BERKSHIRE, commonly called Berks, is a southern inland shire, on the south bank of the navigable Thames, which forms its northern boundary mark, and in the valley of which it lies, approaching within 20 miles of London, and is about midway between the mouth of the Thames and the Bristol Channel. The county is of very irregular shape, with its greatest length of 43 miles from east to west, and with its greatest breadth of 30 miles from north to south at the western end.
The area was originally 462,224 acres, but by the “Local Government Board’s Provisional Orders Confirmation (No. 12) Act,” which came into operation September 30, 1895, 3,672 acres, being the Berkshire portion of Shalbonrn parish, was transferred to Wilts, and 2,088 acres, the Wilts part of Hungerford, added to Berks; the parish of Combe, with 2,212 acres, was also added from Hants; by these changes the area is now 464,952 acres; the population in 1831 was 146,234; in 1841, 161,759; in 1851, 170,065; in 1861, 176,256; in 1871, 196,475; in 1881, 218,363; and 1891, 238,709, viz., males, 117,208; females, 121,501. The number of houses in 1891 was:-inhabited; 48,477, uninhabited, 3,401; and building, 380.
The Isis, or Thames, divides it on the north from Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire; on the south-east it is bounded by Surrey, on the south by Hampshire, and on the west by Wiltshire. There is much woodland, in which grow hazel, oak, ash, beech and alder. The southern part of the county rises to the chalk range, but in the west the oolite begins. The great chalk range runs through the middle of the west to the south of Wallingford, and joins the Chiltern Hills and Marlborough Downs. Inkpen Beacon is the highest point of the chalk in the county, being 1,011 feet in height. The Berkshire Downs rise at White Horse Hill to 893 feet high.
Berkshire seems, like most of the southern shires, to have come into the possession of the Belgians before the Roman period, by the expulsion of the Welsh or Celts. Julius Caesar found the country in the power of the Atribates, though perhaps the Bibroci and Segontiaci had also settlements within its bounds. Berkshire had several Roman towns, stations and roads. Spinae (Speen, near Newbury), is the only well-known station. There are camps and walls of various ages at Wallingford-Uffington castle on the top of White Horse Hill; Sagbury Castle, on Letcombe Downs; Hardwell Camp, near Uffington; Sherbury Camp, near Faringdon; Caesar’s Camp, on Bagshot Heath; Ashbury Camp, or Alfred’s Castle, near Lambourn and also camps on Sinodun Hill and Badbury Hill. Many of the hills have barrows in them and some seem to have cromlechs. On the chalk hills near Lambourn are some remarkable piles of large stones, one of which is called Wayland Smith’s Cave, but which some maintain to have been habitations of the ancient Welsh. At Kingston Lisle, near Lambourn, is a curious stone, called a blowing stone, bored, and on blowing into which a sound is given forth which can be heard six miles Off. The English held Berkshire as part of the kingdom of Wessex, but it was sometimes under the Mid-English. The White Horse, which is the figure of a horse cut out of the turf on the side of the chalk hills, and left white, is by most thought to have been done by the old English; it may be seen from a distance of fifteen miles and gives name to the hill in which it is cut and to the adjoining valley. Berkshire was invaded by the Danes, with whom several battles were fought, a very famous one at Ashdown, in which Ethelred and Alfred the Great beat the Danes. The battle of Ethandane, in which Alfred defeated the Danes, is also thought to have been fought in Berkshire. During the middle ages frequent forays took place in this county, but of its many castles few remain: of Wallingford and Donnington there are remains.
In the Parliamentary wars most of the Berkshire towns were the scenes of conflict. Two great battles were fought at Newbury in 1643 and 1644. Reading was besieged and taken; Abingdon, Windsor Castle and Donnington were attacked.
At Abingdon and Reading were large Benedictine establishments, richly endowed, of which the abbots were mitred.
Of these fine buildings there are extensive remains; those of the Grey Friary at Reading are converted into a church called Greyfriars; of the Benedictine monastery at Hurley some remains are to be seen.
Avington is a very ancient church, said to be old English or Norman; there are also specimens of Norman in St. Nicholas church, Abingdon, and in Wilford church.
The main river is the Thames, on the northern border, which bears large craft throughout its length to London and the sea, and by canal opens the way to Wiltshire, Bristol, Gloucestershire, Oxford, Birmingham, the Midland Counties and the North. The Thames, from its winding course, has a waterway between Lechlade and Windsor of 110 miles, and passes Oxford, Abingdon, Wallingford, Reading, Henley (Oxon), Marlow (Bucks), Maidenhead and Windsor. This river for its entire length is popularly called the Thames, but its proper name is the Isis until it receives the smaller stream the Thame, which, flowing by Dorchester (Oxon), joins the Isis between Day’s Lock and Shillingford Bridge, Among its fish are trout, barbel, pike, eels, carp, tench, chub, roach, dace and crayfish. Between the chalk downs in the west and the Thames runs its feeder, a small river 20 miles long, called the Ock, falling into the Thames at Abingdon.
