Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for BERKS, or Berkshire

BERKS, or Berkshire, an inland county, within the basin of the Thames. It is bounded, on the N, by Gloucester, Oxford and Bucks; on the E, by Surrey; on the S, by Herts; and on the W, by Wilts. Its outline is irregular; and has been compared by some to that of a lute, by others to that of a slipper or a sandal. Its boundary, in a tortuous line, along the N, from its most westerly extremity to its most easterly one, is the Thames. Its greatest length is 48 miles; its greatest breadth, 29 miles; its mean breadth, about 14 miles; its circuit, about 165 miles; its area, 451,210 acres. Its surface presents few abrupt or bold elevations. A series of downs, a continuation of those in the N of Wilts, goes eastward across its broadest part, and attains, at White Horse hill, an altitude of 893 feet above the level of the sea. Most of the other tracts are distinguished by soft, gentle, luxuriant beauty. The chief streams are the Thames, the Kennet, the Lodden, the Lambourn, and the Ock. A small tract on the SE border, round Finchampstead and Sunninghill, consists of Bracklesham and Bagshot beds. A large tract across all the S, from the western border in the southern vicinity of Hungerford, past Newbury and Wokingham, to the eastern boundary at Old Windsor, consists of London clay and plastic clay. A hroad tract all across, from the western border at Hungerford and the neighbourhood of Ashbury, to the Thames from the vicinity of Reading to Moulsford, consists of chalk. A considerable belt N of this, and all across, consists of upper greensand and gault. A narrow belt, further N, consists of lower greensand. Two belts still further N, the second lying all along the Isis or Thames to a point below the vicinity of Kennington, consist of oolite, the former of the upper series, the latter of the middle. The minerals and the fossils do not possess much interest; and mineral waters are scarce. Peat exists in considerable quantity on low grounds of the Kennet, and in small quantity on some high lands of the Thames; and has been extensively burned for its ashes.

About 260,000 acres are arable, 76,000 meadow, 55,000 parks and sheep walks, 30,000 wood, and 29,000 waste. The soils are exceedingly various, ranging from strong fat loam to a mixture of sharp sand and peat. The vale of the White Horse is the most fertile tract; and the vale of the Kennet vies with it, and perhaps is better cultivated. The state of agriculture and the condition of the farmer are middle rate. Wheat, oats, barley, turnips, and beans are the chief crops grown; but buckwheat, vetches, pease, potatoes, rape, carrots, hops, flax, and artificial grasses also are cultivated. Much land on the Thames and around Faringdon is devoted to the dairy. The sheep walks are depastured by a native breed called the Notts, and by mixtures of them with the Southdowns, the Wiltshires, and other breeds. The cattle are mostly of the long horn or common country breed. The draught horses are good and strong, but not tall. Hogs and poultry are numerous in the dairy tracts; and from the proximity of London, yield much profit to the farmer. The native breed of hogs is highly esteemed; and a mixed breed at Sunninghill Park is pre-eminently good. Woodlands prevail much in the E; and get prominence there from Windsor forest. Oak and beech are the chief trees in the woods. Osiers are grown in watery places for baskets; and alders, for rake-handles and other uses. Fine trout and other fish abound in most of the streams. Manufactures are of small note. Woollen cloth, sacking, and sail-cloth were formerly made in large quantity; but have ceased to be of any consequence. Paper is made in the vale of the Kennet. Much malt is manufactured for the London market; and the Kennet and Windsor ales are in repute. The Thames is navigable along all the N boundary; and the Kennet, by means of cuts, for 30 miles, from Reading to Hungerford. The Berks and Wilts canal goes across all the N, from the vicinity of Abingdon up the vale of the White Horse; and the Kennet and Avon canal completes the navigation of the Kennet from Newbury to Hungerford. The Great Western railway enters at Maidenhead; sends off a branch thence into Bucks towards High Wycombe; passes on to Twyford; sends off a branch thence across the Thames to Henley; passes on to Reading; is joined there by a line coming up from the South-western at Guildford; passes up the Thames to Didcote; sends off thence a branch to Oxford, with sub-branch to Abingdon; and goes away westward to Wilts in the vicinity of Shrivenham. Minor lines also come to Windsor; the Staines line comes westward into junction with the Reading and Guildford at Wokingham; a line goes southward from Reading toward Basingstoke; another line goes westward from Reading to Hungerford; and recently-formed branches go from the Great Western to Wallingford and Faringdon.The roads have an aggregate of about 1,620 miles.

