Status Ceremonial and Non-metropolitan county (no county council)
Origin Historic
Region South East England
- Total
Ranked 40th
1,262 km²
- Total (2004 est.)
- Density
Ranked 26th
637 / km²
Ethnicity 88.7% White
6.8% S.Asian
2.0% Afro-Carib.
Arms of Berkshire
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 (IPA: [ˈbɑːkʃə] or [ˈbɑːkʃɪə] ; sometimes abbreviated to Berks) is a county in England and forms part of the South East England region. 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 goes back to the 19th century at least, was recognised by the Queen in 1958, and Letters patent issued confirming this in 1974.

Berkshire borders the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Wiltshire, Hampshire and the London region.


The county is one of the oldest in England, being reliably dated back to the setting of the traditional county borders by King Alfred the Great of Wessex. The county takes its name from a large forest of birch trees that was called Bearroc (Celtic for 'hilly') and was originally a transaction of land to King Cenwalh of Wessex. At this time, it only consisted of the northerly and westerly parts of the current county.

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. During the English Civil War there were two battles in Newbury. During the Glorious Revolution of 1688, there was a second Battle at Reading, also known as the 'Battle of Broad Street'.

Reading became the new county town in 1867, taking over from Abingdon which remained in the county. Following the Local Government Act 1972, Abingdon and the Vale of the White Horse became part of Oxfordshire while Slough, which had been within Buckinghamshire, became part of Berkshire.

On 1 April 1998 Berkshire County Council was abolished 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.


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 Added4 Agriculture1 Industry2 Services3
1995 10,997 53 2,689 8,255
2000 18,412 40 3,511 14,861
2003 21,119 48 3,666 17,406

Note 1: includes hunting and forestry

Note 2: includes energy and construction

Note 3: includes financial intermediation services indirectly measured

Note 4: Components may not sum to totals due to rounding

Geology, landscape and ecology

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 rivurine 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.

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 297m (974ft), 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 Pang and its 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 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 of the county, with West Berkshire being much more rural.

The population has increased massively since 1831, this may be in part due to the sweeping boundary changes however. In 1831 there were 146,234 people living in Berkshire, by 1901 it had risen to 252,571 (of which 122,807 were male and 129,764 were female).

Population of Berkshire:


Traditional county of Berkshire
- Total
- % Water
Ranked 35th
462,210 acres
? %
County town Abingdon until 1867, then Reading
Chapman code BRK

Berkshire is a ceremonial county and (with different boundaries) a traditional county, and it is unusual in England in that it is the only non-metropolitan county with multiple districts but no county council. The district councils are unitary authorities but have no county status.

In the unitary authorities the Conservatives control the West Berkshire, Wokingham and Bracknell Forest councils, Labour control Reading council, whilst the Liberal Democrats control the Windsor and Maidenhead council. Slough is controlled jointly between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.

Since the 2005 general election, the Conservative Party dominates, controlling 6 out of 8 constituencies. Slough and Reading West are both represented by the Labour Party.

Places of interest

National Trust National Trust
English Heritage English Heritage
Forestry Commission Forestry Commission
Country Park Country Park
Accessible open space Accessible open space
Museum (free)
Museums (free/not free)
Heritage railway Heritage railway
Historic house Historic House


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