The Kennet is the chief river of South Berks; it rises in Wiltshire, passes by Hungerford, Avington, Kintbury (Kennetbury) and Newbury, where the Lambourne, which rises at Lambourn, falls in; it afterwards receives the Em-borne, or Amburn, and falls into the Thames at Reading. The Kennet is navigable for about 20 miles, from Newbury to Reading; it has some fine trout and other fish. The Em-borne rises in the parish of Inkpen and forms the Hampshire boundary of the county for about 15 miles; the Blackwater forms a portion of the southern Boundary. The Loddon rises in Hampshire, and flows through East Berks into the Thames below Reading. Besides the navigation of the Thames and the Kennet, the county is crossed by two canals, the Wilts and Berks in the north, proceeding from Abingdon by Wantage into Wilts, where it joins the Kennet and Avon canal at Semington; the Kennet and Avon canal runs through South Berks from Newbury by Hungerford into Wilts and thence by Devizes to Bath, and so by the Avon to Bristol.
Berkshire is now well supplied with railway communication; the chief railway is the Great Western, the main line of which enters this county by Slough (Bucks), with a branch through Eton to Windsor, thence proceeds to Maidenhead by Twyford to Reading, which is a principal station, thence by Pangbourne, Moulsford, Didcot Junction and Steventon, and so near Wantage and Uffington to Swindon and Bath; it has branch lines from Didcot to Oxford (with a short line to Abingdon) and from Didcot to Newbury, thence to Winchester, giving access to the South of England; from Maidenhead, down the Thames to High Wycombe (Bucks), through Cookham; from Moulsford to Wallingford, from Uffington to Faringdon; from Twyford to Henley; from Reading to Basingstoke on the London and South Western, and from Reading through Newbury to Hungerford and Devizes, by the Berks and Hants Extension, thence to Bath. The lines from Oxford to the north place Reading in direct communication with the northern parts of the kingdom. The Reading, Guildford and Reigate line of the South Eastern and South Western railways, connecting the towns from which it is named, crosses the South Western at Guildford and joins the South Eastern and Brighton lines near Reigate, thus uniting the town of Reading with the whole of the southern system of railways. The South Western line starts from the same station in Reading as the South Eastern, and passes by Wokingham, Ascot and Staines (from which place is a branch to Windsor), and afterwards through Richmond to London.
The Lambourn Valley railway, opened in 1898, connects Lambourn with Newbury, on the Great Western line.
The county is healthy, with a good soil, though the hills run into chalk. The valley of the Thames has very rich ground, particularly meadow, and so have the vales of the White Horse and the Kennet.
The manufactures are not of importance-some mat and matting and sail cloth being the principal-though Reading. Newbury and Abingdon used to be great clothing towns; this trade is reviving at Abingdon. At Reading are the large biscuit works of Huntley and Palmers, the Reading Iron Works and the great seed establishment of Sutton & Sons. Whiting is made at Kintbury from the soft upper chalk. Some considerable amount of boat building is carried on. The produce of Berkshire is lime, coarse stone for building, brick earth, corn, beans, apples, cherries, onions, asparagus, timber, hoops, broomsticks, osiers, cart-horses, calves, butter, pigs, sheep, wool, besides trout and other fish.
The county derives benefit from its position on the river Thames, which attracts numerous visitors for boating purposes, and also for inspection of the royal Castle of Windsor.
The number of parishes is 202 and parts of four others. Berkshire is in the Oxford Circuit and has one court of quarter sessions and 11 petty sessional divisions. The shire towns are Reading and Abingdon: by an order in Council of September 14, 1868, the assizes and sessions are to be held exclusively at Reading. The county was separated from Salisbury diocese in 1836, and now is in the diocese of Oxford and archdeaconry of Berks, which is sub-divided into the rural deaneries of Abingdon, Bradfield, Maidenhead, Newbury, Reading, Sonning, Vale of White Horse, Wallingford and Wantage.
The municipal boroughs are:-Abingdon, population in 1891, 6,557; Maidenhead, 10,607; Newbury, 10,002; Reading, 60,054; Wallingford, 2,989; New Windsor, 12,327; and Wokingham, 3,254. Other towns are-Faringdon, 3,133; Hungerford, 2,964; and Wantage, 3,669.
The shire is divided into twenty hundreds (at Domesday Survey, twenty-two). They are Beynhurst, in the east; Bray, in the east; Compton, in the Midland; Charlton, in the south; Cookham, in the south-east; Faircross, in the Midland (formerly Thatcham); Faringdon, in the north-west; Granfield, in the north-west; Hormer (formerly Hornimere), in the north; Lambourn, in the west; Kintbury Eagle, in the south-west Midland (formerly Kennetbury and Egley); Moreton (formerly Blewbury), in the north-east; Ock, in the north-east; Reading, in the north-east; Ripples-mere, in the east; Shrivenham, in the north-west; Sonning, in the east; Theale, in the north-east; Wantage, in the Midland; and Wargrave, in the east.The registration districts are:— No Place Area Pop. in 1891
H.M. Prison for the county, in the Forbury, Reading, was erected in 1833, and is a castellated building of red brick with white stone dressings, built for 224 prisoners; Maj. James Osmond Nelson, governor; Rev. Martin Thomas Friend M.A. chaplain.
The Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, opened May 27th, 1839, is a building of stone in the Domestic Classic style, with a noble projecting portico of six Ionic columns supporting a pediment, adorned with the Royal Arms; two wings, added in 1882, comprise operating room, library, museum, chapel, with stained windows, laundry, servants’ dormitories, and dwellings for private nurses. There is a Convalescent Fund for discharged patients, administered by the Board of Management. The hospital is supported by voluntary contributions raised in the county and has 150 beds; the average number of in-patients is about 140 and of outpatients 500; Richard Charles Shettle M.D. consulting physician; Charles W. Marriott M.D. and Francis Henry Hawkins M.B., C.M. physicians; George May M.B., F.R.C.S.Eng. consulting surgeon; Oliver Calley Maurice M.D. and James Hopkins Walters M.R.C.S.Eng, and William James Maurice M.A., M.B., B.Ch, surgeons; John Alfred Parry Price B.A., M.D. Landsdown Murry Guilding M.A., M.B., B.Ch. Arthur Roberts F.R.C.S.Edin. assistant surgeons; Matthew James Hazlett Payers M.R.C.S.Eng., L.R.C.P.Lond, house physician; Oswin Shields M.R.C.S.Eng., L.R.C.P.Lond, house surgeon; Rev. Martin Thomas Friend M.A. chaplain; George E. Hopwood, house steward and general superintendent; Miss Easton, matron and superintendent of nursing department.
The County Lunatic Asylum, in the parish of Cholsey, called the Moulsford Asylum, was opened in September, 1870; it occupies a prominent position on the Wallingford road, three-quarters of a mile from Moulsford station and 2 miles from Wallingford; it is built of red brick relieved with stone and coloured brick dressings, in a modified style of Early English; the Asylum stands on an estate of 80 acres, extending from the Wallingford road, to the river Thames, forming nearly a square. It was designed to hold 285 patients, at a cost of £68,600, but has been enlarged for an additional 324 patients at a further cost of £55,000, and is now (1899) in process of further enlargement. The number of patients in 1898 was 650, of whom 290 are males and 360 females; James William Aitken Murdock M.B., C.M. medical superintendent; Edwin Lindsey Dunn BA., M.B., B.ch. and Thomas Leonard Johnston L.R.C.P. & S.Edin., L.F.P. & S. Glas. assistant medical officers; Rev. Frederick Thomas Stewart Dyer B.A. chaplain; John Thornhill Morland, clerk to the committee of visitors; Moses Nicholls, steward and clerk of the asylum; Miss Browne, housekeeper.
The Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum near Wokingham, which occupies an elevated site about 400 feet above sea level, and partly sheltered by pine woods, was opened in 1863, and consists of an extensive range of brick buildings planned and erected under the exclusive direction of the late Major-General Sir Joshua Jebb K.C.B. at a cost of £118,039, and several times altered and enlarged the total amount expended reached a sum of £200,000. The Asylum is now (1899) available for 650 inmates; Richard Brayn L.R.C.P. Lond., M.R.C.S.Eng, superintendent; John Bladwin Isaac M.D. deputy supt.; Reginald Harry Noott M.B., C.M. senior assistant medical officer; Edmond James Lawless M.D. junior assistant medical officer; Rev. Hugh Wood M.A. chaplain; Charles T. Phelps, steward; A. Ernest Sayer, superintendent’s clerk.
Berkshire formerly returned three members for the undivided county, but under the provisions of the “Redistribution of Seats Acts, 1885,” it is now in three divisions with one member for each division.
No. 1.-The Northern or Abingdon division, comprises the sessional divisions of Abingdon, Faringdon, Wallingford, and Wantage, the municipal borough of Wallingford and so much of the municipal boroughs of Abingdon and Oxford as are in the county of Berks.
No. 2.-The Southern or Newbury division, comprises the sessional divisions of Ilsley, Lambourne, Newbury (including Hungerford), and Reading (except so much as is comprised in division No. 3), the municipal boroughs of Newbury and Reading and so much of the Wokingham sessional division as is in the parliamentary borough of Reading.
No. 3.-The Eastern or Wokingham division, comprises the sessional divisions of Maidenhead and Windsor, so much of the sessional division of Wokingham as is not comprised in division No. 2, the municipal boroughs of Maidenhead and New Windsor and the parishes of Swallowfields East and West.
By the above mentioned Act the representation of the borough of Wallingford was merged into that of the county and the borough of Reading lost one member.
Berkshire is included in the No. 1, Aldershot, & No. 3, Home, District Commands.
Reading is the Depot of the Regimental district No. 49, which is comprised of the 1st (49th foot) and 2nd (66th foot) battalions of Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Royal Berkshire) Regiment, and of the Royal Berkshire Militia (3rd battalion), which latter has its head quarters here.
Formed of the Berkshire and the Middlesex (Duke of Cambridge’s Hussars).
Head Quarters, 7 Montpelier terrace, London.
Berkshire (Hungerford), headquarters, 13 George street, Reading.
1st Squadron (A & B Troops.)
2nd Squadron (C & D Troops.)
Home Counties Volunteer Infantry Brigade
Comprising the 1st (Hertfordshire) Volunteer Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, Hertford, 2nd (Hertfordshire) Volunteer Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, Great Berk-hampstead, 3rd Volunteer Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment.
