South West England

South West England

infobox England region | name = South West England| short_name = South West
hq = Bristol / Plymouth
imagename =

status = Region
area_km2= 23,829
area_mi2= 9,200
area_rank= 1st
density = PD km2 to sq mi|207|abbr=yes|precision=0
nuts= UKK
euro= South West England
population = 4,928,458
population_rank= 7th
gdp_rank= 4th
assembly = South West
election = not directly elected
development_agency = South West of England RDA
url =

South West England is one of the regions of England. It is the largest such region in terms of area, and extends from Gloucestershire and Wiltshire to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. This includes the area often known as the West Country, and much of Wessex. The size of the region is shown by the fact that the northern part of Gloucestershire, near Chipping Campden, is as close to the Scottish border as it is to the tip of Cornwall.

Traditionally, the South West of England has been well known for producing Cheddar cheese, which originated in the Somerset village of Cheddar, for Devon cream teas, and for cider. It is now probably equally well known as the home of the Eden Project, Aardman Animations, the Glastonbury festival, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, trip hop music, Cornwall's seafood restaurants and surfing beaches. Two National Parks and four World Heritage Sites fall within the region's boundaries.


Geology & landscape

Most of the South West occupies a peninsula between the English Channel and Bristol Channel. It has convert|702|mi|km|0 of coastline—the longest of any region of England—much of which is now protected from further substantial development because of its environmental importance, and which contributes to the region’s attractiveness to tourists and residents.

Geologically the region is divided into the largely igneous and metamorphic 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 and Dartmoor National Park. These are due to the granite and slate that underlie the area. The highest point of the region is High Willhays, at convert|2039|ft|m|0, 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 here have led to the county's name being lent to that of the Devonian period.

The east of the region is characterised by wide, flat clay vales and chalk and limestone downland. 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 notable 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 South West region is largely rural, with many 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, Plymouth, Bournemouth and Poole (collectively the South East Dorset conurbation), Swindon, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Torbay, Exeter, Bath, Weston-super-Mare, Salisbury, Taunton and Weymouth. The population of the South West is about five million.


The region lies on several main line railways. The Great Western Main Line runs from London to Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance in the far west of Cornwall. The South Western Main Line runs from London and Southampton to Bournemouth, Poole and Weymouth in Dorset. The West of England Main Line runs from London to Exeter via south Wiltshire, north Dorset and south Somerset. The Wessex Main Line runs from Bristol to Salisbury and on to Southampton. The Heart of Wessex Line runs from Bristol in the north of the region to Weymouth on the south Dorset coast via Westbury, Castle Cary and Yeovil, with most services starting at Gloucester.

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.


In many histories of the region the South West is taken to cover only Devon and Cornwall [ For example, The South West to 1000 AD - M Todd, Historical Atlas of the South West England - Kain and Ravenhill] The remaining counties are often taken to be part of Wessex [ Wessex to 1000 AD ]


There is some evidence of human occupation of southern England before the last ice age, such as Kent's 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 10,000–11,000 years BC, during a partial thaw in the ice age. The landscape at this time was tundra. Britain's oldest complete skeleton, Cheddar Man, lived at Cheddar Gorge around 7150 BC (the Upper Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age), shortly after the end of the ice age, however it is unclear whether the region was continually inhabited during the previous 4,000 years, or if humans returned to the gorge after a final cold spell. The earliest scientifically dated cemetery in 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 between roughly 10,200 and 10,400 years old. [cite web |url= | format= PDF | title=Earliest British cemetery dated |accessdate=2007-01-27 |work=BBC News ] [cite web |url='s.html |title=Aveline's Hole – An Early Mesolithic Cemetery Site in the Mendips |accessdate=2007-01-27 |work=Rick Schulting ] 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,Dorset.

The region was heavily populated during the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age periods. Many monuments, barrows and trackways exist. Coin evidence shows that the region was split between the Durotriges, Dobunni and Dumnonii.

Roman Period

The east of the region, particularly in the Cotswolds and eastern Somerset, was heavily Romanised but was much less so in Devon and Cornwall, though Exeter was the regional capital. Villas, farms and temples relating to the period exist in the region, including the remains at Bath.


