe. However, the fall of Thomas Cromwell
, the chief political supporter of government by Councils, and the tranquillity of the western counties made it largely superfluous. It last sat in summer 1540, although it was never formally abolished.
During the English Civil War
, Somerset was largely Parliamentarian
, although Dunster
was a Royalist stronghold. The county saw important battles between the Royalists
and the Parliamentarians, notably at Lansdowne
in 1643 and Langport
Bristol was occupied by Royalist military, after they overran Royal Fort
, the last Parliamentarian stronghold in the city.Taunton Castle
had fallen into ruin by 1600 but it was repaired during the Civil War. The castle changed hands several times during 1642–45 along with the town.
During the Siege of Taunton
it was defended by Robert Blake
, from July 1644 to July 1645. After the war, in 1662, the keep was demolished and only the base remains. This war resulted in castles being slighted (destroyed to prevent their re-use).
In 1685, the Duke of Monmouth
led the Monmouth Rebellion
in which a force partly raised in Somerset fought against James II
. The rebels landed at Lyme Regis
and travelled north hoping to capture Bristol
, Puritan soldiers damaged the west front of Wells Cathedral
, tore lead from the roof to make bullets, broke the windows, smashed the organ and the furnishings, and for a time stabled their horses in the nave.
They were defeated in the Battle of Sedgemoor
, the last battle fought on English soil.
The Bloody Assizes
which followed saw the losers being sentenced to death or transportation
At the time of the Glorious Revolution
, King James II
gathered his main forces, altogether about 19,000 men, at Salisbury
, James himself arriving there on 19 November 1688. The first blood was shed at the Wincanton Skirmish
. In Salisbury, James heard that some of his officers, such as Edward Hyde
, had deserted, and he broke out in a nose-bleed which he took as a bad omen. His commander in chief, the Earl of Feversham
, advised retreat on 23 November, and the next day John Churchill
deserted to William. On 26 November, James's daughter Princess Anne
did the same, and James returned to London the same day, never again to be at the head of a serious military force in England.
The 19th century saw improvements to roads in the region with the introduction of turnpikes
and the building of canals and railways. The usefulness of the canals was short-lived, though they have now been restored for recreation. Chard
claims to be the birthplace of powered flight
, in 1848 when the Victorian
aeronautical pioneer John Stringfellow
first demonstrated that engine-powered flight was possible through his work on the Aerial Steam Carriage
. North Petherton
was the first town in England (and one of the few ever) to be lit by acetylene
Around the 1860s, at the height of the iron and steel era, a pier
and a deep-water dock
were built, at Portishead
to accommodate the large ships that had difficulty in reaching Bristol Harbour
The Portishead power stations
were coal-fed power stations
built next to the dock. Industrial activities ceased in the dock with the closure of the power stations. The Port of Bristol Authority finally closed the dock in 1992,
and it has now been developed into a marina and residential area.
World War II
Regional profile of the South West
At the 2001 census
, the population of the South West region was 4,928,434.
It had grown in the previous 20 years by 12.5% from 4,381,400 in mid-1981, making it the fastest growing region in England. Teignbridge
in Devon had the largest population gain with 26.3%, and Devon as whole grew by 17.6%. Population falls occurred in the two major cities of Bristol
As of 2001, 97.71% of the South West's population were classified as white.
At the 2011 census, the proportion of white people in the region fell from 97.7% to 95.4%, with the proportion of black and Asian residents doubling. At that time, 91.8% of the region's residents were classed as White British, which was higher than the England average of 79.8%.
The region had the oldest median age
in England; in the 2011 census, West Somerset
had the UK's oldest average age – almost 48. The region had the second-highest proportion (23%) of rural population in the UK, after Northern Ireland.
35% of people in the region own their homes outright, with no debt, the highest in the UK. The Cotswold district had the biggest house price increases in the region, and the second-biggest in the UK outside of London and the South-East, in a March 2015 survey. Weymouth and Portland
has the highest council tax in England. West Somerset has the lowest average full-time pay at £287; West Somerset is also the district where poor children do much worse than wealthier children at school, with some of the worst differences in the UK, according to Ambition School Leadership
For top-tier authorities, Torbay has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the region,
with Exeter the highest rate for council districts. For top-tier authorities, North Somerset (closely followed by Bath & NE Somerset) has the lowest rate, with Cotswold
having the lowest rate for council districts.
