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Berkshire

Royal County of Berkshire
Flag of Berkshire.svg
Flag
Berkshire within England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Constituent country England
Region South East
Established Ancient
Time zone UTC±00:00 (Greenwich Mean Time)
 • Summer (DST) UTC+01:00 (British Summer Time)
Members of Parliament List of MPs
Police Thames Valley Police
Ceremonial county
Lord Lieutenant James Puxley
High Sheriff Mary Riall
Area 1,262 km2 (487 sq mi)
 • Ranked 40th of 48
Population (2005 est.) 812,200
 • Ranked 26th of 48
Density 643/km2 (1,670/sq mi)
Ethnicity 88.7% White
6.8% S. Asian
2.0% Black
Non-metropolitan county
Joint committees Berkshire Local Transport Body
Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service
Admin HQ Reading
ITL UKJ11
Districts
Berkshire numbered districts.svg
Districts of Berkshire
Unitary
Districts
  1. West Berkshire
  2. Reading
  3. Wokingham
  4. Bracknell Forest
  5. Windsor and Maidenhead
  6. Slough

Berkshire ( BARK-shər-,_--sheer; in the 17th century sometimes spelt phonetically as Barkeshire; abbreviated Berks.) is a historic county in South East England. One of the home counties, Berkshire was recognised by Queen Elizabeth II 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, a ceremonial county and a non-metropolitan county without a county council. The county town is Reading.

The River Thames formed the historic northern boundary, from Buscot in the west to Old Windsor in the east. The historic county, therefore, includes territory that is now administered by the Vale of White Horse and parts of South Oxfordshire in Oxfordshire, but excludes Caversham, Slough and five less populous settlements in the east of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. All the changes mentioned, apart from the change to Caversham, took place in 1974. The towns of Abingdon, Didcot, Faringdon, Wallingford and Wantage were transferred to Oxfordshire, the six places joining came from Buckinghamshire. Berkshire County Council was the main local government of most areas from 1889 to 1998 and was based in Reading, the county town which had its own County Borough administration (1888–1974).

Since 1998, Berkshire has been governed by the six unitary authorities of Bracknell Forest, Reading, Slough, West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead and Wokingham. The ceremonial county borders 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). No part of the county is more than 8.5 miles (13.7 km) from the M4 motorway.

History

Windsor Castle at Sunset - Nov 2006
Windsor Castle, viewed from the Long Walk

According to Asser, it takes its name from a large forest of box trees that was called Bearroc (believed to be a Celtic word meaning "hilly").

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.

Geography

VirginiaWater AerialView
Aerial view of Virginia Water Lake on the southern edge of Windsor Great Park

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.

Map of Berkshire 1911
Historic map of Berkshire

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.

Demography

Historical population
Year Pop. ±%
1831 146,234 —    
1841 161,759 +10.6%
1851 170,065 +5.1%
1861 176,256 +3.6%
1871 196,475 +11.5%
1881 218,363 +11.1%
1891 238,709 +9.3%
1901 252,571 +5.8%
1951 404,000 +60.0%
1983 680,000 +68.3%

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, Woodley, Wokingham, Windsor, Earley, Sandhurst, and Crowthorne. West Berkshire is much more rural and sparsely populated, with far fewer towns: the largest are Newbury, Thatcham, and Hungerford.

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 largest immigrant groups in 2011.

Country of Birth Immigrants in Berkshire (2011 Census)
India 23,660
Pakistan 17,590
Poland 16,435
Ireland 7,629
South Africa 6,221
Germany 5,328
Kenya 4,617
China 4,242
Zimbabwe 4,043
United States 3,509

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. 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.

Berkshire districts
District Main towns Population (2007 estimate) Area Population density (2007)
Bracknell Forest Bracknell, Sandhurst 113,696 109.38 km² 1038/km²
Reading Reading 155,300 40.40 km² 3557/km²
Slough Slough 140,200 32.54 km² 3691/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

Towns and villages

See the List of places in Berkshire, List of settlements in Berkshire by population and the List of civil parishes in Berkshire

Places of interest

Key
National Trust Owned by the National Trust
English Heritage Owned by English Heritage
Forestry Commission Owned by the Forestry Commission
Country Park A Country Park
Accessible open space An Accessible open space
Museum (free) Museum (free)
Museum Museum (charges entry fee)
Heritage railway Heritage railway
Historic house Historic House

Economy

This is a chart of trend of regional gross value added of Berkshire at current basic prices published by the 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

Industry

Oracle at Thames Valley Park
The Oracle Corporation campus

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 Huawei Technologies, Agilent Technologies, Audio & Design (Recording) Ltd, Bang & Olufsen, Cisco, Comptel, Ericsson, Harris Corporation, Intel, Nvidia, Rockwell Collins, Sage, SGI, Symantec, Symbol Technologies, Verizon Business, Virgin Media, Websense, Xansa (now Sopra Steria), and Xerox. The financial company ING Direct has its headquarters in Reading, as does the directories company Hibu. 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, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers. The 110-year old charity, Berkshire Vision is also located within Reading city centre.

Aerial View of Slough Trading Estate
Slough Trading Estate plays a major part in making Slough an important business centre in South East England

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, CA Technologies, 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 & Decker, Amazon, HTC, SSE plc 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 & Wireless, Avnet Technology Solutions and Novell. Firms subsequently spread into the surrounding Thames Valley or M4 corridor, attracting IT firms such as Cable & 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 Honda and BMW.

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, EValue, NTS Express Road Haulage, Jokers' Masquerade and Quantel. It also is home to the Newbury Building Society, which operates in the region.

In Compton, a small village, roughly 10 miles from Newbury, a chemical manufacturing company called Carbosynth was founded, in 2006. Since 2019, it has merged with a Swiss company called Biosynth AG to form a key global organisation within the fine chemical industry and operates under name Biosynth Carbosynth®.

London Heathrow Airport, in the neighbouring London Borough of Hillingdon, is a major contributor to the economy of Slough in east Berkshire.

Agricultural produce

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.

Sport

Horse racing

Royal-Ascot18
The grandstand at Ascot Racecourse

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 Ladbrokes Trophy, which is said to be the biggest handicap race of the National Hunt 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'.

Football

Madejski Stadium - geograph.org.uk - 3023491
The Select Car Leasing Stadium in Reading

Reading F.C. is the only Berkshire football club to play professional football. Despite being founded in 1871, 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., Bracknell Town F.C. and Reading City.

Rugby

Reading is a centre for rugby union football. The Premiership team London Irish were for 20 years tenants at the Madejski Stadium before their move back to SW London at a new stadium in Brentford.

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.

Ice hockey

The Bracknell Bees Ice Hockey Club are former national champions, who play in the English Premier League.

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.

Hockey

Slough Hockey Club is home to the Slough Ladies 1XI who play in the Women's Premier League. Slough Hockey club has 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 Swifts (3XI) in MBBO Division 6. 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.

Education

Berkshire is home to the following universities: the University of Reading (which includes the Henley Business School), Imperial College (Silwood Park Campus), and the University of West London. It is also home to The Chartered Institute of Marketing, prestigious independent schools Ludgrove School, Eton College and Wellington College, and several grammar schools including Reading School, Kendrick School and Herschel Grammar School.

Notable people

Catherine Elizabeth Middleton (colorized)
Catherine, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge

Berkshire has many notable people associated with it.

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