After the Romans left at the start of the Fifth century AD, the region split into several British kingdoms, including that of the Dumnonii. The upper Thames area soon came under Anglo-Saxon control but the remainder of the region was British controlled until the 6th century. 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. 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 was made a part of England as a result. However, within a mere five years of Athelstan's death, King Edmund issued a charter, in AD 944, 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.

During the latter part of the pre-Norman period, the eastern seaboard of modern day England became increasingly under the sway of the Norse. Eventually England became ruled by Norse monarchs, and the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms fell one by one, with Wessex being conquered in 1013 by King Sweyn Forkbeard. Notably, while Sweyn's realms, which included Denmark and Norway in the north, and modern day English areas such as Mercia (an Anglian kingdom of the current Midlands), much of which, along with northern England, fell under the "Danelaw". But while Sweyn ruled Wessex, along with his other realms, from 1013 onwards, followed by his son Canute the Great, Cornwall was "not" part of his realm of Wessex. A map by the American historian called the "The Dominions of Canute" (pictured just above) show that Cornwall, like Wales and Scotland, was neither part of Sweyn Forkbeard's nor Canute's Danish empire. Neither Sweyn Forkbeard nor Canute properly conquered or controlled Scotland, Wales or Cornwall; these modern day Celtic nations were both "client nations" who had to pay a yearly tribute or "danegeld" to both Sweyn and Canute, but, provided they did so, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall could keep their autonomy from the Danes. Ultimately, the Danes' control of Wessex was lost in 1042 with the death of both of Canute's sons (Edward the Confessor retook Wessex for the Saxons) but nevertheless this important piece of history, that Cornwall was not part of the Danes' empire, is critical and shows that both the Saxons and the Danes had very little political input into Cornwall during the pre-Norman conquest era.

Middle Ages

After the Norman Conquest the region was controlled by various Norman lords and later by local lords of the manor. The period saw the growth of towns in the region but they remained comparatively small. Wealth grew from sheep farming in the east of the region while tin mining was important in Devon and Cornwall. The organisation of the region was based on the various shires, which remained largely unchanged throughout the period. During the reign of Elizabeth I there was a "Council of the West".

The British language probably was little spoken outside Cornwall during this period, and retreated westward until it was no longer a first language by the 18th century.

Modern history

The boundaries of the current South West Region are essentially the same as those devised by central government in the 1930s for civil defence administration, and subsequently used for various statistical analyses. The region is also identical (subject to minor boundary adjustments) to that used in the 17th century Rule of the Major-Generals under Cromwell. (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 added in 1999.

However, except as an administrative tool, the South West does not have a historically based unity, which has led many to criticise 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 who have no more in common with each other than with other areas of England. The region has several different TV stations and newspapers covering different areas, and - unlike almost all other English regions - has no acknowledged single regional "capital". The people of the region generally do not feel a 'South West' regional identity, often preferring a county (or Duchy) based affiliation.


According to the 2001 census the population of the South West region was 4,928,434. It had grown in the last 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 Bristol and Plymouth. [cite web|url=|title=Census 2001 results show South West is fastest growing region|work=2001 Census|publisher=Office of National Statistics|accessdate=2008-08-08]

Economy and industry

The most economically productive areas within the region are Bristol, the M4 corridor and south east Dorset – that is, 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.cite web | work= Eurostat & Office for National Statistics, 2004 | url= | title= Portrait of South West England: Economy | accessdate=2006-04-14 ] Bristol's economy has historically been built on maritime trade including the import of tobacco (and, previously, the slave trade). Since the early 20th century, however, aeronautics have taken over as the bedrock of Bristol's economy, with companies including Airbus, Rolls-Royce and British Aerospace manufacturing in Filton, and Westland Helicopters (now AgustaWestland) in Yeovil and Weston-super-Mare. More recently defence, telecommunications, information technology and electronics have been important industries in Bristol, Swindon and elsewhere. Virgin Mobile is in Trowbridge. Leisure Connection is in Shepton Mallet and Wessex Water is in Bath. The Early Learning Centre and a large factory of Honda are in South Marston, and Castrol, the Nationwide Building Society, W H Smith and RWE npower, are in Swindon. The Colt Car Company UK (who own Mitsubishi) are in Cirencester. Screwfix is in Yeovil and Clarks shoes is in Street. Endsleigh Insurance, Kraft Foods UK, and GCHQ are in Cheltenham. The Cheltenham & Gloucester bank is in Gloucester. The Stroud & Swindon Building Society is in Stroud. VOSA, Bristol Water, and the Bristol and West bank are in Bristol. Unisys Insurance Services are headquartered in Bouremouth and Merlin Entertainments (who own Sea Life Centres) is in Poole. The Royal Marines have a large base near Taunton with their training centre at Lympstone, and the Met Office is in Exeter as is Connaught plc. The UKRD Group is in Redruth and Ginsters is in Callington, Cornwall.