The population in the region with the highest obesity level is Sedgemoor
in Somerset, with 73.4%, the fifth in the UK. North Dorset has the lowest proportion of cancer deaths in England – 97 per 100,000 (the England average is 142 per 100,000), down from 162 ten years earlier.
In the 2011 census, East Dorset had the highest rate of marriage in the UK; East Dorset also has the third-highest life expectancy for men in the UK at 82.7.
As measured by the English Indices of Deprivation 2007
, the region shows similarities with Southern England
in having more Lower Layer Super Output Areas
in the 20% least multiple deprived
districts than the 20% most deprived.
The relative amount of deprivation is similar to the East Midlands
, except the South West has many fewer deprived areas. According to the LSOA data in 2007, the most deprived districts
(before Cornwall became a unitary authority) were, in descending order: Bristol (64th in England), Torbay (71st), Plymouth (77th), Kerrier
(89th), North Cornwall
(96th), and West Somerset (106th). At county level, the deprived areas are City of Bristol (49th in England), Torbay (55th), Plymouth (58th), and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (69th).
The least deprived council districts are, in descending order: East Dorset, North Wiltshire, South Gloucestershire, Cotswold, Kennet, Stroud, Tewkesbury, West Wiltshire, Salisbury, and Bath and North East Somerset. At county level, the least deprived areas, in descending order, are South Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Bath and North East Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Poole, North Somerset, and Somerset. For smaller areas, the least-deprived in the region are E01015563 (139th in England) – Shaw and Nine Elms ward, in north Swindon; E01014791 (163rd in England) – Portishead East ward, in North Somerset off the A369 in Portishead and North Weston
; E01020377 (184th in England) – Colehill
East ward, in East Dorset, east of Wimborne Minster.
In March 2011, the region had the second-lowest unemployment claimant
count in England, second to South East England
, with 2.7%. Inside the region, Torbay
has the highest rate with 4.5%, followed by Bristol and Plymouth with 3.8%. East Dorset has the lowest rate with 1.4%.
Population of the South West of England
Until the 19th century, the West Country
and its dialects of the English language
were largely protected from outside influences, due to its relative geographical isolation. The West Country dialects derive not from a corrupted form of modern English, but from the Southwestern dialects of Middle English
, which themselves derived from the dialects of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex
. Late West Saxon
, which formed the earliest English language standard, from the time of King Alfred until the late 11th century, is the form in which the majority of Anglo-Saxon texts are preserved. Thomas Spencer Baynes
claimed in 1856 that, due to its position at the heart of the Kingdom of Wessex, the relics of Anglo-Saxon accent, idiom and vocabulary were best preserved in the Somerset dialect. There is some influence from the Welsh
languages, depending on the specific location.
West Country dialects are commonly represented as "Mummerset
", a kind of catchall southern rural
accent invented for broadcasting.
Economy and industry
Historic docks on Bristol Harbour
, within the region's most productive economy
Since the decline of mining, Cornwall's economy has been reliant on agriculture and tourism
The most economically productive areas within the region are Bristol, the M4 corridor
and south east Dorset, which are the areas with the best links to London. Bristol alone accounts for a quarter of the region's economy, with the surrounding areas of Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire accounting for a further quarter.
Bristol's economy has been built on maritime trade, including the import of tobacco and the slave trade
. Since the early 20th century, however, aeronautics
have taken over as the basis of Bristol's economy, with companies including Airbus UK
(military division) and BAE Systems
(former Bristol Aeroplane Company
) manufacturing in Filton
. Defence Equipment and Support
is at MoD Abbey Wood
. More recently defence, telecommunications, information technology and electronics have been important industries in Bristol, Swindon and elsewhere. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency
, the Soil Association
, Clerical Medical
, and Bristol Water
are in Bristol; Indesit
makes tumble dryers
and Infineon Technologies UK
are at Stoke Gifford
. Knorr-Bremse UK
make air brakes
in Emersons Green
. The South West Observatory
's Economy Module provides a detailed analysis of the region's economy.
