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Transcript from Pigot & Co.'s Directory of Berkshire, 1844.


THIS is an inland county, of very irregular form : in circumference, according to Roque’s mensuration, it is two hundred and seven miles; but it must be presumed that this survey takes the extreme of all the promontories, and enters into all the devious curves and windings which characterise its external figure–for other surveyors have stated its circumference to be only about one hundred and twenty miles. Its greatest length, from Old Windsor to the county cross, is forty-two miles; its extreme breadth, from Witham, near Oxford, to the borders of Hampshire, south of Newbury, about twenty-eight miles; and its narrowest, from the Thames near Reading across to the border of Hampshire, in a direct south line, only seven miles: its area comrises 756 square miles, or 483,840 statute acres. Berkshire is bounded on the north by the counties of Oxford and Buckingham, from which it is separated by the Thames; on the east by Surrey, on the south by Hampshire, and on the west by Wilts. Berks ranks as the thirty-first English county in size, and in population as the thirty-second.

NAME, ANCIENT HISTORY, &c.–According to Camden the ancient inhabitants of this county applied to it the name of Bercheria. By the Saxons it was called Beroc-scyre,which appellation Asser Menevensis, an old English historian, derives from Barroc, a certain wood, where grew plenty of box: ‘it is more probable, however,’ observes another etymologist, ‘that it may have been derived from the quantity of birch wood produced in the county in former ages, the soil in general being more adapted to the growth of that wood than any other.’ In the reign of Alfred it was called Berocshire. The ancient inhabitants of a great part of this county were the Attrebattii or Attrebates, who are supposed to have immigrated from Gaul; the south-eastern part was inhabited by a people called the Bibrocii or Rhemii, and a small portion of it next Hampshire by the Segonticæ. Under the division of Britain by the Roman Emporer Constantine, the modern Berkshire was included in the Britannia Prima; and during the Saxon heptarchy it formed a part of the kingdom of Wessex, or West Saxons. During the ninth century there were frequent combats in this county between the Danes and the Saxons; in 878 Alfred gained a decisive victory over the former at Eddington; but in 1006 the Saxons sustained a great defeat near the river Kennet, after the county had been miserably devastated by the Danish ravagers. Wallingford Castle was the Empress Matilda’s strongest bulwark during her struggle with Stephen, and baffled all his efforts to reduce it; the final amicable treaty between the parties was concluded under its walls. Berkshire participated with most other counties in the calamities inflicted by the contest between Charles and the parliament: Wallingford was garrisoned by the king, and Windsor by the parliament; and each maintained its relative position till the termination of the struggle. Abingdon was attacked by Sir Stephen Hawkins in 1645, and by Prince Rupert in 1646, each time without success; Cromwell, after having been repulsed at Faringdon, captured Sir William Vaughan and Colonel Littleton, with two hundred of the royal troops, at Radcutt Bridge. The finale of this momentous contest was now at hand–Wallingford and Faringdon surrendered to the victorious forces of the parliament, and the vanquished monarch spent his last mournful Christmas a captive in Windsor Castle. The most singular and striking antiquity in Berkshire is the figure of the White Horse, cut on the side of White Horse Hill, near Lambourn, in the notice of which town it is more particularly referred to. Within the county are many fine specimens of Saxon, Norman and early English architecture. The collegiate church of Wallingford is a fine relic: so is that of the Benedictine monastery at Hurley. The venerable and magnificent royal chapel of St. George, at Windsor, is described in the notice of that town.

SOIL, PRODUCE and CLIMATE.– By a survey made in 1806, the appropriation of land in this county was as follows : land under corn agriculture, about 250,000 acres; meadows and dairy land, 75,000; sheep walks and barren heaths, 55,000; and pasture parks &c., 20,000. The natural divisions of Berkshire are four, namely, the Forest district; the Vale of the Kennet; a vale lying between Budcot and Streatley; and the Chalk Hills, which stretch nearly across the upper part of the county. The first-named division commences at the eastern extremity of the shire, and extends westward to the river Loddon–and from Sandhurst, on the south, to Maidenhead on the north; Kennet Vale stretches from near Wargrave, on the east, to Hungerford on the west. The substrata of these districts consist of chalk or gravel, with portions of clay, at greater or less depths according to the quality of the soil. Stones of fine silicious grit, commonly called ‘Sarsden stones,’ or the ‘grey weathers,’ are scattered over the Berkshire downs, and are found on strata to which they do not naturally belong. The crops commonly produced are those of wheat, barley, oats, beans, peas, rye, buck-wheat, vetches, cole-seed, turnips and potatoes; those not so generally cultivated are cabbages, carrots, hops, woad, flax, dill and lavender. The artificial grasses are Dutch clover, rye grass, marl grass, trefoils (both hop and heart), burnet, lucerne, saintfoin and corn spurry. Close to the Thames, in the northern part of the county, is a fertile line of meadow, from which the land rises gently towards a range of moderately elevated hills, extending from the neighbourhood of Oxford to the town of Faringdon–the hills being good corn land; to the south is the remarkably fertile vale of Berks, the prevailing soil of which is a strong grey calcareous loam; the greater portion of the southern district of the county consists of a gravelly loam. From Hungerford to Reading is a bed of peat, through which the river Kennet takes its course; and near Hungerford, south of the Kennet, commences a tract of poor gravel and clay. The weight of hay cut from the meadows contiguous to the river Kennet, from Hungerford to Reading, is considerable. The quantity of peat dug in the neighbourhood of Newbury, and other quarters, is very great, and employs many of the labouring class. Numerous herds of neat cattle are grazed in this county; and the sheep, vast numbers of which are reared, are large and handsome. Swine and poultry are extremely profitable to the farmer of Berkshire, from its proximity to the metropolis. The CLIMATE is remarkably healthful, the air pure, and no endemical disease is known to prevail in the county. The scenery on the eastern border of the shire is strikingly beautiful. To the lovers of the picturesque the environs of Windsor Forest will be as rich a treat as England can furnish.