Bedford, 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Oxfordshire Light Infantry, Oxford, 1st Bucks Volunteer Rifle Corps, Marlow, 1st Volunteer Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Royal Berkshire Regiment), see below.
Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Royal Berkshire Regiment), 1st Volunteer Battalion.
Berks & Oxon, W. G. Mount M.P. chairman; James Neale, Valpy street, Reading, secretary.
Abingdon horse fairs, first Monday in Lent, May 6, June 20, September 19, December 11; & for hiring servants & pleasure, Monday before old Michaelmas day; corn & cattle market every Monday Bracknell, cattle market every thursday Faringdon, statute fairs, Tuesday before & Tuesday after old Michaelmas day; market day, Tuesday; cattle market, first Tuesday in every month.
Hungerford, two statute or hiring fairs are annually held, one on the Wednesday before and the other on the Wednesday after old Michaelmas day; there are also fairs held the last Wednesday in April for cattle, the last week in June for wool and August 17th for sheep; market day, Wednesday East Ilsley, cattle, sheep and lamb fairs from Easter till November; Wednesday in Whitsun week for sheep; August 1st; August 26 & Wednesday after September 19th, for sheep & lambs; October 13 for hiring servants and pleasure; Wednesday after October 17 & Wednesday after November 12 for sheep. Markets commence on the Wednesday fortnight before Easter & sometimes earlier & continue every alternate Wednesday till July Lambourn, October 2 & December 4 for sheep, horses & cattle.
Maidenhead, corn market every Wednesday Newbury, holy thursday, July 5, September 4 & November 8; hiring fair first thursday after old Michaelmas day; wool market the first Wednesday in July & Market day, thursday.
Reading, February 2, May 1 for cattle, July 25 for cattle & September 21 for cheese & cattle. Market days, Saturday, for corn & stock cattle & Monday for fat cattle Stratfield Mortimer, April 27 & November 6 for cattle Wallingford, September 29 for pleasure & hiring servants; corn market weekly & cattle market fortnightly on Friday Wantage, first Saturday in March, first Saturday in May, and the first Saturday after Oct. 11; every alternate Wednesday a market for cattle.
Windsor, market day, Saturday Wokingham, market day, Tuesday.
Local Government Act, 1888, 51 & 52 Vict. c. 41.
Under the above Act, Berkshire, except a certain borough, after the 1st April, 1889, for the purposes of the Act, became an administrative county (sec. 46), governed by a County Council, consisting of chairman, aldermen and councillors, elected in a manner prescribed by the Act (sec. 2).
The chairman, by virtue of his office, is a justice of the peace for the county, without qualification (sec. 46).
The police for the county is now under the control of a standing joint committee of the Quarter Sessions and the County Council, appointed as therein mentioned (sec. 9).
The coroners for the county are elected by the County Council, and the clerk of the peace appointed by such joint committee, and may be removed by them (sec. 83—2).
The clerk of the peace for the county is also clerk of the County Council (sec. 83—1).
The administrative business of the county (which would, if this Act had not been passed, have been transacted by the justices) is now transacted by the County Council.
(a) The following borough shall be for the purposes of this Act an administrative county in itself and be called a County borough (sec. 31), of which the Municipal Corporation shall have the power of a County Council-Reading.
The County Council meets at the Assize Courts, Reading.— Kelly's Directory of Berkshire (1899)
BERKSHIRE is an inland county, of a very irregu-form. According to Roque’s Mensuration it is 207 miles in circumference: its greatest length, from Old Windsor to the County Cross, near Hungerford, 42 miles: its greatest breadth, from Witham near Oxford to the borders of Hampshire, south of Newbury, about 28 miles, and its narrowest, from the Thames near Reading, across to the borders of Hampshire, in a direct south line, only seven miles. It is bounded on the north by the counties of Oxford and Buckingham, on the east by Surrey, on the south by Hampshire, and on the west by the county of Wilts. A part of the latter county lies in the heart of Berkshire, including the parishes of Wokingham, Hurst, Stunfield and Swallowfield; a small portion of Berkshire lies on the north side of the Thames, surrounded by Oxfordshire.
The county of Berks contains about 464,500 acres, including the parishes of Langford and Shilton, north of the Thames, and omitting that part of Wiltshire within the county. According to the returns under the population act in 1801, Berkshire then contained 109,215 inhabitants, of whom 38,155 were employed in agriculture and 16,921 in trades, manufacturer, or handicraft.
According to Camden, the county now called Berkshire was anciently named by the Latin writers Bercheria; by the Saxons Beroc-scyre, which name Asser Menevensis, an ancient English historian, derives from Barroc, a certain wood, where grew plenty of box. It is more probable that it may have been derived from the quantity of Birch wood growing anciently in the county; the soil, in general, being more adapted to the growth of that wood than any other and there being several instances of other places deriving their name from the same circumstance.
The ancient inhabitants of a great part of this county were the Attrebatii or Altrebales, who are supposed to have emigrated from Gaul.
The south-eastern part of the county was inhabited by a people called the Bilroci, or Rhemi, and a small portion of it next Hampshire, by the Segonticœ. And it appears from the derivations given by Mr. Owen, in the second volume of the Cambrian Register, that the name of each tribe had its origin from the general characteristic of that portion of the county they occupied.