The region's Gross value added
(GVA) breaks down as 69.9% service industry
, 28.1% production industry
and 2.0% agriculture. This is a slightly higher proportion in production, and lower proportion in services, than the UK average. Agriculture, though in decline, is important in many parts of the region. Dairy farming
is especially important in Dorset and Devon, and the region has 1.76 million cattle, second to only one other UK region, and 3,520 square miles (9,117 km2
) of grassland, more than any other region. Only 5.6% of the region's agriculture is arable
Tourism is important in the region, and in 2003 the tourist sector contributed £4,928 million to the region's economy.
In 2001 the GVA of the hotel industry was £2,200 million, and the region had 13,800 hotels with 250,000 bed spaces.
There are large differences in prosperity between the eastern parts of the region and the west. While Bristol is the second most affluent large city in England after London,
parts of Cornwall have among the lowest average incomes in Northern Europe.
Vegetable crop south of Ludgvan
Cornwall has become reliant on tourism, more so than the other counties of the South West. In 2010 Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly had the lowest GVA per head of any county or unitary authority in England.
It contributes only 7.4% of the region's economy
and has received EU Convergence funding
(formerly Objective One funding) since 2000.
Over four million people visit the county each year.
The reasons for Cornwall's poor economic performance are complex and apparently persistent, but causes include its remoteness and poor transport links,
the decline of its traditional industries, such as mining
, agriculture and fishing, the low-wealth generating capacity of tourism, relocation of higher skilled jobs to other parts of the South West, and lack of a concerted economic strategy (although use of European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund monies have been deployed in an attempt at restructuring).
The Met Office
is in Exeter
, as are Pennon Group
, the water company, Pedigree Dolls & Toys
doll), and Thrifty Car Rental
UK, which is at Ashton Business Centre in St Thomas
on the A377 opposite the Exeter Retail Park. The airline Flybe
was based at Exeter Airport until 2019; Plymouth City Airport
closed in 2011. Chatham Marine
clothing and footwear is off the B3123 on the Marsh Barton Trading Estate, near Alphington
. Eclipse Internet
and EDF Energy
are in the same building south-east of the Met Office next to the M5; Stovax Group
, who make wood
and gas-burning stoves
, are further south on Sowton Ind Est next to Alcoa Howmet
UK, who make vacuum alloy airfoil
castings for industrial gas turbines. DEFRA
have a main site for Devon at Winslade Park
, to the east at Clyst St Mary
; nearby to the south on the A376
is the HQ of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service
UK, at Tiverton, are a world-leader in turnstiles
, revolving doors
; Heathcoat Fabrics
make the DecelAir
fabric for parachutes
. Taw Valley cheese is made by Arla Foods UK
(former Milk Link) at North Tawton
off the A3124
, also the HQ of Gregory Distribution.
