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Berkeley, Gloucestershire

Historical Description

Berkeley, a small town and a parish In Gloucestershire. The town stands on a pleasant eminence in the Vale of Berkeley, on the Little Avon river, about 2 miles from the Severn, 7½ NNE of Thornbury, 15 SSW of Gloucester, and 114 from London. It has a station ½ mile from the town on the Midland branch railway, and is about 2¼ miles from the Berkeley Road station on the M.R. It was a place of importance in the times of the Saxons, and figured in Domesday as a royal domain and a free borough. The hundred connected with it, which is one of the largest in the kingdom, was given by William the Conqueror to his follower, Roger de Berkeley; was forfeited by that gentleman's grandson for his adherence to King Stephen; and given by Henry II. to Robert Fitz-Hardinge, governor of Bristol, who assumed the title of Baron de Berkeley. The town consists principally of four streets; contains a town hall with reading-room and library, a market-house, a church, a Congregational and a Wesleyan chapel, a large public school, known as Fitz-Hardinge's school, a cottage hospital, and a police station; has a head post office; and is a seat of petty sessions and a polling place. The church, which was restored in 1866 by Sir Gilbert Scott, is mainly Early English, with some remains of the earlier Norman edifice. It is a spacious structure, consisting of chancel, nave, aisles, north and south porch, and a detached embattled tower 90 feet high (re-erected in 1760). Attached to the chancel is a fine mortuary chapel, erected by the sixth Lord Berkeley in 1450, containing several monuments to the Berkeley family. In the church is an altar-tomb with alabaster effigies of Thomas, third Lord Berkeley, and his wife. There is a beautifully carved stone rood-screen, and the stained east window is in memory of Dr Jenner, who is buried in the chancel. There is a district church at Purton, erected in 1874, an iron church at Breadstone, and mission churches at Newport and Wick. A cemetery at the north end of the town was opened in 1866, and is under the management of a burial board. A market is held on the first Wednesday of every month except May and Dec., and fairs on 14 May and second Monday in Dec. Trade is carried on in coal, timber, and cheese, and is facilitated by the vicinity of the Severn and the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal. Dr Jenner, who introduced the practice of vaccination, was a native. The parish contains also the tithings of Hamfallow, Hinton, Breadstone, Alkington, and Ham, and the chapelry of Stone. Area, 57 acres; population of the civil parish, 890; of the ecclesiastical, 5045. Great portion of the surface is rich dairy land.

Berkeley Castle, close to the SE side of the town, was founded soon after the Conquest by Roger de Berkeley; was enlarged and fortified by Robert Fitz-Hardinge, whose son Maurice married the daughter of Roger, and, with the exception of one period of 60 years, it has remained in the hands of the Fitz-Hardinge family to the present day. It was the scene of the murder of Edward II., and it sustained a siege of nine days in 1645 from the Parliamentarian forces, but was obliged to surrender. It was, however, restored to Lord Berkeley on condition that it was rendered incapable of defence. A small apartment, called King Edward's room, now lit with windows, but then lit only from arrow-slits, is shown as the place where Edward II. was murdered. It is one of the few old baronial castles still inhabited. The outline of the castle is irregular. The entrance is under a massive arch adorned with rich Norman carvings. The most ancient part of the castle is the Keep, which is almost circular in form, with round projecting turrets. Separated from it by a courtyard are the later buildings, surrounding an inner court about 140 yards in circumference. The Hall, erected in the time of Edward III., in the centre of the SE side of the quadrangle, is a noble apartment, 61 feet long, 32 wide, and 32½ high. The Chapel, probably of the same date as the Hall, adjoins it. The state rooms are in the SW side, and contain numerous family portraits, paintings by Lely, Vandyck, da Vinci, Holbein, and others, many trinkets and articles belonging to Queen Elizabeth, and the cabin furniture of Sir Francis Drake. The historical portion of the castle is open to the public on Tuesdays and Fridays. The fourteenth Lord Berkeley was created Earl of Berkeley in 1679, but the title became extinct in 1810. The present title, Baron Fitz-Hardinge, is a creation of 1861. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Gloucester and Bristol, net value, £322 with residence. Patron, Lord Fitz-Hardinge. The vicarage of Stone is a separate charge.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyGloucestershire 
Ecclesiastical parishBerkeley St. Mary 
Poor Law unionThornbury 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records

The parish register dates from the year 1653.