Under the division of Britain by the Roman Emperor Constantine, this county was included in the Britannia Prima. During the Saxon heptarchy it formed a part of the kingdom of Wessex or West Saxons. In the reign of Alfred it assumed the present name of Berocshire or Berkshire, and was by him divided into twenty-two hundreds.
The principal of Berkshire, are the Thames, the Kennet, the Lodden, the Ock, the Lanlbourne, and Enborn. The first of these, which indeed is the First of all the British streams, enters the county at its northern extremity, about a mile south of Lechdale, and pursues a beautiful winding course, along the whole of the northern side of the county, dividing it from Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and watering in its progress the towns of Abingdon, Wallingford, Henly, Maidenhead, Windsor, &c. There are seventeen bridges over this river between Datchet and Lechdale, and it is navigable during the whole of its course. Mr. Pope has beautifully described this fine river in his Windsor Forest.
“From his oozy bed,
Old Father Thames advanc’d his rev’rend head,
His tresses drop’d with dews, and o’er the stream
If is shining horns diffus’d a golden gleam;
Grav’d on his urn appear’d the moon, that guides,
His swelling waters, and alternate tides:
The figur’d streams in waves of ‘ilver roll’d,
And on her hanks Augusta, rob’d in gold;
Around his throne the sea-born brothers stood,
Who swell with tri___ary urns his flood:
First the fam’d autnors of his ancient name,
The winding Isis, and the fruitful Thame;
The Kennct swift, for silver eels renown’d;
The Lodden slow, with verdant alders crown’d;
Cole, whose dark streams his flow’ry islands lave,
And chalkey Wey, that rolls a milky wave;
The blue transparent Vandalis appears;
The gulphy Lee his sedgy tresses rears;
Aud sullen Mole, that hides his diving flood;
And silent Darent, stain’d with Danish blood.”
The name of this river has been variously derived; some calling it the Ilis, till its conflux with the little Thame, and from Thame and Isis, have formed Thamisis or Thames. The notion that the name of the river Thames is thus derived has indeed been generally received; and yet there is incontestable proof that it is erroneous; the name Isis has seldom been heard but among scholars, though it has been almost constantly copied out of one book into another. The common people call this river the Thames quite from its source: and in an ancient charter, granted to abbot Aldeim, particular mention is made of certain lands on the east part of the river “cujus vocabulum Temis juxta vadum qui appellatur Summerford,” and as this Summerford is in Wiltshire, it is evident that the river was then called Temis or Tems, before its junction with the Thame. The same thing appears in every charter and authentic history where this river is mentioned, particularly in several charters granted to the abbey of Malmesbury, and some old deeds relating to Cricklade, both which places are also in Wiltshire. All our historians who mention the incursions of Ethelwold into Wiltshire, in the year 905, or Canute in the year 1016, tell us they passed over the Thames at Cricklade. The Saxons called it Temese, quite from its source, and from Temese our Tems or Thames is immediately derived. The word seems indeed to have been originally British, as it is the name of several other rivers in different parts of the island, particularly the little river Thame, whose name the Isis has been supposed to borrow, the Tame in Staffordshire, the Teme in Herefordshire, and the Tamer in Cornwall. Mr. Lehwyd, the antiquary of Wales, affirms that the Saxon Temese was derived from their Taf or Tuwyys, a name which is common to many rivers, in Wales, and signifies a gentle stream; the Romans having first changed their f or v into m as they did in their word Demetra, which in Welch is Dyfed.
The Kennet enters Berkshire at Hungerford, and becoming navigable at Newbury, passes from thence through a rich vale, and after flowing through Reading, unites its waters with the Thames. “It is remarkable” says Mr. Gough, “that at Reading those wells, between which and the Thames the Kennet has its course, rise and fall with the Thames, not with the Kennet; hence it is argued that the bed of Thames is much lower than that of the Kennet, and detaches its springs under the bed of the latter.”
The river Lodden rises near Aldershot in Hampshire; at Black-water it begins to be a boundary between that county and Berkshire, and so continues for about eight miles pursuing a westerly direction. It enters Berkshire in the parish of Swallowfield, and after a course of about twelve miles it falls into the Thames near Wingrave, The waters of the Lodden are encreased by a brook called the Emme, which it receives at Sanaford Mill.
The river Ock has its source near Uffington, and after an easterly course of nearly 20 miles, at length falls into the Thames, near Abingdon.
The Enburn rises in Berkshire, near Inkpen, and soon becomes a boundary between this county and Hampshire. It continues an eastward direction for nearly twelve miles, when bending northward it again enters the county, and a little below Wasing, falls into the Kennet, after a course of about seventeen miles.
The Lambourne rises near the town of that name, and after a course of about fifteen miles passing through Bockington Eastbury, East Garston, the two Sheftords, Weston, Walford, Easton, Westbrook, Boxford, Bagnor, Donnington, and Shaw, it at length falls into the Kennet. The river Lambourne has been much celebrated on account of its being always, fuller in summer than winter, which does not appear to be the fact. It indeed preserves during the whole year an uniform degree of fulness, being neither affected by the drought of summer or inundations in winter. During the remarkable drought of the summer of 1803, its source was entirely dried up for several months.