is in Weymouth
; it is Britain's second-biggest value clothing retailer, with over 800 stores in 21 countries. Wytch Farm
(BP) is the UK's largest onshore oil field. Meggitt
is a leading aerospace and defence contractor, based west of Bournemouth Airport, with Hobbycraft
, at a former BAC
works in Hurn
, close to West Parley
. The Royal Armoured Corps
is based at Bovington Camp
, and next door is the Bovington Tank Museum
; the Army has three armoured regiments (Royal Dragoon Guards
, Royal Tank Regiment
and King's Royal Hussars
) and 227 FV4034 70-tonne Challenger 2
tanks; Germany has around 1,000 tanks and Russia has 3,300. Westwind Air Bearings
(owned by Novanta) is off the A352
at Wareham St Martin
, west of Poole, near Holton Heath railway station
, with Mathmos
(lighting), founded by Edward Craven Walker
who invented the lava lamp
(who own Sea Life Centres
, and are the world's second largest theme park
operator after Disney
) is in Poole
with a former division, Aquarium Technology
, at the end of the A350 near the Twin Sails bridge
is made in Parkstone
on the B3061. Fitness First
, the largest privately owned health club group in the world, originated in Bournemouth and is now globally headquartered south of Fleet's Corner. Siemens Traffic Controls
make most of the UK's traffic lights west near Fleet's Corner; the main traffic light in the UK is the Siemens Helios (the other make is the Peek
Elite). North of Fleets Lane, south of the Wessex Gate Retail Park, is Parvalux
, on the A3049 on the West Howe Ind Estate in Wallisdown
, which makes geared DC electric motors
and gearboxes; further south is Faerch Plast
(former Sealed Air
, which makes trays for food) then Fitness First, and Aeronautical & General Instruments
; further north is Lush
, the cosmetics company, with Hamworthy Wärtsilä
(Finnish), and Hamworthy Combustion (owned by Koch Industries
), at the A349/A3049 junction in Fleetsbridge
, is an international engineering consultancy.
, in Wimborne Minster
, is a world-leader in air-to-air refuelling
, developed by Sir Alan Cobham
at RAF Tarrant Rushton
, and aircraft antennas. Durable
UK (office products) is in Wimborne; Caterpillar
's Wimborne Marine Power Centre make Perkins
Sabre marine diesel generators on Ferndown
Ind Est off the A31; to the south is the paint manufacturer Farrow & Ball
, in Ferndown. Manitou UK
, owner of the American Gehl Company
and from Nanterre
in France, is based at Verwood
on the Ebblake Ind Est off the B3081 near the Hampshire boundary. Sigma-Aldrich
UK (pharmaceuticals) are off the B3092 on Brickfield Business Park in Gillingham
, next to the River Stour
and railway. Cygnus Instruments
, on the B3144 in Dorchester, is the leading manufacturer of ultrasonic thickness
gauges, developing the technique in the early 1980s. Edwards Sports Products
of Bridport, owned by Broxap
of Staffordshire, make football goals for the Premier League, and tennis nets and posts for Wimbledon
An aerial view of GCHQ's headquarters
, 2004; the biggest employer in Gloucestershire is the intelligence agency GCHQ
, who are based at 'The Doughnut
', their headquarters
GCHQ has around 6,000 staff, MI5
has 4,000, and MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service
) has 3,200; GCHQ is in the west of Cheltenham, off the A40 at the A4013
roundabout at Fiddlers Green
, and also has a site to the east at Oakley
In Cheltenham are Endsleigh Insurance
, Kohler Mira Ltd
(clothing), Collins Geo
(maps), and Chelsea Building Society
are on the A435 to the south-east. North of Cheltenham at Bishop's Cleeve
, south of the village on the A435, is GE Aviation Systems UK
on the large Cleeve Business Park; this which was the former 300-acre site of the Cheltenham Division of Smiths Industries
that made flight control systems and flight deck displays; further up the A435 is a main site of Zurich Assurance
UK. Weird Fish
(clothing) is near Spirax-Sarco Engineering plc
(pumps) off the A4019
in Kingsditch in Swindon Village
, north of Cheltenham; on the other side of the A4019, Douglas Equipment
, next to All Saints' Academy, Cheltenham
, makes towing
tractors for aircraft. Gulf Oil
UK was headquartered on B4075 in Prestbury (near the racecourse) until 1997, when Shell UK
bought its petrol stations; the former headquarters became a student hall of the University of Gloucestershire
The entrance to UCAS
in 2008; it has around 37,000 courses at 370 institutions; it is in the north of Cheltenham, near the racecourse
at the A435
is based at Hucclecote
on the Gloucester Business Park
off B4641 east of the M5 Brockworth
Interchange, with Horizon Nuclear Power, and next to NHS Gloucestershire
); in the same building is MessageLabs (Symantec
), and a main office of Ageas
UK (insurance). Further south in Brockworth is Direct Wines
(Laithwaites); to the east is a G-TEKT
(former Takao Europe) automotive metal pressings
and sub-assemblies factory and a large Invista
