Warwick is the county town of Warwickshire, England. The town lies upon the River Avon, 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. A Saxon burh was created at Warwick in the 9th century and Warwick Castle was established on the site in 1068 as part of the Norman conquest of England. Warwick School claims to be the oldest boys' school in the country. The earldom of Warwick was created in 1088 and the earls controlled the town in the medieval period. During this time Warwick was given town walls; Eastgate and Westgate survive. The castle developed into a stone fortress and then a country house and is today a popular tourist attraction.
The Great Fire of Warwick in 1694 destroyed much of the medieval town and as a result most of the buildings post-date this period. Though Warwick did not become industrialised in the 19th century, it has experienced growth since 1801 when the population was 5,592. Racing Club Warwick F.C., founded in 1919, are based in the town. The town is administered by Warwick District Council and Warwickshire County Council has its headquarters in Warwick.
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, daughter of king Alfred the Great 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.