Berkshire (//, abbreviated Berks, in the 17th century sometimes spelled Barkeshire as it is pronounced) is a county in south east England, west of London and is one of the home counties. It was recognised by the Queen as the Royal County of Berkshire in 1957 because of the presence of Windsor Castle, and letters patent were issued in 1974. Berkshire is a county of historic origin and is a home county, a ceremonial county and a non-metropolitan county without a county council.
The historic boundary to the north of Berkshire follows the River Thames, from Buscot to Old Windsor. Therefore, the historic county includes territory that is now administered by the Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire districts of Oxfordshire, but excludes Slough and Eton which are historically in Buckinghamshire. Berkshire County Council was the main local government of the county from 1889 to 1998 and was based in Reading, though the County Borough of Reading was administered separately until 1974. In 1974, the county's administrative boundaries were significantly altered. The traditional county town of Abingdon and the areas around Didcot and Wantage were transferred to Oxfordshire, while Slough was added from Buckinghamshire.
Since 1998, Berkshire has been governed by the six unitary authorities of Bracknell Forest, Reading, Slough, West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead and Wokingham. Berkshire borders the counties of Oxfordshire (to the north), Buckinghamshire (to the north-east), Greater London (to the east), Surrey (to the south-east), Wiltshire (to the west) and Hampshire (to the south).
Berkshire has been the scene of some notable battles through its history. Alfred the Great's campaign against the Danes included the Battles of Englefield, Ashdown and Reading. Newbury was the site of two English Civil War battles: the First Battle of Newbury (at Wash Common) in 1643 and the Second Battle of Newbury (at Speen) in 1644. The nearby Donnington Castle was reduced to a ruin in the aftermath of the second battle. Another Battle of Reading took place on 9 December 1688. It was the only substantial military action in England during the Glorious Revolution and ended in a decisive victory for forces loyal to William of Orange.
Reading became the new county town in 1867, taking over from Abingdon, which remained in the county. Under the Local Government Act 1888, Berkshire County Council took over functions of the Berkshire Quarter Sessions, covering the administrative county of Berkshire, which excluded the county borough of Reading. 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 Oxford area.
On 1 April 1974, Berkshire's boundaries changed under the Local Government Act 1972. Berkshire took over administration of Slough and Eton and part of the former Eton Rural District from Buckinghamshire. The northern part of the county became part of Oxfordshire, with Faringdon, Wantage and Abingdon and their hinterland becoming the Vale of White Horse district, and Didcot and Wallingford added to South Oxfordshire district. 94 (Berkshire Yeomanry) Signal Squadron still keep the Uffington White Horse in their insignia, even though the White Horse is now in Oxfordshire. The original Local Government White Paper would have transferred Henley-on-Thames 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 Water and on the M4 motorway. There are also county signs on the south side of Sonning Bridge on the B478, on the A404 southbound carriageway crossing the river Thames, and heading north on the A33 at the start of the dual carriageway just past Stratfield Saye.
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Berkshire divides into two clearly distinct sections with the boundary lying roughly on a north-south line through the centre of Reading.
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 (Slough and Reading) the county now includes land to the north of the river. Tributaries of the Thames, including the Loddon and Blackwater, increase the amount of low lying riverine land in the area. Beyond the flood plains, the land rises gently to the county boundaries with Surrey and Hampshire. Much of this area is still well wooded, especially around Bracknell and Windsor Great Park.
In the west of the county and heading upstream, the Thames veers away to the north of the county boundary, leaving the county behind at the Goring Gap. 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 Hills (to the north of the river in Oxfordshire) and the Berkshire Downs.
As a consequence, the western portion of the county is situated around the valley of the River Kennet, 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 Hill at 297 m (974 ft), which is also the highest point in South East England region and between London and South Wales.
To the north of the Kennet, the land rises again to the Berkshire Downs. This is hilly area, with smaller and well-wooded valleys, drains into the River Lambourn, River Pang, and their tributaries. The open upland areas famous for their involvement in horse racing and the consequent ever-present training gallops.
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According to 2003 estimates there were 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: the largest towns here are Reading, Slough, Bracknell, Maidenhead, Wokingham, Windsor, Sandhurst, and the villages Crowthorne and Twyford. West Berkshire is much more rural and sparsely populated, with far fewer towns: the largest are Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford and Lambourn. In 1831, there were 146,234 people living in Berkshire; by 1901 the population had risen to 252,571 (of whom 122,807 were male and 129,764 were female).