MANUFACTURES and TRADE.–The manufactures of Berkshire are very limited; and its prosperity principally depends upon the export and import of commodities by means of the Thames, an excellent general retail trade, and its agricultural and horticultural produce, joined to the rearing of all kinds of farming stock to a great extent and profit. The malting trade is very extensive in several towns, especially at Reading, where likewise are manufactured, to a limited amount, pins, with ribbons and other silk goods, sacking, &c. Newbury, formerly eminent for the production of woolen cloths, has become, since the decline and extinction of that branch of business, the great corn mart of the county. In abingdon the manufacture of sacking is carried on with some degree of success. Considerable business is done upon the banks of the Thames in timber; and the annual transit to London of corn, flour, and other home produce, is very great. There are several extensive breweries in different parts of the county–at Windsor particularly, which has long been famed for its ale.

RIVERS and MINERAL SPRINGS, CANALS and RAILWAYS.–The principal rivers of Berkshire are the Thames, the Kennet, the Loddon, the Ock, the Lambourn and the Enborne. The first of all the British streams, the Thames, enters the county at its north-western extremity, and from thence is navigable throughout the remainder of its delightful and circuitous course. The Kennet enters at Hungerford, and, flowing through Reading, unites its waters with the Thames. The Loddon enters at Swallowfield, and falls into the Thames near Wingrave. The Ock has its source near Faringdon, and is lost in the Thames near Abingdon. The Lambourn rises near the town of that name, and falls into the Kennet near Shaw. The Enborne or Enburn first appears near Inkpen, and joins the Kennet at Walsing. The only MINERAL SPRINGS in the county, that have attracted attention, are those at Sunninghill and Cumner: the first is a chalybeate, not powerful–the other a mild cathartic. In the parish of Oakingham is Gorrick Well, a spring of strong chalybeate properties; and near Windsor are springs partaking of the quality of the Epsom waters. The CANALS are the Wilts and Berks canal, which enters the county at Hackson Bridge; and the Kennet and Avon, which enters at Hungerford, and runs parallel with the Kennet river to Newbury. The Great Western Railway enters this county a short distance to the south of Maidenhead–passes through Reading–and, after crossing the Thames twice between the parishes of Basseldon and Cholsey, pursues its course to within three miles of Wallingford, rather more than that distance from Wantage, and nearly six from Faringdon–when, after crossing the Wilts and Berks canal at two several places, it leaves the county on its western border, near the parish of Shrivenham.

ECCLESIASTICAL, and CIVIL DIVISIONS, and REPRESENTATION–Berkshire is in the province of Canterbury and diocess of Salisbury; is within the Oxford Circuit of the Judges, and divided into twenty hundreds, containing one hundred and forty-seven parishes–seventy-one of which are rectories, sixty-four vicarages, and twelve perpetual curacies. The borough towns are Abingdon , Reading, Wallingford and Windsor: these, with Faringdon, Hungerford, East Ilsley, Lambourn, Maidenhead, Newbury, Oakingham and Wantage, are market towns–Reading being the county town. The Reform Bill, while it deprived the borough of Wallingford of one of its members, added one for the county–so that the number for the shire (nine) remains the same. The polling stations at the county elections are Abingdon, East Ilsley, Great Faringdon, Maidenhead, Newbury, Oakingham, Reading and Wantage. The members elected to sit for the county, at the general election in 1841, were Viscount Barrington; Robert Palmer, Esq., and Philip Pusey, Esq.

POPULATION, &c.–By the census for 1831, Berkshire contained 72 453 males, and 72,836 females–total, 145,289; in 1841, 79,674 males, and 80,552 females–total, 160,226: being an increase, since 1831, of 14,937, and, from the census of 1801 to that of 1841, the augmentation amounted to 51,011 persons. The annual value of Real Property in this county, as assessed April, 1815, amounted to £643,781.

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