Is an inland county, extremely irregular in its form: in circumference, according to Rouque's mensuration, it is 207 miles; but it must be presumed, this this survey takes the extreme of all the promontaries, and enters into all the devious curves and windings which characterize its outward figure; for, other surveyors have only stated its circumference to be about 120 miles. Its greatest length, from Old Windsor to the county cross, is 42 miles; its extreme breadth, from Witham, near Oxford, to the borders of Hampshire, south of Newbury, about 28 miles; and its narrowest, from the Thames, near Reading, across to the border of Hampshire, in a direct south line, only 7 miles. Berkshire is bounded on the north, by the counties of Oxford and Buckingham; on the east, by Surrey; on the south, by Hampshire; and on the west, by Wiltshire.
NAME and ANCIENT HISTORY.—According to Camden, this county was anciently named by the Latin writers Bercheria; by the Saxons Beroc-scyre, which appellation Asser Menevensie, an ancient English historian derives from Barroc, a certain wood, which grew plenty of box. It is more probable, however, (observes another etymologist), that it may have been derived from the quantity of birth wood growing anciently in the county; the soil, in general, being more adapted to the growth of that wood than any other. In the reign of Alfred, it was called Berocshire. The ancient inhabitants of a great part of this county were the Attrebattii or Attrebates, who are supposed to have emigrated from Gaul. The south-eastern part was inhabited by a people called the Bibroci or Rhemi, and a small portion of it next Hampshire by the Secongicæ. Under the division of Britain by the Roman Emperor Constantine, this county was included in the Britannia Prima; and during the Saxon heptarchy, it formed part of the kingdom of Wessex, or West Saxons.
SOIL, PRODUCE, and CLIMATE.—The agricultural appropriation of the land in this county, appears to be as follows: land in arable about 250,000 acres; meadows and dairy land 75,000; sheep walks and barren heaths 55,000; and pasture parks, &c. 20,000. Close to the Thames, in the northern part of the county, is a fertile line of meadow, from which the land rises gently towards a range of moderately elevated hills, extending from Oxford to Faringdon; the hills being good corn land. To the south is the remarkably fertile vale of Berks; the prevailing soil of which is a strong grey calcareous loam. The greatest part of the southern part of the county consists chiefly of gravelly loam. From Hungerford to Reading is a bed of peat, through which the river Kennet takes its course; and near Hungerford, south of the Kennet, commences a tract of poor gravel and clay. The weight of hay cut from the meadows contiguous to the river Kennet, from Hungerford to Reading, is considerable. The quantity of peat dug in the neighbourhood of Newbury and other parts is very great, and employs many of the labouring class. Such meadows as have peat under them, are more valuable to the landlord than the tenant: the great value of peat arises from the demand for it as fuel, and for its ashes as manure. Numerous herds of neat cattle are grazed in this county; and the sheep, vast numbers of which are fed, are large and handsome. Swine and poultry are extremely profitable to the farmer of Berkshire, from its proximity to London. The farms are large, few being found rented under £100 a year. The climate is remarkably healthful, the air pure, and no endemical disease known to prevail in it.
RIVERS and CANALS.—The principal rivers of Berkshire are, the Thames, the Kennet, the Lodden, the Ock, the Lambourn, and the Enborne. The first of all the British streams, the Thames, enters the county at its northern extremity, about a mile south of Lechlade, and is navigable thence throughout its entire course. The Kennet enters at Hungerford, and, flowing through Reading, unites its waters with the Thames. The Lodden enters at Swallowfield, and falls into the Thames near Wingrave. The Ock has its source near Faringdon, and is lost in the Thames near Abingdon. The Enborne or Enburn rises near Inkpen, and joins the Kennet at Wasing. The Lambourn has its source near the town of that name, and falls into the Kennet near Shaw. The CANALS are the Wilts and Berks canal, which enters the county at Hackson bridge; and the Kennet and Avon, which enters at Hungerford, and runs parallel with the Kennet river to Newbury.
MANUFACTURES and TRADE.—The manufactures of this county are very limited, its prosperity chiefly depending upon the export and import of commodities, by means of the Thames; an excellent general retail trade, and its agricultural and horticultural produce, joined to the rearing of all kinds of farming stock, to a great extent and profit. The malting trade is very extensive in several towns, especially at Reading, where also are manufactured, to a small extent, pins, ribbons, and other silk goods, sackings &c. Newbury, formerly eminent for woollen cloths, is now the great corn mart of the county. Considerable business is done upon the banks of the Thames in timber; and the annual exportation of corn and flour to London is very great.
ECCLESIATICAL and CIVIL DIVISIONS, and REPRESENTATION.—Berkshire is in the province of Canterbury, and diocese of Salisbury; is within the Oxford circuit; and divided into 20 hundreds, viz. Beynhurst, Bray, Charlton, Compton, Cookham, Faircross, Faringdon, Ganfield, Hormer, Kintbury-Eagle, Lambourn, Moreton, Ock, Reading, Ripplesmere, Shrivenham, Sonning, Theale, Wantage, and Wargrave: these divisions contain together 147 parishes, 12 market-towns, and one county-town (Reading). The whole county returns nine members to parliament, viz. two each for Reading, Wallingford, and New Windsor, one for Abingdon, and two for the shire; the present representatives of the shire are, Charles Dundas and Robert Palmer, Esquires.
POPULATION.—According to the census of 1821, there were houses inhabited in the county, 24,705; uninhabited, 622; and houses building, 154. The number of families then resident in the county was 27,700; comprising 65,546 males, and 66,431 females; total, 131,977: and by a calculation made by order of government, which included persons in the army and navy, for which was added after the ratio of about one to thirty prior to the year 1811, and one to fifty for that year and the census of 1821, to the returns made from several districts; and the population of the county, in round numbers, in the year 1700, was 74,700—in 1750, 92,700—in 1801, 112,800—in 1811, 122,300—and in 1821, 134,700. The increased population in the fifty years, from the year 1700, was 18,000—from 1753 to 1801, the increase was 20,100—from 1801 to 1811, the increase was 9,500—and from 1811 to 1821, the augmented number of persons was 12,400: the grand total increase in the population of the county, from the year 1700 to the census of 1821, being about 60,000 persons.