Below are the 10 largest immigrant groups of Berkshire in 2011.
|Country of Birth||Immigrants in Berkshire (2011 Census)|
Population of Berkshire:
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. The Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire is Mary Selina Bayliss, appointed in May 2008, and the High Sheriff of Berkshire for 2011 is Robert Barclay Woods, CBE.
|Bracknell Forest||Bracknell, Sandhurst||113,696||109.38 km²||1038/km²|
|West Berkshire||Newbury, Thatcham||150,700||704.17 km²||214/km²|
|Windsor and Maidenhead||Windsor, Maidenhead||104,000||198.43 km²||711/km²|
|Wokingham||Wokingham, Twyford||88,600||178.98 km²||875/km²|
|TOTAL Ceremonial||N/A||752,436||1264 km²||643/km²|
Berkshire is a ceremonial county and non-metropolitan county and it is unique in England in that it has no county council, or district council covering its entire area; rather it is divided into several unitary authorities, which do not have county status. It is the only non-metropolitan county to function in such a manner.
In the 2010 general election, Conservative Party candidates were elected in seven of the eight parliamentary constituencies. Slough is the exception; it is represented by a Labour MP. However the 2017 general election saw the Labour party capture a second constituency, Reading East. The Prime Minister, Theresa May represents Maidenhead, near the centre of the county.
|General Election 2010 : Berkshire|
|Conservative||Liberal Democrats||Labour||UKIP||Green||Others||BNP||Christian Party||Monster Raving Loony Party||Turnout|
|Overall Number of seats as of 2010|
|Conservative||Labour||Liberal Democrats||UKIP||Green||Others||BNP||Christian Party||Monster Raving Loony Party|
|Year||Regional Gross Value Added1||Agriculture2||Industry3||Services4|
Reading has a historical involvement in the information technology industry, largely as a result of the early presence in the town of sites of International Computers Limited and Digital. These companies have been swallowed by other groups, but their descendants, Fujitsu and Hewlett-Packard respectively, still have local operations. More recently Microsoft and Oracle have established multi-building campuses on the outskirts of Reading. Other technology companies with a presence in the town include Agilent Technologies, Audio & Design (Recording) Ltd, Bang & Olufsen, Cisco, Comptel, Pulsant Limited, Ericsson, Harris Corporation, Intel, Nvidia, Rockwell Collins, Sage, Sagem Orga, SGI, Symantec, Symbol Technologies, Verizon Business, Virgin Media, Websense, Xansa (now Steria), and Xerox. The financial company ING Direct has its headquarters in Reading, as does the directories company Yell Group and the natural gas major BG Group. The insurance company Prudential has an administration centre in the town. PepsiCo and Holiday Inn have offices. As with most major cities, Reading also has offices of the Big Four accounting firms Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst and Young, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The global headquarters of Reckitt Benckiser and the UK headquarters of Mars, Incorporated are based in Slough. The European head offices of major IT companies BlackBerry, Network Associates, Computer Associates, PictureTel and Compusys are in the town. O2 has headquarters in four buildings. The town is home to the National Foundation for Educational Research, which is housed in The Mere. Other major brands with offices in the town include Nintendo, Black and Decker, Amazon.co.uk, Honda, HTC, Scottish and Southern Energy and Abbey Business Centres. Dulux paints are still manufactured in Slough by AkzoNobel, which bought Imperial Chemical Industries in 2008.
Bracknell is a base for high-tech industries, with the presence of companies such as Panasonic, Fujitsu (formerly ICL) and Fujitsu-Siemens Computers, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Siemens (originally Nixdorf), Honeywell, Cable and Wireless, Avnet Technology Solutions and Novell. Firms subsequently spread into the surrounding Thames Valley or M4 corridor, attracting IT firms such as Cable and Wireless, DEC (subsequently Hewlett-Packard), Microsoft, Sharp Telecommunications, Oracle Corporation, Sun Microsystems and Cognos. Bracknell is also home to the central Waitrose distribution centre and head office, which is on a 70-acre (280,000 m2) site on the Southern Industrial Estate. Waitrose has operated from the town since the 1970s. The town is also home to the UK headquarters of BMW Group.
Newbury is home to the world headquarters of the mobile network operator Vodafone, which is the town's largest employer with over 6,000 people. Before moving to their £129 million headquarters in the outskirts of the town in 2002, Vodafone used 64 buildings spread across the town centre. As well as Vodafone, Newbury is also home to National Instruments, Micro Focus, NTS Express Road Haulage, Jokers' Masquerade, Newbury Parcels and Quantel. It also is home to the Newbury Building Society, which operates in the region.
