Somerset, county (1991 pop. 459,100), 1,333 sq mi (3,453 sq km), SW England, on the Bristol Channel. The county seat is Taunton. The terrain is generally low and flat in the center (the location of the Somerset Levels), with the Mendip Hills to the east and Exmoor National Park and the Quantock Hills to the west. The principal rivers are the Bristol Avon, the Exe, and the Parrett and tributaries, whose fertile valleys are devoted to agriculture. Dairy farming (cheddar cheese), cider production, and fruit growing are important, and much of the land is devoted to cattle grazing. Woolens, leather goods, and other products are manufactured. Coal and limestone were once extracted.

There are prehistoric remains at Cheddar and Glastonbury. Bath, which historically was part of the county but now is administratively separate, is the site of some of the most important Roman remains in Britain; Bath reached its greatest importance as a fashionable watering place in the 18th cent. In the early Middle Ages the region became a part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex. The county has associations with King Alfred and the legend of King Arthur, and Glastonbury is important in England's religious legend and history. The churches of the county are famous, notably Wells Cathedral. In 1974, Somerset was reorganized as a nonmetropolitan county.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: British and Irish Political Geography