The electricity for the area formerly looked after by SWEB, is now looked after by Western Power Distribution, owned by the American company, PPL.

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 convert|3520|sqmi|km2|0 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. [cite web | url= | title= Tourism contribution figures | work=South West Regional Development Agency | accessdate= 2007-06-16 ] 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 very 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, [Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, 2004. " [ Competitive European Cities: Where do the Core Cities stand? Urban Research Summary 13] ." Page 12 (PDF).] some parts of Cornwall and Devon have among the lowest average incomes in the UK. Cornwall in particular relies on tourism. The county has the lowest GVA per head of any county or unitary authority in the country, [Office for National Statistics, 2003. " [ Top 5 and Bottom 5 GVA per head of population] ."] contributes only 6.5% of the region's economy and receives EU Objective One funding. [DEFRA, n.d. " [ 1 and 2 areas in England] ."] Around five million people visit the county each year. [Cornwall Tourist Board, 2003. [ Tourism in Cornwall] .] Cornwall's poor economic performance is partly caused by its remoteness and poor transport links, and by the decline of its traditional industries, such as mining, agriculture and fishing.


The region covers much of the historical area of Wessex (omitting only Hampshire and Berkshire), 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.

Local government

The official region consists of the following geographic counties and local government areas:

outh 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) is the regional assembly for the South West region, established in 1999. It is based in Exeter and Taunton. The SWRA is 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. It covers an area of convert|9200|sqmi|km2|0 including Gloucestershire, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and represents a population of almost five million people. There was much opposition to the formation of the SWRA with critics saying it is an unelected unrepresentative and unaccountable "quango", and the area covered is an artificially imposed region and not natural. They say that by having the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall in the west being in the same region as Gloucestershire in the east, geographically it would be the same for example as linking London with Yorkshire.

There is some controversy over the status of Cornwall. Some consider it to be a nation in its own right. The British Government's position is that Cornwall is a county of England and is far too small to become a region, having around one fifth of the population of the smallest existing English region. However, many other countries such as Canada and the USA, have provinces and states of diverse sizes, and independent states like Iceland exist which have a smaller population than Cornwall.


The South West is mixed politically. Currently in the UK Parliament, the Conservatives hold 22 seats, the Liberal Democrats 16 and Labour 12.

South West England is one of the constituencies used for elections to the European Parliament. From the 2004 election onwards, Gibraltar has been included within the constituency for the purpose of elections to the European parliament only.


Somerset, the former area of Avon, Swindon and Cornwall have comprehensive schools. The other counties have some selective schools. Gloucestershire has 6, Wiltshire has 2 (in Salisbury), Poole has 2, Bournemouth has 2, Devon has 1, Plymouth has 2 and Torbay has 3. In the Top Ten schools in the South West, by A level results, all ten are selective schools.

At GCSE, Gloucestershire performs the best, followed by Poole and Bath & North East Somerset (both equal), then Dorset. Also above the UK average are Wiltshire, North Somerset, and Devon. The South West performs well at GCSE, with the only exception being the City of Bristol which is very low performing. [cite web|url=|title=City pupils' poor score in GCSEs|date=2005|work=BBC News|publisher=BBC|accessdate=2008-08-08]

At A level, Bournemouth performs the best by far. Gloucestershire again performs well, closely followed by Wiltshire. Also above average is Torbay and North Somerset. At A level, the South West is not quite as well performing as other areas. Plymouth performs the worst.fact|date=July 2008