The Wilts and Berks Canal, which was undertaken in 1793, will enter Berkshire at Hackson Bridge, near Shrivenham, pass by Shrivenham and Liffington, leave Sparsholt and Childrey on the south, pass by the Challows, and near Wantage, to which there is to be a collateral cut, and between Hanney and Drayton to Abingdon.
The Kennet and Avon Canal enters Berkshire at Hungerford, and passes parallel with the Kennet to Newbury.
The following appears to be a correct statement of the agricultural appropriation of land in this county.Acres.
|Land in arable||255|
|Meadows in various parts and dairy land in the vale||72|
|Sheep-walks, uninclosed on the Chalk Hills||25|
|Pasture Parks, &c.||20|
|Wastes, chiefly barren heaths||30|
The residue of the land is taken up in the space occupied by buildings, roads, rivers, &c.
Close to the Thames, in the northern part of the county, there is a fertile line of meadow, from which the land rises gently towards a range of moderately elevated hills, extending from Oxford to Faringdon. There is some very good corn land upon these hills, though in some parts too sandy.
Descending to the south we enter the remarkably fertile vale of Berkshire, which crosses the county from the parish of Shrivenham on the west, to Cholsey on the eastern boundary. The soil of this vale is in general a strong, grey, calcareous loam.
On the south of the vale are the Chalk Hills, covered with a fine turf of sheep pasture.
The greatest part of the southern side of the county, from Hungerford to Windsor (except a part of the Kentbury hundred, and some land on the south side the Kennet, and the greatest part of Windsor Forest) consists chiefly of a gravelly loam.
From Hungerford to Reading there is a line, consisting of a bed of peat, through which the river Rennet takes its course.
Near Hungerford, south of the Rennet, there commences a tract of poor gravel and clay.
The tract of meadows contiguous to the river Kennet, from Hungerford in the west to Reading in the east, are all of them watered in a masterly style; and the quantity of hay cut from them, independent of the early feed, is very great.
Part of the tract of meadow, however, has for its surface a gravelly soil, which, of all others, is best adapted for water meadows. The other part, of tract from one quarter to three quarters of a mile in breadth, and sixteen miles in length, consists of peat, a soil though known by name in most counties is not elsewhere of that peculiar and excellent quality as in the neighbourhood of Newbury, and other parts of Berkshire, towards Oxford.
Such meadows as have peat under them are not reckoned so valuable to the tenant, but to the landlord much more so. One acre of land has been let for 300l. where the purchase, was limited.
First, to cut no deeper than six feet.
Secondly, to cut and clear off the whole in the course of the year, and lastly he was to pare off the sward, that was on the acre at the time of the agreement, and relay it in a proper manner on the surface, after he had got out the peat; in order that it, when returned to the landlord, be in a state for meadow land again.
The great value of peat arises from the demand for it as a fuel, and for its ashes as a manure. This manure is considered as an excellent improver of grass lands, particularly clover leys, and santfoin, which shew to an inch where the peat ash has been laid upon them. The quantity necessary to dress an acre is reckoned from fifteen to twenty-five bushels, according to the condition of the land.
Within the peat great numbers of trees have been found, lying irregularly on each other, of various kind, oaks, alders, willows, and firs; and others so much decayed that their species could not be ascertained. No acorns are found in the peat, though the cones of the fir-tree frequently are, and also a great quantity of hazel nuts.
Some years ago, an urn, of a light brown colour and large enough to contain above a gallon, was found in the true peat, about eight or ten feet from the river on Speen Moor. It lay about four feet below the level of the ground, and about a foot within the peat, and over it was raised an artificial hill, about eight feet higher than the neighbouring ground. As the whole hill consisted both of peat and meadow land mixed together, it plainly appeared that the peat was older than the urn, and that the person who raised the hill must first have dug a large hole in the peat to bury the urn, and then formed the hill of the peat and meadow ground mixed together. Round the hill where the urn lay, were several semicircular ridges, with trenches between them: the extremities of the semicircles were bounded by the line of the river. The horns, heads, and bones of several kinds of deer, the horns of the antilope, the heads and tusks of boars, the heads of beavers, human bones, and various other things, have at different times been discovered imbedded within the peat, and generally at the bottom of it, next the gravelly stratum upon which it lies.
Mode of Management
In consequence of the great extent of barren heath, on the south side of the country in its eastern parts, and of the sheep walks on the Chalk Hills, the proportion of cultivated land does not exceed the general average of the kingdom.
With respect to the various modes of management of the arable land, it will be sufficient to observe, that the best systems of modern husbandry are universally adopted and successfully pursued.
The farms in this county are in general large; for unless it is from some local circumstance, it is very rare to find a farm under one hundred pounds a year. In the vale of White Horse indeed some smaller dairy and grazing farms are to be found; but there are more farms of from two to live hundred a year than of any other size.
In the open and hilly parts of the county there is a necessity indeed for large farms; since the soil is made the most of, by that kind of husbandry which depends on a large stock of sheep, which the little farmer cannot avail himself of.