textiles factory (former ICI Fibres, then Dupont from 1992, which makes nylon fibres); the site is built on the former Gloster Aircraft factory, which closed around 1960. Renishaw plc
is in Wotton-under-Edge
, previously being in Nailsworth
. Lister Petter
, off the A4135
, make diesel engine generator
sets; Lister Shearing
is the only British manufacturer of clipping
(animals) equipment. The Fire Service College
is in Moreton-in-Marsh
near Moreton-in-Marsh station
. Northcot Brick
is at Blockley
, in the north-east, next to the railway
; Per Una
is based near Draycott
Greencore make premium chilled desserts, such as tiramisu
for M & S, at their site (former St Ivel
, then Uniq
Desserts) off the B3081 at Evercreech
Italian defence contractor Leonardo
makes helicopters at Yeovil
, formerly the home of Westland Helicopters
, building the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat
. To the east of Yeovil, in Houndstone
, Garador make garage doors
(part of Hörmann Group of Amshausen
, Europe's largest mechanical door manufacturer). Yeo Valley Organic
is in Blagdon
. Numatic International Limited
makes vacuum cleaners
, and Brecknell Willis
, a railway engineering company on the A30
, makes pantographs
; ActionAid UK
is based off the A358 in the north of Chard, near a centrifugal oil filter
plant of Mann+Hummel
. Dairy Crest
made brandy butter
south of the town in Tatworth and Forton
, near the meeting point of Dorset, Somerset and Devon. Ministry of Cake
, owned by Greencore since December 2007 on the A3065 in Staplegrove
in the west of Taunton, is the leading provider of frozen desserts to the UK foodservice industry. The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office
is in Taunton. Pilgrims Choice
cheddar is made by Adams Foods (former North Downs Dairy
) at Wincanton. Ariel Motor Company
in Crewkerne, make the Ariel Atom
The headquarters of W H Smith
, with Smiths News
, is near the School Library Association
, west of the MINI works in Upper Stratton
UK, who bought Texaco from Chevron
in 2011, are in Eldene
, in the former head office of St Ivel
UK (pharmaceuticals, on the former site of Roussel Uclaf
) are on the B4006 in Covingham
, north of Valero, in the east of Swindon. BG Automotive
, on the Cheney Manor industrial estate, make gaskets on the B4006 in Rodbourne
UK are in a former Plessey
factory. Burmah Oil
was headquartered in the south of Swindon; Burmah bought Castrol
in 1966 (owned by BP
from 2000). Stanley Security
(former Amano Blick) is on the Techno trading estate, north of the town centre.
Former Plessey Semiconductors factory in Swindon, on the Cheney Manor Industrial Estate, west of Rodbourne
Near the M4 Spittleborough Roundabout, close to Freshbrook
, are Synergy Health
and RWE npower
; also on the Windmill Hill Business park are Arval
(vehicle leasing and fuel cards), and Allstar
(fuel card); also nearby are Cartus
Europe, Catalent Pharma Solutions
UK and MAN Truck & Bus
UK (with Neoplan
); further east is WRc
(the former Water Research Centre). Nearby on Lydiard Fields in Lydiard Tregoze
is Johnson Matthey
Fuel Cells, which in 2002 was the world's first production site of membrane electrode assemblies
, and next door is Neptune
, who make furniture and kitchens; also BuildStore
have their National Self Build & Renovation Centre. Sauer-Danfoss UK provide hydraulics off the A419
, and nearby is TE Connectivity
UK (former Tyco Electronics and Raychem
). The British and Foreign Bible Society
is on the Delta Business Park in Westlea
, near Intergraph
UK (geospatial software
, owned by Hexagon AB
) on the other side of Westmead industrial estate, with Metric Group
, the only UK manufacturer of parking meters
The region covers much of the historical area of Wessex
(omitting only Hampshire
), and all of the Celtic Kingdom of Dumnonia
which comprised Cornwall, Devon, and parts of Somerset and Dorset. In terms of local government, it was divided after 1974 into Avon
, Cornwall, Devon
, Dorset, Gloucestershire
, Somerset, and Wiltshire
. Avon has since been abolished, and several mainly urban areas have become unitary authorities
The official region consists of the following geographic counties and local government areas:
South West Regional Assembly
Although referendums had been planned on whether elected assemblies should be set up in some of the regions, none was planned in the South West. The South West Regional Assembly
(SWRA) was the regional assembly
for the South West region, established in 1999. It was based in Exeter
. The SWRA was a partnership of councillors from all local authorities in the region and representatives of various sectors with a role in the region's economic, social and environmental well-being. There was much opposition to the formation of the SWRA with critics saying it was an unelected unrepresentative and unaccountable "quango". The Regional Assembly was wound up in May 2009, and its functions taken on by the Strategic Leaders' Board
(SLB) of South West Councils.
