"BERKELEY, a parish, market town, and borough in the upper division of the hundred of Berkeley, in the county of Gloucester, 15 miles to the S.W. of Gloucester, and 114 miles from London by the Great Western and Bristol and Gloucester railways. The town is 3 miles from the Berkeley Road station of the latter line. The parish is situated on the banks of the Little Avon, a tributary of the Severn, and includes the tythings of Alkington, Hinton, and Ham, the hamlets of Breadstone and Hamfallow, and the chapelry of Stone.

Its Saxon name was Beorkenlan, or Beorclea, and it was a place of importance at a very early period. It appears to have been a royal demesne at the time of the Norman survey, and the only market-town in Gloucestershire, except Tewkesbury. It is a borough by prescription, nominally governed by a mayor and 12 aldermen.

That part of the valley of the Severn in which Berkeley is situated is called the Vale of Berkeley. It is a fine tract of rich meadow and pasture land, between the east bank of the Severn and the range of hills running nearly parallel at a few miles distance. The vale is about 25 miles in length from Matson Hill, near Gloucester, in the north, to Aust Cliff, opposite the old ferry passage, in the south, and includes an area of about 50,000 acres.

This district has long been famed for its dairy farms and cheese. It is said that 1,200 tons of cheese, mostly of the kind known as "Double Berkeley", or "Double Gloucester", are made here in a year. Large quantities of butter are also made, amounting to several thousand pounds weight weekly.

The principal trade of the town is in timber, corn, and malt, carried on chiefly by means of the great ship canal called the Berkeley and Gloucester canal. It is about 16 miles in length, extending from the city of Gloucester to the Severn, which river it enters at Sharpness Point, rather more than 2 miles to the north of the town. The canal is 60 feet broad, 18 feet deep, and is navigable by vessels of 500 tons burden. The trade in coals formerly carried on is now very inconsiderable.

The town stands on rising ground, about a mile from the Severn, and consists chiefly of one street. There is a market-house of modern erection. Petty sessions are held here by the county magistrates, and polling for the county election takes place in the town.

The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Gloucester and Bristol, and in the patronage of Lord Fitzhardinge. The church is dedicated to St. Mary. It is a large and handsome edifice, partly in the early English style, with a modern tower, detached and standing at a distance. It contains the tombs of the Berkeley family. Here, too, is the burial-place of Dr. Jenner, the, discoverer of vaccination, who was born at Berkeley in 1749, and died in 1823. The tomb is marked by a simple monument.

Besides the parish church, there is a district church at the village of Stone, the living of which is a perpetual curacy*, value £80, in the gift of the vicar. There are chapels belonging to the Wesleyan Methodists and Independents. The charitable endowments of the parish are very considerable. They include the income of the free school, £55, founded by Samuel Turner in 1696, and further endowed by John Smith; the income of some almshouses, and various bequests for the benefit of the poor.

On a hill close to the town are the fine remains of Berkeley Castle. They are in remarkably good preservation, and form a nearly perfect example of a baronial fortress. It was probably founded about the middle of the 12th century, or considerably enlarged and strengthened by Robert Fitzhardinge and his son Maurice. It is said to have been erected on the site of a very ancient nunnery.

The area covered by the pile of buildings is of irregular form, but nearly circular, and is surrounded by a moat. The keep, the most ancient part, stands on a mount, rising much above the other buildings. It is nearly circular, and is flanked by one square and three semicircular towers. It has a massive Norman gateway enriched with sculpture, and is approached by a flight of steps, consisting of large stones. It contains a dungeon, nearly 30 feet in depth, unlighted, and entered by a trap-door. Near the stone staircase is the room supposed to have been the scene of the atrocious murder of Edward II., in September, 1327, by Lord Maltravers and Thomas Gourney, to whom Lord Berkeley had been ordered to deliver the castle and the prisoner.

The chapel stands next the fine old hall, which is nearly perfect. Noble trees now adorn the moat. In the apartments of the castle are some royal and family portraits, including one of George, Lord Berkeley, to whom the "Anatomy of Melancholy" was dedicated. Here is preserved, too, the cabin furniture of Sir Francis Drake. The castle was repaired in the reign of Henry VII.

In the civil war of the 17th century it was garrisoned for Charles I., but was taken in 1645 by the parliamentary forces after a siege of nine days. It is now the seat of Lord Fitzhardinge. The market is on Wednesday. Fairs for the sale of cattle, &c., are held on the 14th May and the 1st December."

"ALKINGTON, a tything in the parish and hundred of Berkeley, in the county of Gloucester, 1 mile from Berkeley. It is not far from the Gloucester and Bristol railway."

"BREADSTONE, a hamlet in the parish and hundred of Berkeley, in the county of Gloucester, 2 miles from Berkeley."

"HAM, a tything in the parish of Berkeley, and the upper division of the hundred of Berkeley, county Gloucester, 1 mile S. of Berkeley."

"HAMFALLOW, a hamlet in the parish of Berkeley, upper division of the hundred of Berkeley, county Gloucester, near Berkeley."

"HINTON, a tything in the parish of Berkeley, upper division of the hundred of Berkeley, county Gloucester, 2 miles from Berkeley. The village, which is considerable, is situated near the ship canal."

"KINGSTON, a village in the parish and hundred of Berkeley, county Gloucester, 4 miles N.E. of Berkeley. It is situated on the ship canal."

"NEWPORT, a hamlet in the parish and hundred of Berkeley, county Gloucester, 16 miles from Gloucester. In the days of stage coaches it was the half-way house between Gloucester and Bristol, and contained several good inns. It is now an inconsiderable place. There is a place of worship for Independents."


[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]


Archives & Libraries

  • Original source material relating to Berkeley, and other parishes in Diocese of Gloucester may be found at the Gloucestershire Archives.



Church Records

  • Scribes Alcove - A most useful site now unavailable. Checking for alternatives a site to enable searches of baptism, marriage and burial indexes from six Gloucestershire parishes: Berkeley, Thornbury, Oldbury-upon-Severn, Hill, Stone & Rockhampton.
    The period covered for St Mary's Church is 1700-1900CMB (except 1790-1801M).



Description & Travel

You can see pictures of Berkeley which are provided by:





Historical Geography

  • "Ancient parish included Alkington, Breadstone, Hamfallow, Hinton, Ham and Stone, which all remain in (the) modern ecclesiastical parish except Stone. Alkington, Hamfallow, Hinton and Ham & Stone are all civil parishes since 1894."
    (Ref: Guide to the Parish Records of the City of Bristol and the County of Gloucester; I. Gray & E. Ralph, 1963)


You can see the administrative areas in which Berkeley has been placed at times in the past. Select one to see a link to a map of that particular area.



You can see maps centred on OS grid reference ST679992 (Lat/Lon: 51.690704, -2.465057), Berkeley which are provided by:


Military History



Probate Records