Somerset is par excellence an agricultural county. With the exception of its share in Bristol, it has no large manufacturing centre. Its commercial insignificance, however, is quite a modern characteristic. It once took a leading place in the manufacture of cloth, and its productions were held in high esteem. Dunster, Watchet, and Shepton were especially noted for their fabrics. Many quaint country villages were once thriving little towns, and almost every stream had its string of cloth mills. The introduction of steam, and the more enterprising spirit of the North, stole the trade, and this former era of prosperity is now hardly remembered. Cloth mills, however, still survive at Frome, Tiverton, and Wellington. Collars are made at Taunton; gloves are stitched at Yeovil and Martock. There are shoe factories at Street and Paul ton. Crewkerne manufactures sailcloth. Chard has a lace factory. Frome possesses a large printing establishment and art metal-works. Bridgwater, besides abounding in brick-fields, is the only seat in the country of the bath-brick, industry. Coal is extensively mined in the Radstock district, and iron used to be obtained from the Brendons, though operations now seem to have ceased, and the mineral railway which brought the ore to Watchet for shipment is now disused. Quarries are numerous. The Mendips in the N., Street in the centre, and Ham Hill in the S., all afford plenty of material for the stone mason. There are large breweries at Shepton, Oakhill, Frome, and Wiveliscombe. Paper is made at Wookey, furniture is manufactured at Yatton, and there is a large bacon factory at Highbridge. Extensive orchards in the neighbourhood of Glastonbury and Taunton feed a large number of cider presses. In the agricultural world Somerset is chiefly known as a grazing ground. It is especially renowned for its cheese. Cheddar cheese is held universally in high repute, and the “pitch” of cheese at the Frome annual fair is said to be the heaviest in the kingdom.
In spite of its extent of seaboard Somerset has few ports. Apart from the share it may claim to have in Bristol, it possesses only three, Portishead, Bridgwater, and Watchet. Portishead, like Avonmouth on the other side of the Avon, is subsidiary to Bristol. Bridgwater lies 12 m. up the Parrett, though only half that distance from the sea in a direct line. Watchet serves the district, between the Quantocks and Brendons. Minehead has a little harbour, but is of no mercantile importance.
The roll of Somerset worthies, either natives of or residents in the county, is long and illustrious. The Church, law, literature, philosophy, arms, science, politics, and adventure are all represented. The following alphabetic list contains the most important names, with dates and brief particulars.