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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. Newbuy 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. 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. 94 (Berkshire Yeomanry) Signal Squadron still keep the Uffington White Horse in their insignia, even though the White Horse is now in Oxfordshire. 

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