The neat cattle grazed in this county are generally of the Herefordshire, Shropshire, Glamorganshire, and other parts of South Wales, bought in at spring and fall. The system of fatting with turnips is not universally adopted. In the grazing parts of the vale of White Horse, where a great quantity of beasts are annually stall-fed, they are generally fatted with hay, beans, and barley meal, oil cake, &c. Linseed, both dry and steeped, is given by some graziers, and found to answer exceeding well.
The cows most esteemed in this county are those of the north-country breed; they are excellent milkers, and well adapted to the dairy farms of the vale. The dairymen keep up the succession partly by rearing and partly by buying heifers in calf, at Lambourn and other fairs in the county.
The Berkshire farmer derives a considerable profit from the rearing of horses. Some breed their own stock, and others buy in sticklers, which they put to work very early, and after using them for two or three years, sell them off to the brewers in London, and to the stage waggons, at high prices.
Berkshire has, and ever must have, from the nature of the soil, a great quantity of sheep kept upon it: the present are certainly not only a very useful but handsome stock, and are in great repute in the neighbouring counties. They are well adapted for folding; being strong and active; they travel long ranges during the day, and from their size and weight are good folding sheep at night. The Leicestershire sheep and South Down have been introduced into this county with considerable success, particularly on the inclosed lands. The Dorset breed is also much approved.
The quantity of swine fattened in Berkshire is certainly very great. In the small town of Faringdon only upwards of 4000 are annually slaughtered for the London and Oxford markets, between the beginning of November and the beginning of April. This, however, is in a part of the county were the dairy farms are situated; but nevertheless when it is considered how many store pigs are sent annually to the distillers and starch-makers in the vicinity of London, Berkshire receives no inconsiderable return from this profitable kind of stock.
At the east end of the county, poultry becomes very profitable from its vicinity to London. A great number of higlers attend regularly on market days to purchase them, and the number weekly sent away is prodigious.
Berkshire, with respect to the situation of its markets, is peculiarly well situated. They are distributed so well that a distance of ten miles to a market is difficult to be found.
Newbury, Reading, Abingdon, Wallingford, and Windsor have all the advantages of water carriage to London, and the interior parts of the kingdom. The two former send a prodigious quantity of flour to London, and the others barley and malt to a considerable amount.
East Ilsley has of late become a sheep market of the first importance, not only to Berkshire but to the neighbouring counties. Not less than 20,000 sheep have sometimes been sold, in one market day; and it is computed that the annual average is not under 250,000, comprising lambs, bogs, wethers, and ewes; but they are chiefly lean sheep.
Newbury has, time out of mind, been justly considered a most excellent corn market, and still retains some customs that would be of great use if they were observed in all other markets. Here the grain is pitched in open market, and offered to the public in small as well as large quantities, and the farmer, let him sell much or little, has his money paid on delivery of the article, verifying the old observation on Newbury market that:
“The farmer may take back
“His money in his sack.”
There are some extensive waste lands in the eastern part of the county, such as MaidenheadThicket, several parts of Windsor Forest, and its neighbourhood. These wastes consist principally of large tracts of barren heath land, amounting in the whole to nearly 30,000 acres. Their improvement must certainly depend in a great measure, on the comparative value of money, and the produce of agriculture.-For it cannot be expected that this improvement should be made to any great extent, unless the value of that produce will evidently afford to the improver a rent which shall sufficiently indemnify him for his expences. We apprehend, however, that these wastes might be more advantageously improved by planting than by their conversion into tillage.
Windsor Forest was formerly of much greater extent than it is at present, including parts of Buckinghamshire, besides the whole of the south-eastern parts of Berkshire as far as Hungerford. The Vale of the Kennet was disforested by charter in 1226. Norden's map of the forest, taken in the year 1607, makes its circuit 77 miles and a half, exclusive of those parts which extended into Buckinghamshire. It was then divided into seventeen walks, including Friennes Bailiwick, within which were situated the parishes of Remenham, Hurley Wargrave, Bray, the two Walthams, Shottesbrook, Hurst, Ruscomb and Binfield. Rocque in his map describes the circuit of the forest to be about 56 miles, including the whole of the parishes of Aborfield, Barkham, Binfield, East Hamsted, Finch-Hamsted, Sandhurst, Sunninghill, Warfield, Winkfield, New and Old Windsor, together with part of the parishes of Bray, Clewer Hurst, Wokingham, Swallowfield and White Waltham. A considerable part of Bagshot Heath is within the forest; the greater part of most of the parishes within its limits are in a state of cultivation.
Windsor Great Park, which reverted to his present majesty on the death of the Duke of Cumberland in the year 1791, has been reduced from 3800 to 1800 acres, 2000 acres having been brought into cultivation. The whole tract formerly abounded with moss, fern, rushes, ant-hills, and swamps; and its scanty produce hardly afforded a sufficient support for 3000 deer. Far different is its present state: the wet parts have been rendered firm and sound by the Essex mode of under ground draining; the rushes weakened and destroyed by draining and rolling; the moss and small hillocks extirpated by harrowing; the large ant-hills cleared by the scarifier; the fern weakened by mowing; the irregular banks levelled; the pits filled up; the vallies opened; the hills ornamented with new plantations, the stiff line of trees, the vestiges of hedge rows judiciously broken: and the park, though now reduced to 1800 acres, supports the same number of deer in much better health and condition. The residue of the park is disposed into two farms, respectively denominated The Norfolk and Flemish Farm.