Berks contains 146 parishes, parts of 14 others, and three extra-parochial tracts; and is divided into the boroughs of Abingdon, Maidenhead, Newbury, Reading, Wallingford, and Windsor, and the hundreds of Beynhurst, Bray, Charlton, Compton, Cookham, Faircross, Faringdon, Ganfield, Hormer, Kintbury-Eagle, Lambourn, Moreton, Ock, Reading, Ripplesmere, Shrivenham, Sonning, Theale, Wantage, and Wargrave. The act of 1844, for consolidating detached parts of counties, severed from Berks places amounting to 6,510 acres, and annexed to it places amounting to 1,515 acres. The registration county excludes 4,100 acres of the electoral county; includes 113,464 acres of adjoining electoral counties; comprises altogether 564,717 acres; and is divided into the districts of Newbury, Hungerford, Faringdon, Abingdon, Wantage, Wallingford, Bradfield, Reading, Wokingham Cookham, Easthampstead, and Windsor. The county town is Reading; and the market towns are Reading, Abingdon, Faringdon, Newbury, Wantage, Wokingham, Maidenhead, East Ilsley, Lambourn, Hungerford, Wallingford, and Windsor. The chief seats are Windsor Castle, Wytham Abbey, Ashdown Park, Coleshill House, Billingbear Park, Sandleford Priory, Beckett Park, Basildon Park, Beenham House, Bear Place, Stanlake, Warfield House, Lockynge Park, Abbey House, Aldermaston, Bangor House, Barton Court, Benham House, Bear Wood, Bill Hill, Binfield, Bisham Abbey, Besselsleigh, Buckland, Buscot, Castle Priory, Chaddleworth, Chilton House, Culham Court, Donnington Castle, Englefield House, East Hendred, Hall Place, Hayward Lodge, Holme Park, Hungerford Park, Kingston Lisle, Luckley House, Lambourn Place, Maidenhead House, Midgham, Old Windsor, Padworth, Pusey House, Shaw House, Silwood, Shibbing, Sunninghill Park, Swallowfield House, Temple House, Titness Park, Wasing Lodge, West Court, White Knights, Winkfield Park, Woodley Lodge, and Woolley Park. Assessed property in 1815, £643,781; real property, in 1843, £967,475; in 1851, £977,386; in 1860, £1,021,944.

Berks is governed by a lord-lieutenant, a high sheriff, 40 deputy-lieutenants, and about 150 magistrates. It is in the home military district, and in the Oxford judicial circuit. The Lent assizes are held at Reading; the summer assizes at Abingdon. Quarter sessions are held on 31 Dec. and 8 April, at Reading; and on 1 July and 14 Oct., at Abingdon. The police force includes 114 men for the county and 62 for the boroughs. There are county jails at Reading and Abingdon, and a reformatory school at Reading. The crimes, in 1864, were 223 in the county and 106 in the boroughs; the persons apprehended, 140 in the county and 91 in the boroughs; the known depredators or suspected persons at large, 662 in the county and 730 in the boroughs; the houses of bad character, 64 in the county and 96 in the boroughs. Three members are sent to parliament by the county, exclusive of the boroughs; two by Reading; one by Windsor; one by Abingdon; and one by Wallingford. The electors of the county, exclusive of the boroughs, in 1868, were 5,066. Berks is in the diocese of Oxford; and constitutes an archdeaconry, comprising four deaneries. The poor-rates for the registration county in 1863 were £124,426. Marriages in 1866, 1,529,-of which 213 were not according to the rites of the Established church; births, 6,738,-of which 439 were illegitimate; deaths, 4,024,- of which 1,392 were at ages under 5 years, and 160 at ages above 85 years. The places of worship within the electoral county in 1851 were 206 of the Church of England, with 56,679 sittings; 34 of Independents, with 8,442 s.; 41 of Baptists, with 8,222 s.; 5 of Quakers, with 944 s.; 1 of Unitarians, with 220 s.; 72 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 10,084 s.; 53 of Primitive Methodists, with 5,948 s.; 4 of Lady Huntingdon's Connexion, with 750 s.; 1 of Brethren, with 70 s.; 10 of isolated congregations, with 1,078 s.; 2 of Latter Day Saints, with 300 s.; and 6 of Roman Catholics, with 1,192 s. The schools were 218 public day schools, with 16,584 scholars; 289 private day schools, with 6,065 s; 245 Sunday schools, with 18,972 s.; and 10 evening schools for adults, with 392 s. Pop., in 1801, 110,480; in 1821, 132,639; in 1841, 161,759; in 1861, 176,256. Inhabited houses, 35,761; uninhabited, 1,355; building, 208.

The territory now forming Berks was inhabited, in the ancient British times, by two tribes whom the Roman invaders called Bibroci and Attrebatii. It became part of the Roman Britannia Prima. It next formed part of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex; and was then called Berrocscire. It was the scene of frequent conflicts with the Danes; and it afterwards figured in the struggle between the Empress Matilda and Stephen, in the quarrels between King John and his nobles, and in the war between Charles I. and his parliament. The chief events in its history will be found noted in the articles Abingdon, Maidenhead, Wallingford, Wantage, and Windsor. British, Roman, and Saxon remains, chiefly barrows and camps, occur at Little Coxwell, Sinodun, Letcombe, Uffingham, the White Horse hill, Ashbury, Ashdown, Speen, Binfield, Castleacre, Hardwell, and Wantage. Icknield-street traverses the county southwestward from Streatley to the southwestern vicinity of Newbury; and sends off branches along the hills. An ancient road went from Speen to Silchester; another, called the Devil's Causeway, went by Old Windsor to Staines; and some others have left traces. Ruined castles occur at Faringdon, Donnington, and Wallingford; and ancient mansions at Aldermaston, Appleton, Ockholt, Cumnor, and Wytham. Abbeys stood at Abingdon, Bisham, Bradfield, Faringdon, and Reading; priories at Bisham, Cholsey, Harley, Faringdon, Reading, Sandleford, and Wallingford; preceptories at Bisham and Brimpton; and colleges at Shottesbrook, Wallingford, and Windsor. Interesting ancient churches. Norman or otherwise, occur at Avington, Bucklebury, Cumnor, Englefield, Shottesbrook, Uffington, and Welford. Berkshire gives the title of Earl to the Earl of Suffolk.

(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "an inland county, within the basin of the Thames"   (ADL Feature Type: "countries, 2nd order divisions")
Administrative units: Berkshire AncC
Place names: BERKS     |     BERKSHIRE     |     BERKS OR BERKSHIRE
Place: Berkshire

Go to the linked place page for a location map, and for access to other historical writing about the place. Pages for linked administrative units may contain historical statistics and information on boundaries.