Warwick

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Warwick (/ˈwɒrɨk/ worr-ik) is the county town of Warwickshire, England. The town lies upon the River Avon, 11 miles (18 km) south of Coventry and just west of Leamington Spa and Whitnash with which it is conjoined. As of the 2001 United Kingdom census, it had a population of 23,350. There has been human activity at Warwick as early as the Neolithic, and constant habitation since the 6th century.

Human activity on the site of the town dates back to the Neolithic, when a settlement may have been established. From the 6th century onwards, Warwick has been continuously inhabited. According to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, in the year 914 Anglo Saxon Ethelfleda Lady of the Mercians and sister of king Edward the Elder of Wessex built a burh or fortified dwelling at Warwick. It was one of ten burhs built to defend the kingdom of Mercia against the Danes. Warwick was chosen as the site for one of these fortifications because of its proximity to the important transport routes of the Fosse Way and the Avon. In the early 10th century a new shire was founded with Warwick as its administrative centre, giving the settlement new importance. The name ‘Warwick’ means “dwellings by the weir”. In 1050 the Danes invaded Mercia and burned down much of Warwick including the nunnery (which stood on the site of the present day St Nicholas Church).

William the Conqueror founded Warwick Castle in 1068 on his way to Yorkshire to deal with rebellion in the north. Building a castle within a pre-existing settlement could require demolishing properties on the site, and in the case of Warwick four houses were pulled down. The castle was within the larger Anglo-Saxon burh and a new town wall was created close to the rampart of the burh.

In the medieval period Warwick remained under the control of various Earls of Warwick, mostly of the Beauchamp family, becoming a walled town. Today the only remains of the town walls are the east and west gatehouses. The eastern gatehouse now serves as part of the King’s High School, a sister institution to Warwick School. Warwick was not incorporated as a borough until 1545. The town’s Priory was founded in 1142 on the site of the current Priory Park.

During the English Civil War the town and castle were garrisoned for Parliament. The garrison, under Sir Edward Peyto, withstood a two week siege by the Royalists. Later musters from 1644 to 1646 record a garrison of up to 350 men under the command of Colonel William Purefoy and Major John Bridges. The middle of the 17th century also saw the founding of Castle Hill Baptist Church, one of the oldest Baptist churches in the world.

Much of the medieval town was destroyed in the Great Fire of Warwick which occurred in 1694. As a result, most of the buildings in the town centre are of late 17th and early 18th century origin, although a number of older medieval timber framed buildings survive, especially around the edges of the town centre.

The fire burnt down much of the medieval church of St Mary; both the chancel and the Beauchamp Chapel, however, 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 the Earl lies upon his Purbeck marble tomb – a fine piece of medieval metalwork cast in 1459.

Population growth has led to Warwick becoming joined to its larger neighbouring town Leamington Spa with which it forms a small conurbation. Both towns are now, along with Kenilworth and Whitnash, administered as part of Warwick District, which has its headquarters in Leamington, although each retains a separate town council. Warwickshire County Council remains based in Warwick itself. Warwick is represented in Parliament as part of the Warwick and Leamington constituency.

Antiquarian William Dugdale wrote in the 17th century 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”. Two factors have effected Warwick’s built environment: the Great Fire of 1694 and the lack of industrialisation. The fire destroyed much of the town, and the subsequent rebuilding was largely in one style. In the 19th century, when other towns were rapidly growing during the Industrial Revolution, Warwick did not experience the same growth. As a result, the factories and workers’ housing largely passed Warwick by. Part of the reason Warwick did not develop as a centre of industry was that the town did not lie on important roads and the River Avon was not navigable as far as Warwick.

As of the 2001 UK census, Warwick had a population of 23,350.

Before the 1801 census, populations were not directly recorded. However estimates can be based on other measures. Historians suggest that in 1086 the town had a population of around 1,500. Indicators for the following centuries are sparse, but it is estimated that the population in the mid-16th century was around 2,000. By the late 17th century this had increased to over 3,000. The 1801 census recorded that 5,592 people lived in Warwick.

