Extract from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England, 1831.
Transcribed by Mel Lockie, © Copyright 2010
Lewis Topographical Dictionaries

BERKELEY, a market-town and parish in the upper division of the hundred of BERKELEY, county of GLOUCESTER, 17 miles (S.W.) from Gloucester, and 114 (W. by N.) from London, comprising the chapelry of Stone, the tythings of Alkington, Hinton, and Ham, and the hamlets of Bradstone and Hamfollow, and containing 3835 inhabitants. This place is supposed to have been a British town in the reign of Alectus, who, as the successor of Carausius, assumed the imperial purple in Britain towards the close of the third century. It was a place of considerable importance in the time of the Saxons, and is said to have had a religious establishment, and probably a castle, prior to the Conquest, but little of their history is recorded.

Henry I. visited this place in 1121, where he remained during Easter; and in the reign of Henry II., the castle, which had been erected by Roger de Berkeley, was considerably enlarged by Robert Fitz-Harding, to whom the king gave the manor (which is divided into seven considerable tythings), and who thereupon assumed the title of Baron de Berkeley. The castle, which received various additions from its successive proprietors, became one of the principal baronial seats in the country, and was connected with many transactions of intense political interest, the most important of which was the inhuman murder of the misguided king, Edward II., who was detained here in confinement under the nominal custody of the earl.

During the civil war in the reign of Charles I., it was garrisoned for the king, but after a siege of nine days, in which it sustained considerable damage, it was surrendered to the parliamentarians. The principal remains of the ancient building are the keep, a fine specimen of Norman military architecture, flanked by three semicircular towers, and a square tower of later date, in a dark room in the upper part of which the inhuman murder was perpetrated. The entrance is under a massive arched portal, richly ornamented with sculpture: it occupies an area which is nearly circular, and is surrounded with a moat; part of it has been modernized, and is now the residence of Col. Berkeley, who enjoys the estate, but not the title.

The town is situated on a gentle eminence in the beautiful Vale of Berkeley, at the distance of a mile from the river Severn, and consists principally of one street; the houses are indifferently built, but the inhabitants are well supplied with water. It was once of greater extent than it is at present; the diversion of the turnpike road from Gloucester to Bristol, which formerly passed through it, is supposed to have contributed to its decay. The trade is principally in timber, corn, malt, and cheese, for which last the neighbourhood is celebrated: iron-ore has been found in the vicinity, and there are appearances of some works having been formerly carried on.

The Berkeley and Gloucester canal, navigable for vessels of four hundred tons' burden, passes to the north of the town, and the river Severn bounds it on the west. The market is on Thursday, but it has considerably declined of late years; the fairs are on May 14th and December 1st. The town, which was a borough in the reign of Edward I., having lost its charter of incorporation, is within the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who hold petty sessions here for the district: a mayor is still annually elected, but the office is merely nominal; constables and other officers are appointed at the court leet of the lord of the manor, and a court for the recovery of small debts is held every third week.

The living is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Gloucester, rated in the king's books at £32. 15. 7., and in the patronage of Col. Berkeley. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a spacious structure, consisting of a nave, aisles, and chancel, of considerable dimensions, partly of later Norman, and partly in the early style of English, architecture: the tower, which is detached, has been rebuilt within the last century. There is a place of worship for Wesleyan Methodists.

The free school was founded, in 1696, by Mr. Samuel Thumer, who endowed it with lands producing £16. 5. per annum, which has received an augmentation of land producing £17 per annum, purchased with a bequest by Mr. John Smith, amounting in the whole to £33. 5. per annum, for which the master teaches thirty-nine boys. In 1626, John Attwood left by will, for the benefit of the poor inhabitants of Berkeley, lands of the value of nearly £20 per annum; and various smaller sums have been given and bequeathed at different times by other individuals, for a like purpose. Edward Jenner, M.D. and F.R.S., who introduced the practice of vaccination, was born here in 1749, and died of apoplexy in 1823.

ALKINGTON, a tything in the parish and upper division of the hundred of BERKELEY, county of GLOUCESTER, 1 mile (S.E.) from Berkeley, containing 101 inhabitants.

BRADSTONE, a hamlet in the parish, and upper division, of the hundred of BERKELEY, county of GLOUCESTER, 2¾ miles (E.N.E.) from Berkeley, containing 152 inhabitants.

HAMFOLLOW, [sic] a hamlet in the parish and upper division of the hundred of BERKELEY, county of GLOUCESTER, containing 437 inhabitants.

HINTON, a tything in the parish and upper division of the hundred of BERKELEY, county of GLOUCESTER, containing 346 inhabitants. There is a place of worship for Wesleyan Methodists.

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