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Abingdon Abbey once had dairy-based granges in the south-east of the county, Red Windsor Cheese was developed with red marbling. Some Berkshire cheeses are Wigmore, Waterloo and Spenwood (named after Spencers Wood) in Riseley; and Barkham Blue, Barkham Chase and Loddon Blewe at Barkham.
Berkshire hosts more Group 1 flat horse races than any other county. Ascot Racecourse is used for thoroughbred horse racing. It is one of the leading racecourses in the United Kingdom, hosting 13 of the UK's 35 annual Group 1 races. The course is closely associated with the British Royal Family, being approximately 6 miles (10 km) from Windsor Castle, and owned by the Crown Estate.
Ascot today stages twenty-five days of racing over the course of the year, comprising sixteen Flat meetings held between May and October. The Royal Meeting, held in June, remains a major draw; the highlight is the Ascot Gold Cup. The most prestigious race is the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes run in July.
Newbury Racecourse is in the civil parish of Greenham, adjoining the town of Newbury. It has courses for flat races and over jumps. It hosts one of Great Britain's 32 Group 1 races, the Lockinge Stakes. It also hosts the Hennessy Gold Cup, which is said to be the biggest handicap race of the season apart from the Grand National.
Windsor Racecourse, also known as Royal Windsor Racecourse is a thoroughbred horse racing venue located in Windsor. It is one of only two figure-of-eight courses in the United Kingdom. (The other is at Fontwell Park). It abandoned National Hunt jump racing in December 1998, switching entirely to Flat racing.
Lambourn also has a rich history in horse racing, the well drained, spongy grass, open downs and long flats make the Lambourn Downs ideal for training racehorses. This area of West Berkshire is the largest centre of racehorse training in the UK after Newmarket, and is known as the 'Valley of the Racecourse'.
Reading F.C. is the only Berkshire football club to play professional football. The club did not join the Football League until 1920, and first played in the top tier of English football in the 2006–07 season.
Newbury was home to A.F.C. Newbury, which was for a period one of only two football clubs to be sponsored by Vodafone (the other being Manchester United). In May 2006 Vodafone ended its sponsorship of the club, following which the club collapsed. A local pub team from the Old London Apprentice took over the ground temporarily and now compete in the Hellenic Football League as Newbury F.C.
There are several amateur and semi-professional football clubs in the county. These include Maidenhead United, Slough Town, Thatcham Town, Ascot United, A.F.C. Aldermaston, Sandhurst Town, Windsor F.C., Wokingham & Emmbrook F.C. and Bracknell Town F.C.
Newbury's rugby union club, Newbury R.F.C. (the Newbury 'Blues'), is based in the town. In the 2004–05 season, the club finished second in the National Two division earning promotion to National One. Newbury had previously won National Four South (now renamed as National Three South) in 1996–97 with a 100% win record. In 2010–11 the club finished bottom of National League 2S, with a single win and twenty-nine defeats. The club was founded in 1928 and in 1996 moved to a new purpose-built ground at Monks Lane, which has since hosted England U21 fixtures.
Slough Jets also play in the English Premier League winning the title in 2007. Slough Jets also won the play-offs in 2005–06, 2007–08, 2009–10 & 2011–12. they have finished in the top 4 in the last 9 seasons. They also won the EPIH Cup in 2010–11. Slough Jets have been in the EPIHL since 1999.
Slough Hockey Club is home to the Slough Ladies 1XI who play in the Women's Premier League. Slough Hockey club have 5 adult teams; the Ladies 1XI play in the top tier of English Hockey, the Ladies 2XI play in the TrySports League, the Men's 1XI play in MBBO Regional 1, the Men's 2XI play in MBBO Division 3 & the Men's 3XI in the Thames Valley Conference. There are other hockey teams in the county: Reading Hockey Club, Sonning Hockey Club, Wokingham Hockey Club, Maidenhead Hockey Club, Bracknell Hockey Club, Windsor Hockey Club, Newbury & Thatcham Hockey Club and Reading University Hockey Club.
Berkshire is home to the following universities: the University of Reading (which includes the Henley Business School), Imperial College (Silwood Park Campus), and University of West London. It is also home to prestigious independent schools Ludgrove School, Eton College and Wellington College, and several grammar schools including Reading School, Kendrick School and Herschel Grammar School.
Berkshire has many notable people associated with it.
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In Berkshire, although the county council will be abolished, the county area will remain. Along with its lord lieutenant, it will retain its high sheriff and its title as a royal county.
Map credited to George Philip & Son, Ltd.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Berkshire.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Berkshire.|