Berkshire

“Berkshire, an inland county of England, on the south bank of the River Thames, having Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire on the north, Hampshire on the south, Surrey on the south-east, and Wiltshire on the west. Berkshire is irregular in shape, with an extreme length of 43 miles from east to west, and an extreme breadth of 30 miles from north to south, and an area of 462,210 acres. There is a chalk ridge running through the county, joining the Chiltern Hills and the Marlborough Downs…” (From Cassell’s Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland, 1899).

For local government purposes, the modern county of Berkshire comprises the six unitary authorities of West Berkshire, Reading, Wokingham, Bracknell Forest, Windsor & Maidenhead and Slough. Together, these comprise the ceremonial county of Berkshire. The traditional county was larger, as it included the part of the modern county of Oxfordshire south of the river Thames, with the Vale of the White Horse and towns such as Wantage, Abingdon, Wallingford and Didcot. The northern boundary of the county followed, for the most part, the river Thames, and therefore Slough and adjacent areas north of the river Thames were in Buckinghamshire. The southern boundary ran in largely an east to west line, and therefore the county’s shape was defined to a large extent by the line of the Thames, which was further north in the west, turning southeastwards around Oxford, with another, smaller, northward loop between Reading and Windsor. The western portion of the county was therefore larger than the eastern part, joined by a narrow neck of land at Reading only about 8 miles wide.

Berkshire was, and still is, predominantly an agricultural and wealthy county, with twelve small market towns, smaller villages and many isolated farms and country seats. It is known as the Royal County of Berkshire, largely due to the town of Windsor and its castle, with its long association with the British and English royal family. In addition, Berkshire had extensive forests that were used for the sport of Saxon and Norman kings.

To assist with the collection of taxes, and general administration, counties were divided into “hundreds”, so called because they were supposed to contain approximately 100 “hides” (a unit of taxable value rather than area). At the time of the Domesday Book (1086), Berkshire was divided into 22 hundreds, however these have changed over time and underwent wholesale reorganisation in the 12th and 13th centuries. Of the Domesday hundreds, 13 retained their identity: Beynhurst, Bray, Charlton, Kintbury, Eagle (the last two were joined togther to form one larger hundred), Ganfield, Hormer, Lambourn, Compton, Reading, Ripplesmere, Shrivenham and Wantage. The other 9 were amalgamated: Hillslow and Wyfold with Shrivenham; Bucklebury, Rowbury and Thatcham into a single hundred named Faircross; Blewbury and Slotisford into Moreton; Marcham and Sutton into Ock. Three of the Domesday hundreds were also subdivided in the late 12th/early 13th century: Cookham, Sonning and Theale were separated from Beynhurst, Charlton and Reading respectively to become separate hundreds. This map shows the hundreds of Berkshire as they were in around the mid-1800s.

The Hundreds of Berkshire, mid-19th C. (Click on the image to see full-sized version).
The Hundreds of Berkshire, mid-19th C.

Each hundred comprised manors and landholdings that eventually formed into villages, townships and parishes. The map below shows the parishes of Berkshire, coloured according to hundreds.

The parishes of Berkshire, mid-19th C.

Click the images for a full-sized version.