The Gloucestershire Parish Registers are available online at Ancestry, in association with Gloucestershire Archives.


Church of England

St. John, Parton

The district church of St. John, at Parton, is a building of stone in the Early English style, erected in 1874 at a cost of £1,000, and consists of nave with apse, south porch and an open western turret containing one bell: there are 120 sittings.

St. Mary (parish church)

The church of St. Mary is a large and ancient edifice of stone, chiefly of the Decorated period, but with portions of Late Norman and Early English date, consisting of large chancel with Berkeley chapel on the south side, nave of seven bays, aisles, north porch with parvise, and a detached embattled tower, about 90 feet in height, with pinnacles, and containing a clock and 8 bells, two new bells having been added in 19OO: in the chancel is a memorial window to Dr. Edward Jenner F.R.S. the discoverer of vaccination, d. 25 January, 1823, erected by public subscription in 1873, at a cost of £500: and there are others to Sir Maurice Frederick Fitzhardinge Berkeley, 1st Baron Fitzhardinge, d. 17 October, 1867, to Mrs. Woolwright, Mrs. Palairet, James and Elizabeth Croome, Mr. Cooke, the Hon. Elton Vivian Gifford, d. 2 July, 1893, Francis William Fitzhardinge Berkeley, 2nd Baron Fitzhardinge, d. 29 June, 1896, members of the Hickes family, Lady Georgina Fitzhardinge, Col. Browne, to the soldiers belonging to the parish who died in the South African war, and to the Rev. Canon Jonathan Lett Stackhouse M.A. vicar here 1884-1907: in the church is an altar tomb with recumbent effigies, in alabaster, to Thomas, 2nd Baron Berkeley, ob. 1361, and Jane (Ferrers), his wife; on another tomb is an effigy in white marble to James, 6th Baron Berkeley, ob, 1463; and there is a third tomb, with alabaster effigies and inscription, to Sir Henry Berkeley kt. 7th Baron Berkeley, ob, 26 November, 1613, and Catherine (Howard), his wife; there are other memorials to Charles, 2nd Earl of Berkeley K.B. d. 24 September, 1710, and Elizabeth, wife of Sir Thomas Berkeley, ob. 1635: the walls of the church retain a great deal of mural painting, ranging from the 13th to the 15th century, most of which has been renewed; the space above the chancel arch has remains of a "Doom," and other spaces over the splays and sills of the windows are also decorated, chiefly with grotesque patterns in red and black; the reredos of stone, representing the four Evangelists with our Lord in the centre, was erected in 1881 by Lady Fitzhardinge to the memory of her father and mother; there is also a fine stone screen of the 15th century: the font is Norman and dates from about 1120: the church was thoroughly restored and reseated in 1865-6, under the direction of the late Sir G. Gilbert Scott R.A. at a cost of about £5,000, defrayed by the 1st Baron Fitzhardinge and the parishioners; during the progress of the work an inscribed Roman tile and two bases of columns were found; in 1889 the tower was restored at a cost of £100, and in 1908 a further sum of about £500 was expended in strengthening the foundations and re-timbering a portion of the roof: there are sittings for 950 persons.


Congregational Chapel

The Congregational chapel, built in 1836, was restored in 1896 at a cost of over £300, and affords 250 sittings.


Wesleyan Methodist Chapel

The Wesleyan Methodist chapel, built in 1805, and renovated in 1901, will seat 208 persons.

Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Halmore

The Wesleyan Methodist chapel, at Halmore, was built in 1829.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Berkeley from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Gloucestershire is available to browse.


Online maps of Berkeley are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers covering Gloucestershire online:

Villages, Hamlets, &c


Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of the county of Gloucester, 1623 is available on the Heraldry page.

RegionSouth West
Postal districtGL13
Post TownBerkeley