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Berkshire ( or ; abbreviated Berks) is a county in the South East of Englandmarker. It is also often referred to as the Royal County of Berkshire because of the presence of the royal residence of Windsor Castlemarker in the county; this usage, which dates to the 19th century at least, was recognised by the Queen in 1958, and Letters patent issued confirming this in 1974.

Berkshire borders the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Surreymarker, Wiltshiremarker and Hampshire, and is usually regarded as one of the home counties. Under boundary changes in 1995, it also acquired a boundary with Greater Londonmarker.

Historically the county town was Abingdonmarker, but in 1867 the town of Readingmarker - by then much larger - superseded Abingdon in this role. In 1974 local government reorganisation moved Abingdon and several other north-west Berkshire towns into Oxfordshire. A later reorganisation, in 1998, abolished Berkshire County Council, although retaining Berkshire as a ceremonial county. The highest tier of local government in Berkshire are now the unitary authorities of Bracknell Forestmarker, Readingmarker, Slough, West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenheadmarker and Wokingham.


The county is one of the oldest in England. It may date from the 840s, the probable period of the unification of "Sunningummarker" (East Berkshire) and "Ashdown" (the Berkshire Downs, probably including the Kennet Valley). The county is first mentioned by name in 860. According to Asser, it takes its name from a large forest of box trees that was called Bearroc (believed, in turn, to be a Celtic word meaning "hilly").

Berkshire has been the scene of many battles throughout history, during Alfred the Great's campaign against the Danes, including the Battle of Englefieldmarker, the Battle of Ashdownmarker and the Battle of Readingmarker. During the English Civil War there were two battles in Newburymarker. During the Glorious Revolution of 1688, there was a second Battle at Readingmarker, also known as the "Battle of Broad Street".

Readingmarker became the new county town in 1867, taking over from Abingdonmarker which remained in the county. Under the Local Government Act 1888, Berkshire County Council took over functions of the Berkshire Quarter Sessions, covering an area known as the administrative county of Berkshire, which excluded the county borough of Readingmarker. Boundary alterations in the early part of the 20th century were minor, with Caversham from Oxfordshire becoming part of the Reading county borough, and cessions in the Oxfordmarker area.

On 1 April 1974, following the Local Government Act 1972, the northern part of the county became part of Oxfordshire, with Faringdonmarker, Wantagemarker and Abingdonmarker and hinterland becoming the Vale of White Horsemarker district, and Didcotmarker and Wallingfordmarker going to form part of the South Oxfordshiremarker district. The Berkshire Yeomanry (94 Signal Squadron) still keep the Uffington White Horsemarker as their symbol above the motto Berkshire, even though the White Horse is now in Oxfordshire. Berkshire obtained the towns of Sloughmarker and Etonmarker and part of the former Eton Rural Districtmarker from Buckinghamshire. The original Local Government White Paper would have transferred Henley-on-Thamesmarker from Oxfordshire to Berkshire: this proposal did not make it into the Bill as introduced.

On 1 April 1998 Berkshire County Council was abolished under a recommendation of the Banham Commission, and the districts became unitary authorities. Unlike similar reforms elsewhere at the same time, the non-metropolitan county was not abolished. Signs saying "Welcome to the Royal County of Berkshire" have all but disappeared but may still be seen on the borders of West Berkshire District, on the east side of Virginia Watermarker, and on the M4 motorway.


This is a chart of trend of regional gross value added of Berkshire at current basic prices published (pp.240–253) by Office for National Statistics with figures in millions of British pounds sterling.
Year Regional Gross Value Added1 Agriculture2 Industry3 Services4
1995 10,997 53 2,689 8,255
2000 18,412 40 3,511 14,861
2003 21,119 48 3,666 17,406

  1. Components may not sum to totals due to rounding
  2. Includes hunting and forestry
  3. Includes energy and construction
  4. Includes financial intermediation services indirectly measured

Agricultural produce

A number of distinctive cheeses are produced in Berkshire, including Wigmore, Barkham Blue and Waterloo cheeses.

Geology, landscape and ecology

From a landscape perspective, Berkshire divides into two clearly distinct sections with the boundary lying roughly on a north-south line through the centre of Readingmarker.