The Norfolk Farm, consisting of about 1000 acres of a light sandy loam and gravelly soil, is divided into two parts one allotted to sheep walks the other is disposed in arable land, managed in a five course shift of 100 acres in a class, and cropped in the following course: first wheat or rye, second vetches, rye, and potatoes; third, turnips; fourth, barley or oats; fifth, clover.
In order to break up and clear some of the strong land on this farm, which was found difficult and expensive to be done in the common way, an experiment was made, which from the success attending it deserves particular notice. In the early part of the winter it was ploughed to a full depth, with a swing plough whose mould board was so placed as to lay the turf in an inverted position. This was well trodden with cattle and rolled, and the sheep occasionally driven over it. In the spring it was harrowed and cropped with oats, which were no sooner off than the surface was again harrowed and dragged, so as to get as much loose earth as possible without bringing up the turf; early in autumn it was sown with winter vetches, and the beginning of June ploughed cross ways, when the turf turned up quite rotten, and the land was got into a clean state by the first week in July; both turnips and wheat were afterwards sown and succeeded admirably.
By the improvements made upon the land of this farm its value has been encreased at least six times. The folding or penning of sheep upon the fallows has considerably promoted this beneficial result, from 600 to 800 Wiltshire wethers being commonly kept as a folding flock.
In the Transactions of the Society of Arts, Vol. XVII. the following singular mode of folding the sheep, in hard or wet weather, is described by N. Kent, Esq. the superintendant of the agricultural establishment. “A dry sheltered spot is selected; and sodo of maiden earth, a foot deep, are laid over the space of a large fold. It is then bedded thinly with rushes, leaves of trees, fern, moss, short straw or stubble; and the flock, instead of being penned upon the clover in the open fields are put into this warmer fold, when the usual quantity of hay is given to them in racks; and every night they are so penned, the fold is fresh littered. When this has been continued, at intervals, during the winter, a lime-chalk rubble or ashes six inches thick is spread over the whole surface, and when it has heated together the whole is turned up about the month of April, and when mixed, it makes the best manure that can be used for turnips.”
The Flemish Farm contains about 1000 acres, situated at the north extremity of the park, and it was originally proposed to have managed the land according to the system of husbandry pursued in Flanders; the soil, however, being found too strong and cohesive a mode of culture more congenial to its nature was of necessity adopted. The first year after breaking up wheat is sown; second cabbages or clover; third oats; fourth beans. The arable land on this farm comprehends about one third of it.
In addition to its agricultural improvement, the park has had its natural beauty very much encreased by several valuable plantations, which have been made on the higher grounds.
The south and east sides of the county have a large proportion of wood-land appertaining to them. The predominant wood is hazel; sometimes, however, it is mixed with ash, oak, beech, willow, and alder. There are also some few beech woods to be found entire.
There are none of any value as yet discovered in this county. In a small field, called Catsgrove near Reading, there is a stratum of sand, about two feet thick, in which are great quantities of oyster shells; above this is a bed of blue clay, about a yard thick and immediately above this is a siratum of fuller's earth, nearly two feet and a half deep.
Lime-stone is to be found in various parts of the county, especially near Faringdon, in the stratum of which fossil shells, and other marine productions, are to be seen in great abundance.
The remarkable stones called by the country people Sarsden-stones, or the Grty-wethers, which are scattered over the Berkshire and Wiltshire Downs, are of a fine siliceous grit: they are frequently used for pitching, after having been burst in pieces by means of gunpowder, but they are too hard to be worked with the tool.
There is no satisfactory account of the removal of these stones to the situation in which they are found; which evidently does not naturally belong to them.
The appellation of Grey Wethers their appearance at a distance well warrants; being very much like grey sheep lying on the ground.
There is a mineral water at Cumner in this county, which was formerly in much repute, but long since disused.
There is another at Sunninghill, and a strong chalybeate spring, called Gorrick Well, near Luckley House in the parish of Wokingham, and some springs near Windsor of the nature of Epsom waters.
About ten years ago a vein of free-stone was discovered at Hose Hill in the parish of Burghfield, on the south side of the river Kennet it was, however, found to be of too soft a texture to be serviceable. The probability of an under strata of coal being suggested, a shaft was dug to a great depth to ascertain the fact; nothing, however, was discovered worthy of observation but a bed of cockle shells, about twelve feet beneath the surface, one foot in thickness. The shells were firmly concreted with sand.
In digging for gravel upon Mortimer Heath, many bones of elks and moose deer have been found.
Berkshire is divided into twenty hundreds; which contain twelve market towns, 148 parishes, 67 vicarages, and about 670 villages and hamlets. This county is in the diocese of Salisbury, in the Oxford Circuit. It sends nine members to parliament, viz. two for the shire, two for Reading, two for Wallingford, two for New Windsor, and one for Abingdon.
Berkshire is an Archdeaconry, comprising four Deaneries: Abingdon, Newbury, Reading, and Wallingford.— Topography of Great Britain, written: 1802-29 by George Alexander Cooke