Berks arms.gif
County Council Coat of Arms 1947 – 1974[1] [2]
Berkshire within England
Shown within England
Status Non-metropolitan and
Ceremonial county
Origin Historic
Region South East England
- Total
Ranked 40th
1,262 km2 (487 sq mi)
ISO 3166-2 Consists of GB-BRC, GB-RDG, GB-SLG, GB-WBK, GB-WNM, GB-WOK
ONS code Formerly 10
- Total (2005)
- Density
Ranked 26th
643 /km2 (1,670 /sq mi)
Ethnicity 88.7% White
6.8% S.Asian
2.0% Black.
No county council
Members of Parliament
  1. West Berkshire (Unitary)
  2. Reading (Unitary)
  3. Wokingham (Unitary)
  4. Bracknell Forest (Unitary)
  5. Windsor and Maidenhead (Unitary)
  6. Slough (Unitary)

Berkshire (play /ˈbɑrkʃər/ or /ˈbɑrkʃɪər/, abbreviated Berks) is a historic county in the South 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 1957, and letters patent issued confirming this in 1974.[3][4]

Berkshire borders the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Wiltshire and Hampshire, and is usually regarded as one of the home counties. Under boundary changes in 1995, it also acquired a boundary with Greater London.[5]

Historically the county town was Abingdon, but in 1867 the town of Reading – by then much larger – superseded Abingdon in this role.[6] In 1974 local government reorganisation moved Abingdon and several other northwest Berkshire towns (including Didcot and Wantage) into Oxfordshire.[7] A later reorganisation, in 1998, abolished Berkshire County Council, although retaining Berkshire as a ceremonial county.[8] The highest tier of local government in Berkshire are now the unitary authorities of Bracknell Forest, Reading, Slough, West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead and Wokingham.



Windsor Castle, viewed from the Long Walk

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").[9]

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. Newbury was the site of two 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. The Battle at Reading took place on 9 December 1688 in Reading. 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. It was celebrated in Reading for hundreds of years afterwards.

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 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.[7] 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 added to South Oxfordshire district.[7] 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.[citation needed]

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.[8][10] 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.


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

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.

View from Combe Gibbet, looking north over the Kennet Valley

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 (a.k.a. the 'Loddon Lily') as the county flower.


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[citation needed]. 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. The Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire is Mary Selina Bayliss, appointed in May 2008[11] and the High Sheriff of Berkshire for the year 2011 is Robert Barclay Woods CBE.[12]

Berkshire districts
District Main towns Population (2007 estimate) Area Population density (2007)
Bracknell Forest Bracknell, Sandhurst 113,500 109.38 km² 1038/km²
Reading Reading 143,700 40.40 km² 3557/km²
Slough Slough 120,100 32.54 km² 3691/km²
West Berkshire Newbury, Thatcham 150,700 704.17 km² 214/km²
Windsor and Maidenhead Windsor, Maidenhead 141,000 198.43 km² 711/km²
Wokingham Wokingham, Twyford 156,600 178.98 km² 875/km²
TOTAL Ceremonial N/A 825,600 1262 km² 643/km²

Population figures for 2007 estimates [1]. 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 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 unitary authorities the Conservatives control West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, Wokingham and Bracknell Forest councils.Labour controls Slough.

In the 2010 general election, Conservative Party candidates were elected in seven of the eight parliamentary constituencies. Slough is the exception, being represented by a Labour MP.


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


The Oracle Corporation campus

Reading has a significant 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. Whilst both these companies have been swallowed by other groups, their respective descendents in Fujitsu and Hewlett-Packard both still have local operations. More recently Microsoft and Oracle have established multi-building campuses in the borough. Other technology companies with a significant presence in the town include Agilent Technologies, Assuria, Audio & Design (Recording) Ltd, Bang & Olufsen, Cisco, Comptel, DediPower Managed Hosting, 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, whilst PepsiCo and Holiday Inn have offices. As with most major cities, Reading also has offices of the big 4 accounting firms Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst and Young, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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. One of the Mars factories has been redeveloped and some production moved to the Czech Republic. The European head offices of major IT companies such as Research In Motion, Network Associates, Computer Associates, PictureTel and Compusys (amongst others) are all in the town. O2 is headquartered here across four buildings. The town is also home to the National Foundation for Educational Research, which is housed in The Mere. Recent major brands include Nintendo, Black and Decker, and Abbey Business Centres.[13] Dulux paints are still manufactured in Slough by AkzoNobel which bought Imperial Chemical Industries in 2008.

Bracknell is another base for high-tech industries, home to 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. Its success 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.[14]

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.[15] As well as Vodafone, Newbury is also home to the UK headquarters of the pharmaceutical company Bayer AG, 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.

Agricultural produce

Berkshire has a number of traditional dairy farming areas and has been famous of its cheese production for centuries. Abingdon Abbey once had many dairy-based granges in the Vale of the White Horse (now Oxfordshire) and in the south-east of the county, Red Windsor Cheese was developed with elderberry marbling. Today, a number of distinctive cheeses are exclusively produced in Berkshire, including Wigmore, Waterloo and Spenwood (named after Spencers Wood) cheeses from the Wigmore family at Village Maid Cheese in Riseley [2] (adjoining the Duke of Wellington's estate); and Barkham Blue, Barkham Chase and Loddon Blewe from Two Hoots Cheese at Barkham. [3]


Horse racing

The new grandstand at Royal Ascot

Ascot Racecourse is used for thoroughbred horse racing. It is one of the leading racecourses in the United Kingdom, hosting 9 of the UK's 32 annual Group 1 races, the same number as Newmarket. The course is closely associated with the British Royal Family, being approximately six miles from Windsor Castle, and owned by the Crown Estate.[16]

Ascot today stages twenty-five days of racing over the course of the year, comprising sixteen Flat meetings held in the months of May and October. The Royal Meeting, held in June, remains a major draw, the highlight being the Ascot Gold Cup. The most prestigious race is the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes run over the course in July.

