Berks or Berkshire (written Barkshire by Leland, and so pronounced in the locality), an inland county within the basin of the Thames. It is bounded on the N by Gloucester, Oxford, and Bucks, from all of which it is separated by the Thames, on the SE by Surrey, on the SW by Herts1, 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 about 48 miles, its greatest breadth about 29 miles, its mean breadth about 14 miles, its circuit about 165 miles, its area 462,224 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 broad 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, farther N, consists of lower greensand. Two belts still farther 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 the low grounds of the Kennet, and in small quantity on some high lands of the Thames, and is extensively burned for its ashes, which form a valuable manure for clover.
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 former 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 were formerly depastured by a native breed called the Notts, but these are now almost superseded by 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 districts, 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.
1. This is an error and should be Hants.
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Archives and Libraries
We have a database containing transcripts of marriage records for some parishes in Berkshire.
For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.
List of Registration Districts in Berkshire from 1837 to 1974.
Directories & Gazetteers
Transcript of the description from Pigot & Co. directory of Berkshire, 1844
The Historical Directories web site have a number of directories relating to Berkshire online for the period 1833-1915, including:
Kelly's, Pigot, Slater, Harrod
A listing of the Hundreds and Liberties in Berkshire, with the parishes contained in them.
Land and Property
The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Berkshire is available to browse.
Old map of Berkshire circa 1848 (Samuel Lewis)
Old map of Berkshire circa 1895 (Gazetteer of England and Wales)
Parishes and places
The towns and parishes have now been moved to a separate page.
The population of Berkshire in 1831 was 146,234; in 1841, 161,759; in 1851, 170,065; in 1861, 176,256; in 1871, 196,475; in 1881, 218,263; in 1891, 238,709; in 1901, 252,571; and in 1911, 271,009.
The Visitations of Berkshire, 1532, 1566, 1623, 1665-66 are available to browse on the Heraldry page