Local media

Local media include:
* There are two BBC regions - BBC South West, based in Plymouth which has the Spotlight programme and BBC West based in Clifton in Bristol with the Points West regional programme. HTV have the ITV West region, based in Bristol. Their regional programme is The West Tonight. In Plymouth is the with the Westcountry Live programme, made by Westcountry Television who operate the ITV Westcountry region. Parts of Dorset, including Bournemouth and Poole, also receive BBC South and ITV Meridian from Southampton.
* BBC Radios Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Solent (Dorset), Bristol, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Swindon.
* Commercial radio stations are Kiss 101 (Bristol), Orchard FM (Taunton), Star 107.2 (Bristol), Bristol's GWR FM, Bath FM, Pirate FM, Atlantic FM (St Agnes, Lantern FM (Barnstaple), Gemini FM (Exeter), Severn Sound (Gloucester), Wiltshire's GWR FM (Swindon), Bath's GWR FM, Palm 105.5 (Torquay), Plymouth Sound FM, South Hams Radio (Kingsbridge), Bridgwater's 107.4 BCR FM, Ivel FM (Yeovil), Quay West Radio (Watchet), Star 107.7 (Weston-super-Mare), Spire FM (Salisbury), Wessex FM (Dorchester), Vale FM (Shaftesbury) 3TR FM (Warminster), Fire 107.6 (Bournemouth), 2CR FM (Bournemouth), and Brunel FM (Swindon).
* Regional newspapers include the Bristol Evening Post, Western Daily Press, the Dorset Echo, the Exeter Express & Echo, Western Morning News, the North Devon Journal, Cornish Guardian, West Briton (Truro), The Cornishman, Wiltshire Times (Trowbridge), Gloucestershire Echo, Gloucester Citizen, Plymouth Evening Herald, Torquay Herald Express, and Swindon Advertiser.


External links

* [ Visit South West England - Official Regional Tourist Board]
* [ Government Office for the South West]
* [ South West Regional Assembly]
* [ South West Regional Development Agency]
* [ Government's list of councils in the South West]
* [ Campaign for a Cornish Assembly]
* [ Dartmoor National Park Authority]
* [ South West image Bank (Plymouth Barbican Association)]

* Bristol: [] []
* Cornwall: [] [] []
* Devon: [] []
* Dorset: [] [] [] []
* Somerset: [] []

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • South West England — Geographie Fläche: 23.829 km² Verwaltungssitz: Plymouth Demografie …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • South West England (European Parliament constituency) — Infobox European Parliament constituency name = Infobox South West England (European Parliament constituency) title = South West England locationmap2007=yes lat=54.0 long= 2.0 mapcaption = Shown in England, Gibraltar inset created = 1999 meps = 7 …   Wikipedia

  • Climate of south-west England — The Met Office region of south west England, shown within England.[1] The climate of south west England is classed as oceanic (Cfb) according to the K …   Wikipedia

  • Scouting in South West England — is about Scouting in the official region of South West England. It is largely represented by the Scout Association of the United Kingdom and some Groups of traditional Scouting including the Baden Powell Scouts Association. There are five student …   Wikipedia

  • List of constituencies in South West England — The region of South West England has, as of the 2010 general election, 55 parliamentary constituencies. The Conservative Party held the largest number of constituencies, with 36. The Liberal Democrats had 15 and Labour had just 4 out of the 55.… …   Wikipedia

  • Girlguiding South West England — is one of the nine Countries and Regions of Girlguiding UK. It is further subdivided into 16 Girlguiding Counties and Islands. [ [http://www.girlguiding Girlguiding South West England] ] These are generally not… …   Wikipedia

  • Constituencies in South West England — The Constituencies in South West England consists of 51 separate constituencies. The Conservative Party hold the largest number of constituencies, with 22. The Liberal Democrats have 16 and Labour have 13 out of the 51. Constituencies… …   Wikipedia

  • List of universities in South West England — List of higher education institutions (universities and colleges) in South West England :* Anglo European College of Chiropractic * University of Bath * Bath Spa University * City of Bath College * Bournemouth University * The Arts Institute at… …   Wikipedia

  • South East England — Geografie Fläche: 19.096 km² Verwaltungssitz: Guildford Demografie B …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • South East England — infobox England region | name = South East England| short name = South East hq = Guildford imagename = status = Region area km2= 19,096 area mi2= 7,373 area rank= 3rd density = 419/km² nuts= UKJ euro= South East England population = 8,000,550… …   Wikipedia