Newbury Racecourse 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 31 Group 1 flat races, the Lockinge Stakes.

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 being 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.


Reading Football Club is the only Berkshire football club to play professional football. Formed in 1871, the club is one of the oldest teams in England, but 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 Association Football Club 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,[17] 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 Football Club.

There are several amateur and semi-professional football clubs in the county. These include Slough Town Football Club, Thatcham Town Football Club, Ascot United Football Club, Association Football Club Aldermaston, Sandhurst Town Football Club and Windsor & Eton Football Club.


Reading is a centre for rugby union football, with the Aviva Premiership team London Irish as tenants at the Madejski Stadium. Reading is also home to another three senior semi-professional rugby clubs; Reading Abbey R.F.C., Redingensians R.F.C. and Reading R.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,[18] 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,[19] which has since hosted England U21 fixtures.

Ice hockey

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

Towns and villages

See the List of places in Berkshire and the List of civil parishes in Berkshire

Notable people

Berkshire has many notable people associated with it.

Places of interest

See also


  1. ^ [" old cc" "BERKSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL (former)"]. Civic Heraldry of England and Wales. " old cc". Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  2. ^ Briggs, Geoffrey (1971). Civic and Corporate Heraldry: A Dictionary of Impersonal Arms of England, Wales and N. Ireland. London: Heraldry Today. p. 56. ISBN 0900455217. 
  3. ^ ""The Royal County of Berkshire". Title Confirmed by the Queen". The Times (UK). 30 December 1957. 
  4. ^ Berkshire Record Office. "Berkshire, The Royal County". Golden Jubilee 2002 collection. Retrieved 22 April 2007. 
  5. ^ "The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Surrey (County Boundaries) Order 1994". Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 14 June 2009. 
  6. ^ Summer assizes were moved from Abingdon in 1867, effectively making Reading the county town. However, the Home Office informed the county's court of quarter sessions that in moving the court they had acted ultra vires, and that they were required to petition the privy council to make the change. The petition was duly submitted and the change was officially approved with effect from the summer of 1869. "Berkshire Quarter Sessions". Jackson's Oxford Journal. 4 July 1868. 
  7. ^ a b c Local government in England and Wales: A Guide to the New System. London: HMSO. 1974. ISBN 0117508470 Pages=1, 31. 
  8. ^ a b "The Berkshire (Structural Change) Order 1996". Office of Public Sector Information. 18 July 1996. Retrieved 20 April 2010. 
  9. ^ "". Retrieved 8 November 2008. 
  10. ^ "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." "Written Answers to Questions Col.830". House of Commons Hansard Debates. Parliament of the United Kingdom. 31 March 1995. Retrieved 20 April 2010. 
  11. ^ London Gazette: no. 58715. p. 8235. 2 June 2008.
  12. ^ London Gazette: no. 59729. p. 4995. 17 March 2011.
  13. ^ Location of registered office of Ltd. Retrieved 27 December 2008.
  14. ^ Companies House – UK data and registered offices
  15. ^ "How Vodafone moved to a mobile environment". 24 September 2004. 
  16. ^ "The Crown Estate Profile". 
  17. ^ "Vodafone ends AFC Newbury deal". Newbury Weekly News. 23 May 2006. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Rugby at its best" (PDF). Newbury Weekly News Advertiser. October 2006. 
  20. ^ a b c d "Reading's Great People". Reading Borough Libraries. Retrieved 4 February 2010. 
  21. ^ "The Kenneth Branagh Compendium: Conspiracy". Retrieved 8 February 2010. 
  22. ^ "Richard Burns". Richard Burns Foundation. Retrieved 9 February 2010. 
  23. ^ Farndale, Nigel (19 April 2009). "Ricky Gervais: Grumpy middle-aged man". The Daily Telegraph (London: Telegraph Media Group Limited). Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  24. ^ "Huntley and Palmers". Reading History Trail. Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  25. ^ "John Madejski: 'Without deep pockets you are wasting your time'". The Independent (London). 9 December 2006. Retrieved 17 February 2010. 
  26. ^ "Sam Mendes Biography". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved 17 February 2010. 
  27. ^ Faber, Mrs. M.A.; John Buy, William Lamboll Junr. and Dr. Stoughton (April 1887). "William Penn and the Society of Friends at Reading". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (Historical Society of Pennsylvania) 11 (1): 37–49. JSTOR 20083177. 
  28. ^ Thompson, Steve (8 April 2001). "Sanchez eager to graduate with honours". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 3 March 2010. 
  29. ^ For a short period during the early stages of his career, he lived in Tilehurst. Following his death, a street was named in his memory. See "Ayrton Senna Road, Tilehurst, Reading". Retrieved 1 August 2006. 
  30. ^ Ross, Deborah (8 January 2001). "Chris Tarrant: Confident?". The Independent (London). Retrieved 8 May 2010. 
  31. ^ "Neil Webb". Centurycomm Limited. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  32. ^ Boshoff, Alison (23 February 2009). "The Other Winslet Girls". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 22 February 2010. 

External links

Coordinates: 51°27′18″N 0°58′09″W / 51.455°N 0.96917°W / 51.455; -0.96917

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