This section needs to be updated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (March 2020)
Election results in 2017
In the 2015 general election
, there was a 0.7% swing from Labour to Conservative in the region. For the region's electorate, 46% voted Conservative, 18% voted Labour, Liberal Democrats 15%, UKIP 14% and Green 6%. The Conservatives gained 15 seats almost all of which were from the Liberal Democrats.
the Conservatives lost 3 seats (Bristol North West
, Plymouth Sutton and Devonport
) to Labour and 1 (Bath
) to the Liberal Democrats. Labour increased their share of the vote by 11.4% while Ukip's vote collapsed. However the Conservatives still dominated the South West with 47 seats out of 55. In the 2019 general election, the Conservatives regained Stroud from Labour, bringing their total to 48.
The South West has a below average rate of attainment in GCSE (and equivalent) examinations, with the lowest regional performance in England from 2009 to 2012.
In 2012, South Hams
had the highest percentage of pupils achieving 5 or more GCSEs at grade A*-C at 86%, whilst Purbeck
had the lowest at 70%.
University of Bath
There are twelve universities in the region:
There are also four higher education colleges. The region has the lowest number of people registered on higher education courses at FE colleges.
The University of Bristol receives the most total funding, according to Higher Education Funding Council for England
figures for the 2006/2007 academic year, and the largest research grant—twice as big as any other in the region.
Bath has the next largest research grant, closely followed by Exeter. UWE and Plymouth get small research grants, but no other universities in the region receive much of a research grant. The University of Plymouth has the largest teaching grant.
Of the region's students (postgraduate and undergraduate), 50% are from the region, and around 40% from other regions. For full-time first degree students, 35% come from the region, around 22% are from South East England
, and 8% are from London. Including the East of England
, around 70% are from Southern England
. 10% are from the Midlands
, and 5% from Northern England
. The main access for students from the north is the Cross Country Route
. Around 33% of native South West students stay in the region, with 18% going to the South East (around 60% stay in the south of England). Around 14% go to Wales, but very few go to the East of England. Access by road or rail to the East of England region is not straightforward, with around the same amount of travel as to Scotland. Many more native South West students are prepared to go to the north of England, than northern students are prepared to study in the South West. Once graduated, around 50% stay in the region, with 15% each going to London or the South East (around 80% find work in the south of England). Very few go elsewhere (especially the north of England); around 4% go to the West Midlands or Wales.
- BBC Radios Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Solent (Dorset), Bristol, Wiltshire, and Gloucestershire. National radio is from North Hessary Tor and Wenvoe (west of Cardiff).
- Commercial radio stations are Kiss 101 (Bristol), Star 107.2 (Bristol), Heart West Country, Pirate FM (Cornwall), Atlantic FM (St Agnes), Heart Devon, Heart Gloucestershire (Gloucester), Heart Wiltshire (Swindon), Palm 105.5 (Torquay), Total Star Somerset (former QuayWest 107.4FM in Bridgwater), Total Star Swindon (former Brunel FM), Total Star Warminster (former 3TR FM), Total Star Bath (former Bath FM), Nova Radio (Weston-super-Mare), Spire FM (Salisbury), Wessex FM (Dorchester), Fire Radio (Bournemouth), and Heart Solent (Bournemouth).
