Berkshire, Or Berks, a county of England, in the midland district, lying in the basin of the Thames; urea, 705 sq. m.; pop. in 1871, 196,-445. It is well watered by the Thames, the Kennet, the Loddon, the Ok, and the Auburn, with other smaller streams and rivulets. The surface is undulating and well wooded. The climate is one of the healthiest in England. The soil is chalk and stiff clay, with a fine rich loam in the valleys. Berkshire is essentially an agricultural county, and the owners of the model farms established under the auspices of Prince Albert, as well as those of the numerous large estates, have introduced many improvements. Moreover, the farms are mostly large; drainage is general; artificial manures are employed extensively, as well as improved ploughs and drills, and steam threshing machines. Some of the best corn-producing lands in England are in this county, especially in the vale of the White Horse, watered by the Ock. The total area under cultivation in 1867 included 144,443 acres in corn, 55,412 in green crops, 40,312 in clover and grasses under rotation, and 108,377 in permanent pasture.
The cattle numbered at the same period nearly 30,000, the sheep over 340,000, and the pigs, the best breed in England, 50,000. The main line of the Great Western and a branch of the Southwestern railway pass through Berkshire, as well as the navigable Wilts and Berks and Kennet and Avon canals. The county is not affected by the reform act of 1867, and continues to return three members to parliament; but its four boroughs, Reading (the shire town), Abingdon, Wallingford, and Windsor, return since 1869 only five instead of six members as formerly. - The traces of ancient roads and other antiquities perpetuate the memory of the Roman period, and there are various remains of Roman or British camps. Many barrows are found, including one N. of Lambourn to which a Danish or British origin is variously assigned, though it is popularly known as Wayland Smith's cave, owing to a tradition, introduced by Sir Walter Scott in "Kenilworth," of an invisible smith having once plied his trade here, this tradition being identified by some authorities with that of the mythical Norse hero Weland or Volunde. The White Horse is a monument of Saxon or Danish, or possibly of Celtic origin, representing a horse cut in the turf, the figure being over 370 feet long.
It has given the name to the hill on which it stands, and to the vale. The peasantry periodically clear away the turf, which they call "scouring the horse;" and on this occasion a rural festival takes place, and they are entertained by the lord of the manor. On the summit of the same hill is an ancient earthwork, known as Uffington castle; and the principal Berkshire antiquities in this vicinity include Hard well camp, Alfred's castle, Dragon Hill, and the Seven Barrows. Berkshire was devastated in the wars with the Danes early in the 11th century, and again became a battleground in the following century during the civil war consequent upon the usurpation of Stephen. Of the famous ancient castles only Windsor castle remains, and small fragments of those of Wallingford and Donnington. In the 17th century Berkshire became the scene of remarkable contests between the royal and parliamentary forces, especially at the first battle of Newbury, in which Falkland fell (Sept. 20, 1643).