Old Map of Berkshire
Old Map of Berkshire Detail from an old map of Berkshire Detail from an old map of Berkshire

Berkshire – an old map by John Speed


Berkshire – an old map by John Speed

Adjacent to the castle picture Speede has engraved the names of the members and a picture of James I in the robes and insignia of the Order. Both Elizabeth I and James I would stay at the castle for both the hunting available at the Great Park and as a stopping place on their journeys to other counties. Berkshire was, and still is, a wealthy agricultural county with small villages and isolated farms surrounding twelve small market towns. The River Thames played an important part in the diet of the county with its abundance of freshwater fish. The map itself is dominated by a splendid view of Windsor Castle as seen from across the Thames.

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Within the Atlas were notes relating to the old maps. We have done our best to translate these from the old English script in which they were written.

BARK-SHIRE, by the English Saxons written Bearrocscir whether of the box woods there sited, according to the censure of Affarius Menevenfis, or from a naked and beardless oak  tree, whereunto the people usually resorted in troublesome times, to confer for the State, I determine not: only the County a long time hath been so called, and bounded with others in manner as followeth: the north-part is parted by Thamisis from Buckingham and [Oxfordshire]; the south near Kennet doth tract upon [Hampshire]; the east is confined with the County of Surrey; and the Weft with Wiltshire and Gloucestershire is held in.

The form of this shire doth, somewhat resemble a Sandal for a man’s foot, lying longwise from east to west, in which part size is broadest, the middle most narrow, and then spreading wider like to the heel, though for her rich endowments and stately magnificence it may well be accounted the heart of the whole.

The length thereof from Inglesham in the west, to old Windsor in the east, extendeth unto forty miles; from Inkpen to Wightbam, the broadest part from South to North are twenty four; the whole- in circumference, about one hundred and twenty.

The air is temperate, sweet, and delightful. and prospect for pleasure inferior to none; the soil is plenteous of corn, especially in the Vale of Whitehorse, that yieldeth yearly an admirable increase. In a word, for corn and cattle, waters and woods, of profit and pleasure, it gives place unto none.

Her ancient Inhabitants, by Ptolomy and Ceasar, were the Atrebates, and them of those that descended from Gallia, among whom Comius (conquered by the Dictator) was of good respect, and could do much with the Britains, who (as Frontinus reporteth) used this stratagem, though it proved nothing at last: he flying before Cæsar to recover aid of these Atrebatians, light bedded upon a shelf in the sea, whereupon hoisting his sails as before a fore wind, gave shew to his pursuer that they were in swift flight; for that, hopeless to [hale] them, he gave over the chase: yet no sooner had Cæsar made over among them, but that some of these people, by name the Bibroces, yielded him subjection, which proved the ruin of all former liberty. But when the Romans had rent their own Empire, and retired their legion into a narrower circuit, the Saxons set foot where their Forces had been, and made this County a parcel of their Western Kingdom.

The Danes then setting their desire upon spoils, from their roving pinaces pierced into these parts, and at Reading fortified themselves betwixt the Rivers Kennet and Thamifis, whither after their great overthrow received at Inglefield by the hand of King Ethelwolfe, they retired for their further safety.

In this town of Reading King Henry I, I must state built a beautified monastery and strong castle, where, in the Collegiate Church of the Abbey, himself and his Queen (who lay both veiled and crowned) with their Daughter Empress Matilda called the Lady of England, were interred, as the private history of the place avouches, though others bestow the bodies of these two Queens elsewhere. The Castle King Henry JJ razed to the ground because it was the refuge for the followers of King Stephen. From whence the North Pole is raised in Latitude 51 degrees and 40 minutes, and in Longitude from the southwest point observed by Mercator 19 degrees and 35 minutes.

A castle and town of greater strength and antiquity was Wallingford, by Antonine and Ptolomy called Gallena, the chiefeft City of the Attrebatians, whofe large circuit, and strong fortifications, shew plainly, that it was a place of the Romans abode, and since in a conceived safety hath made many very bold, especially when the sparks of England’s civil dissentions were forced to flame in case of the Crown, ‘betwixt Maud the Empress and King Stephen, whither herself and associates resorted as their surest defence’.

But of far greater magnificence and state is Windsor. the Castle of Windsor, a most princely palace and mansion of his Majesty. I will not with affirm, it to be built by King Arthur, but with better authority say, it was so fortified after by the William the Conqueror, that by a composition with the Abbot of compounded Conqueror Westminster, whose then it was, he made it to be for Windsor. the King’s possession, as a place (besides the pleasures) very commodious to entertain the King. In this An.D.1312. Cattle that victorious Prince King Edward III was born; and herein, after he had subdued the French and Scots, held he, at one and the same time, as his prisoners, John King of France, and David King of Scotland. Neither was it ever graced with greater majesty than by the institution of the most honourable Order of the Garter, a signal Ornament of martial prowess; the invention thereof some ascribe to be from a garter falling from his Queen, or rather from Joan Countess of Salisbury, a Lady of an incomparable garter [and] beauty, as she danced before him, whereat the bystanders smiling, he gave the impress to check all evil conceits, and in golden letters embellished the Garter with this French poisehoni soit qui mal y pense,  And yet that worthy Clarenceux  alleging the book of the first Institution, finds the invention to be more ancient, as when King Richard the First warred against the Turks, Saracens, Cypres, and Acon, he girt the legs of certain choice Knights with a tache of leather, which promised a future glory to the wearers. The most princely chapel thereof is graced with the bodies of those two great men. the sixth. Kings, Henry the Sixth and Edward the Fourth, whom the whole Kingdom was too little to contain, the one Edward the of Lancaster, the other of York, where they rest now fourth. united in one mould, with a branch of both those houses, even King Henry the Eight, who lieth also in there. the eight. interred, and rests in the Lord.

Other places of note in this Shire are Sinodum Sinodum: in the North, and Watham in the east, both of them watham. places of the Romans residence, as by their moneys there oftentimes found appeareth. Neither was sunning the least in this tract, that had been the seat of eight Bishops before the See was translated thence unto Sherbourne, or that to Salisbury. Wantage also is Sherbourne not wanting of honour, in bringing to life that learned and most valiant King Ealfred, the scourge of the Danes, and great Monarch of the English. And  Finchamstead for wonder inferior to none, where (as our writers do witness) that in the year 1100. a well, boiled up with streams of blood, and fifteen days together continued that Spring, whose waters made red all others where they came, to the great amazement of the beholders.

The riches and sweet seats that this County afforded, made many devout persons to shew their devotions unto true piety, in erecting places for Gods divine service, and their exemptions from all worldly business: such were Abington, Redding, Bisham, Brome-of the people. The devotions ball, Henley, Hamme, and Wallingford, whose Votaries enabling the intents of their founders, overthrew both their own orders and places of professions, all which were dissolved by Act of Parliament, and given the King to dispose at his will.

This shires division is into twenty Hundreds, and the division hath been strengthened with six strong castles, is yet of this shire. graced with three of his Majesties most princely houses, and traded with twelve Market Towns, and is replenished with one hundred and forty parish churches, all whose names, are further inserted in the table following.

Berkshire a table of oldtowns and villages

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