Regional newspapers include the Bath Chronicle
, Bristol Evening Post
, Western Daily Press
, the Dorset Echo
, the Exeter Express and Echo
, Western Morning News
, the North Devon Journal
, Cornish Guardian
, The West Briton
(Truro), The Cornishman
, Wiltshire Times
), Gazette and Herald
(North & West Wiltshire
), Gloucestershire Echo
, Gloucester Citizen
, Plymouth Evening Herald
, Torquay Herald Express
, Swindon Advertiser
and the Salisbury Journal
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- ^ "Mendip Hills An Archaeological Survey of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" (PDF). Somerset County Council Archeological Projects. Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 May 2011. Retrieved 8 November 2010.
- ^ "Earliest British cemetery dated" (PDF). BBC News. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 February 2007. Retrieved 27 January 2007.
- ^ a b Dunning, Robert (1983). A History of Somerset. Chichester: Phillimore & Co. ISBN 0-85033-461-6.
- ^ "Cheddar Man". RN-DS Partnership. Archived from the original on 11 June 2008. Retrieved 18 April 2008.
- ^ a b "Historical Monitoring in the Somerset Levels and Moors ESA 1987–1994" (PDF). DEFRA. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 10 June 2007.
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- ^ a b Ross, Lesley (Ed.) (2004). Before the Lake: Memories of the Chew Valley. The Harptree Historic Society. ISBN 0-9548832-0-9.
- ^ Hucker, Ernest (1997). Chew Stoke Recalled in Old Photographs. Ernest Hucker.
- ^ "The West Bagborough Hoard". Newsletter Spring/Summer 2003. Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
- ^ "Huge Roman coin find for hobbyist". BBC News. 8 July 2010. Retrieved 8 July 2010.
- ^ Booth, Anna (8 July 2010). "The Frome Hoard". Portable Antiquities Scheme. Archived from the original on 12 July 2010. Retrieved 8 July 2010.
- ^ Pearce, Susan M. (1978), The Kingdom of Dumnonia: Studies in History and Tradition in South-Western Britain A.D. 350–1150 Padstow: Lodenek Press.
- ^ Stenton, F. M. (1971). Anglo-Saxon England (3rd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-19-280139-5.
- ^ Morris, John (1973). The Age of Arthur. London: Phoenix. p. 299. ISBN 1-84212-477-3.
- ^ The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 501–97 ADArchived 10 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
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- ^ The Victoria History of the County of Somerset, Vol 1 (1906)South West England
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- ^ Pearson, Michael (2003). Kennet & Avon Middle Thames: Pearson's Canal Companion. Rugby: Central Waterways Supplies. ISBN 0-907864-97-X.
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- ^ The Cornish hill is usually accepted as the location mentioned in an entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 835 (corrected by scholars to 838) which says that Egbert king of the West Saxons defeated an army of Vikings and Cornish at Hengestdun = "Stallion Hill". See, for example: Higham, Robert (2008). Making Anglo-Saxon Devon. Exeter: The Mint Press. p. 64. ISBN 978-1-903356-57-9.. However, Hingston Down in Devon has also been proposed as the site.
- ^ Shipley Duckett, Eleanor (1956). Alfred the Great: The King and His England. University of Chicago Press. pp. 73–74. ISBN 0-226-16779-8.
- ^ Payton, Philip (1996). Cornwall. Fowey: Alexander Associates
- ^ Todd, Malcolm The South West to AD 1000. London, 1987; p. 289
- ^ a b Farr, Grahame (1954). Somerset Harbours. London: Christopher Johnson. pp. 125–137.
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- ^ Lapidge, Michael (2001). "Swein Forkbeard", The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Ed. Michael Lapidge, John Blair, et al. London: Blackwell Publishing; p. 437. ISBN 0-631-15565-1.
- ^ Barlow, Frank (1970). Edward the Confessor. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. pp. 29–36. ISBN 0-520-01671-8.
- ^ "Eadmund". Archontology.org. Archived from the original on 27 September 2010. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
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