Due to its proximity to north-south and east-west motorway routes, many companies have their head office in the town. Since November 2004, National Grid plc has had its National Gas Control Centre (NGCC) for the National Transmission System on the Warwick Technology Park south of the town between the A425 road and A452 road. Phillips 66 and their petrol station group, JET, have their UK base also on the Technology Park as do lingerie company Bravissimo. IBM and Volvo Group UK have bases on the Wedgnock Industrial Estate in the north of the town, near to the A46 trunk road. Other companies with regional headquarters in Warwick include Bridgestone, Calor, Kantar and Delphi Automotive.

Warwick hosts annual festivals ranging from the Spoken Word to Classical and Contemporary Music to a Folk Festival and a Victorian Evening, held in late November or early December. St. Mary’s Church hosts a series of Early Music concerts, and the Bridge House Theatre hosts the Music-in-Round concerts. Warwick Chamber of Trade helps to promote the town for visitors, residents and businesses. The town is also famous for Warwick Castle, the construction of which began in 1068. The town centre is also known for its historic architecture and contains a mixture of Tudor and 17th-century buildings. In recent years several high-profile national and international companies have set-up large office complexes in and around Warwick, notably National Grid plc and IBM.

Warwick is also known for Warwick Racecourse, near the west gate of the medieval town, which hosts several televised horse racing meetings a year. Within the racecourse is a small golf course. Warwick Hospital, Royal Leamington Spa Rehabilitation Hospital and St Michael’s Hospital (a psychiatric unit that superseded Central Hospital, Hatton) are situated within the town.

J. R. R. Tolkien seems to have been very influenced by Warwick (where he was married in the Catholic Church of Saint Mary Immaculate) and by its Mercian connections: Lynn Forest-Hill, in an article in the Times Literary Supplement (TLS 8 July 2005 pp 12–13) argues cogently that two important settlements in Tolkien’s work were modelled on Warwick — Edoras closely on the early town, and Minas Tirith more remotely on the Norman; and that aspects of the plot of The Lord of the Rings are paralleled in the romance known as Guy of Warwick.

Warwick and its historic buildings have featured in a number of television series, including the BBC’s drama series Dangerfield, the period dramas Pride and Prejudice and Tom Jones and Granada Television’s Moll Flanders. Parts of the town subbed for Elizabethan and Jacobean era London in the third-series episode two (The Shakespeare Code) of Doctor Who which ran 7 April 2007.

The nearest university is the University of Warwick, which is somewhat confusingly named after the county of Warwickshire, rather than the town, and is in fact situated several miles north of Warwick on the southern outskirts of Coventry, near Kenilworth. Adding to the location confusion is the fact that Coventry is no longer in the county of Warwickshire, but instead is in the West Midlands, leading to the current situation where the university straddles both counties.

Landmarks include:

  • Bridge House Theatre
  • Collegiate Church of St Mary
  • Lord Leycester hospital
  • Lord Leycester hotel
  • Market Hall
  • Guy’s Cliffe House
  • The Dream Factory
  • St John’s Museum
  • St Michael’s Leper Hospital
  • St. Nicholas’ Park
  • Saxon Mill
  • Warwick Castle
  • Warwick Hospital
  • Warwick Racecourse
  • Warwick School
  • Warwickshire County Council Shire Hall

Warwick is on the M40 London-Birmingham motorway, connected to junctions 13, 14 and 15, and is on the A46 dual-carriageway trunk road positioned between Coventry and Stratford-upon-Avon.

The town has a railway station with direct rail services to Leamington Spa, London, Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon provided by Chiltern Railways. In addition, a few peak-hour trains to and from Birmingham are operated by London Midland. Warwick Parkway, an out-of-town station opened in 2000 a few miles from the town.

The Grand Union Canal and the River Avon also pass through the town. The restored Saltisford Canal Arm, is close to the town centre, and is a short branch of the Grand Union Canal. The arm is the remains of the original terminus of the Warwick and Birmingham Canal and dates back to 1799. The Saltisford Canal Trust have restored most of the surviving canal, which is now the mooring for colourful narrowboats and a waterside park open to the public. Over 800 visiting narrowboats come by water to Warwick each year and moor on the arm.

Warwick is twinned with Saumur, France; and Verden, Germany.

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