Berkshire

Berkshire

[burk-sheer, -sher; Brit. bahrk-sheer, -sher]
Berkshire or Berks, former county, S central England. Part of the ancient kingdom of Wessex and the birthplace of King Alfred, the county of Berkshire was abolished as an administrative entity in 1998 and divided into the unitary authorities of Bracknell Forest, West Berkshire, Reading, Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead, and Wokingham.

Segment of the Appalachian Mtns., western Massachusetts. Many of its summits exceed 2,000 ft (600 m), including Mount Greylock (3,491 ft, or 1,064 m), the highest point in the state. The wooded hills are a continuation of the Green Mtns. of Vermont; they include the Hoosac and Taconic ranges. Crossed by the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the Berkshires contain state parks and forests and are the home of the Tanglewood summer music festival (in Lenox).

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Geographic county, southern England. It occupies the river valleys of the middle Thames and its tributary, the Kennet, immediately west of London. Settlement of the area dates from the Iron Age, and the Belgic site at Silchester later became a Roman route centre. With the Norman Conquest the Thames valley's strategic importance was recognized, and the first Windsor Castle was built. Windsor and Eton, on Berkshire's eastern boundary, contain the county's most noted structures. With its seat at Reading, it was an administrative county from 1974 to 1998.

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Berkshire (or /ˈbɑːkʃɪə/ say: Baak-shuh/-sheer); sometimes abbreviated to Berks) is a Home County in the South East of England. It is also often referred to as the Royal County of Berkshire because of the presence of the royal residence of Windsor Castle 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 Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Greater London. The county town was Abingdon but is now Reading. There is no county council with the highest tier of local government being the unitary authorities of West Berkshire, Reading, Wokingham, Bracknell Forest, Windsor and Maidenhead and Slough.

History

The county is one of the oldest in England. It may date from the 840s, the probable period of the unification of "Sunningum" (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 Englefield, the Battle of Ashdown and the Battle of Reading. During the English Civil War there were two battles in Newbury. During the Glorious Revolution of 1688, there was a second Battle at Reading, also known as the "Battle of Broad Street".

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 an area known as 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, following the Local Government Act 1972, the northern part of the county became part of Oxfordshire, with Faringdon, Wantage and Abingdon and hinterland becoming the Vale of White Horse district, and Didcot and Wallingford going to form part of the South Oxfordshire district. In return, Berkshire obtained the towns of Slough and Eton and part of the former Eton Rural District from Buckinghamshire. 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.

Economy

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
Notes

  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

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 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 (current) 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.

To the north of the Kennet, the land rises again to the Berkshire Downs. This is a hilly area, with smaller and well-wooded valleys draining into the River Lambourn, River Pang 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.

Sport

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

Demographics

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 (Reading, Slough, Bracknell, Maidenhead, Wokingham, Windsor, Sandhurst, Crowthorne and Twyford being the largest towns) with West Berkshire being much more rural and sparsely populated, with far fewer towns (Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford and Lambourn).

The population has increased massively since 1831; this is largely due to Berkshire's proximity to an expanding London. 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

Politics

Berkshire is a ceremonial county and non-metropolitan county and it is unusual in England in that it is the only such county with multiple districts but no county council. The district councils are unitary authorities but do not have county status.

In the unitary authorities the Conservatives control West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, Wokingham and Bracknell Forest councils, Labour controls Slough and Reading is under no overall control.

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

See also: List of Parliamentary constituencies in Berkshire

Places of interest

See also

References

External links


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