The eastern section of Berkshire lies largely to the south of the River Thames, with that river forming the northern boundary of the county. In two places (Sloughmarker and Reading) the county now includes land to the north of the river. Tributaries of the Thames, including the Loddon and Blackwatermarker increase the amount of low lying riverine land in the area. Beyond the flood plains, the land rises gently to the county boundaries with Surreymarker and Hampshire. Much of this area is still well wooded, especially around Bracknellmarker and Windsor Great Parkmarker.

In the west of the county and heading upstream, the Thames veers away to the north of the (current) county boundary, leaving the county behind at the Goring Gapmarker. This is a narrow part of the otherwise quite broad river valley where, at the end of the last Ice Age, the Thames forced its way between the Chiltern Hillsmarker (to the north of the river in Oxfordshire) and the Berkshire Downsmarker.

As a consequence, the western portion of the county is situated around the valley of the River Kennetmarker, which joins the Thames in Reading. Fairly steep slopes on each side delineate the river's flat floodplain. To the south, the land rises steeply to the nearby county boundary with Hampshire, and the highest parts of the county lie here. The highest of these is Walbury Hillmarker at 297 m (974 ft), which is also the highest point in South East England.

To the north of the Kennet, the land rises again to the Berkshire Downsmarker. This is a hilly area, with smaller and well-wooded valleys draining into the River Lambournmarker, River Pangmarker and their tributaries, and open upland areas famous for their involvement in horse racing and the consequent ever-present training gallops.

As part of a 2002 marketing campaign, the plant conservation charity Plantlife chose the Summer Snowflake as the county flower.


One football club from the county plays professional football, Reading, who were formed in 1871.

The London Irish rugby club also ground-share with Reading FC at Madjeski Stadium.


According to 2003 estimates there are 803,657 people in Berkshire, or 636 people/km². The population is mostly based in the urban areas to the east and centre of the county (Readingmarker, Sloughmarker, Bracknellmarker, Maidenheadmarker, Wokinghammarker, Windsormarker, Sandhurstmarker, Crowthornemarker and Twyfordmarker being the largest towns) with West Berkshire being much more rural and sparsely populated, with far fewer towns (Newburymarker, Thatchammarker, Hungerfordmarker and Lambournmarker).

The population has increased massively since 1831; this is largely due to Berkshire's proximity to an expanding Londonmarker . In 1831, there were 146,234 people living in Berkshire; by 1901 the population had risen to 252,571 (of which 122,807 were male and 129,764 were female).

Population of Berkshire:
  • 1831: 146,234
  • 1841: 161,759
  • 1851: 170,065
  • 1861: 176,256
  • 1871: 196,475
  • 1881: 218,363
  • 1891: 238,709
  • 1901: 252,571

Ceremonial County

The ceremonial county of Berkshire consists of the area controlled by the six unitary authorities, each of which is independent of the rest. Berkshire has no county council. The ceremonial county has a Lord Lieutenant and a High Sheriff. Currently the Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire is Mary Bayliss and the High Sheriff of Berkshire is Dr Christina Bernadette Thérèse Hill Williams.

Berkshire districts
District Main towns Population (2007 estimate) Area Population density (2007)
Bracknell Forestmarker Bracknellmarker, Sandhurstmarker 113,500 109.38 km² 1038/km²
Readingmarker Reading 143,700 40.40 km² 3557/km²
Sloughmarker Slough 120,100 32.54 km² 3691/km²
West Berkshire Newburymarker, Thatchammarker 150,700 704.17 km² 214/km²
Windsor and Maidenheadmarker Windsormarker, Maidenheadmarker 141,000 198.43 km² 711/km²
Wokingham Wokinghammarker, Twyfordmarker 156,600 178.98 km² 875/km²
TOTAL Ceremonial N/A 825,600 1262 km² 643/km²

Population figures for 2007 estimates [10176].See List of English districts by population for a full list of every English district.


Berkshire is a ceremonial county and non-metropolitan county and it is unusual in England in that it has no county council as its entire area is divided into several unitary authorities, which do not have county status. It was the only county to function in such a manner until the English local government reforms of 2009, where it was joined by Bedfordshire and Cheshiremarker.

In the unitary authorities the Conservatives control West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenheadmarker, Wokingham and Bracknell Forestmarker councils, Labour controls Sloughmarker and Readingmarker is under no overall control.

Since the 2005 general election, the Conservative Party dominates, controlling six out of eight constituencies. Sloughmarker and Reading Westmarker are both represented by the Labour Party.

See also: List of Parliamentary constituencies in Berkshire

Places of interest

See also


External links

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