One England’s historic counties, Berkshire is also one of the few landlocked counties in southern England. Home to a number of Bronze and Iron Age hillforts, as well as Windsor Castle and Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. The county has a number of important historic battlefields, from King Alfred’s time to the English Civil War. In the early middle ages the area was part of the Kingdom of Wessex before being integrated into the English state.
Although now much denuded, the presence of four round barrows (earthen mounds) is discernible on Cock Marsh. Created in the Bronze Age, they housed the cremated remains of selected members of the local community. Excavations in the 1870s not only revealed several of these burials but also an additional inhumation that had been added to one of the barrows during the Anglo-Saxon period. The barrows presently stand on a water marsh adjacent to the River Thames; the National Trust owns the land, which is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest.
One of many hillforts built across Britain during the Late Bronze and Iron Ages, Grimsbury Castle survives as a series of well-preserved earthworks. Some of the banks are over two metres in height. As is typical of hillforts, the Castle sits on a high point in the landscape, although woodland enveloping the area prevents the visitor from appreciating the panoramic views. A folly was built on the site in the 18th century, while partial excavation took place in the mid-20th. A road drives through the hillfort, with parking available within its ramparts. Photo © Pam Brophy/Wikimedia
Over a period of less than four hundred years, what started out as a simple military post guarding a river crossing developed into a substantial villa. The villa is best known for its mosaic floor, substantially restored in the late 1970s, depicting Orpheus. The mosaic decorates a reception room with three apses, unique in Britain but popular in Italy and north Africa during the 4th century AD.
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Donnington Castle began life in the late 14th century, when Sir Richard Abberbury built it on his family’s land. Geoffrey Chaucer’s son owned it for part of the 15th century. The monarchy later claimed ownership and it is likely that both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I stayed there. The castle saw action during the English Civil War, after which the victorious parliamentarians demolished much of it. Today, the gatehouse survives in a good condition, reflecting the luxurious lifestyle in which Abberbury kept himself. Photo © English Heritage [Website]
The antiquity of Montem Mound has long been debated, but a 2016 archaeological project confirmed that it was of Anglo-Saxon origin. Now next to a car park, it was probably erected in the 6th or 7th century to cover the remains of a prominent and powerful individual. Comparisons can be made with the better known Anglo-Saxon burial mounds at Taplow, Buckinghamshire and Sutton Hoo, Suffolk. From the 16th to the 19th century, students at the nearby Eton College conducted their ‘Montem’ ceremony at the barrow. Photo © Nigel Cox/Wikimedia
Founded in 1121 on the order of Henry I, Reading Abbey initially housed monks supplied by Cluny Abbey in Burgundy. When Henry I died, he was buried at the site. Royal patronage helped the Abbey become one of the most important religious sites in Britain and a major pilgrimage destination. It was dismantled at the dissolution of the monasteries, and its final abbot was convicted of treason and executed. Parts of the building continued in use as a school and Reading’s town hall. The site is now in ruins within the town. Photo © Christina/Wikimedia [Website]
One of the most famous buildings in England, Windsor Castle remains a key residence of the British monarch. Originally a Norman motte-and-bailey structure created in the 11th century, it was one of a ring of fortifications surrounding London. Henry I was the first king to reside at the castle, which soon came under the control of the monarchy. Throughout the later Middle Ages, it underwent significant expansion and withstood attacks on multiple occasions. Photo © Kevin White/Wikimedia [Website]
Dorney Court is a Tudor red-brick manor house built in the 15th or early 16th century. It underwent significant restoration during the 19th century. It contains many original features, including a fireplace removed from Faversham Abbey following the dissolution of the monasteries. The house has remained in the Palmer family for many generations, with portraits of its members decorating the walls. The grounds include a topiary garden. Still a private residence, visitors can book a tour to visit this Grade-I listed building. Photo © Kevin White/Wikimedia [Website]
Built on land reportedly owned by the Englefield family since the early Middle Ages, in the 16th century. After the Englefields backed the Catholic revival under Mary I, her successor Elizabeth I confiscated their home. It went through various owners in ensuing years, although has housed the Benson family since the 18th century. The architect Thomas Hopper oversaw significant architectural modification in the 1820s. The gardens are open to the public, and visitors can enter the house on pre-arranged tour groups. Photo © Richard Croft/Wikimedia [Website]
Built in the 18th century, this country manor first housed the wealthy landowner and Member of Parliament Sir Francis Sykes. Having made his fortune in India, Sykes commissioned the architect John Carr to design his home. Carr created Basildon Park in the Palladian style, although the interiors reflect Neoclassical influence. Abandoned in the early 20th century, the house was a barracks and prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War. Langton Iliffe and his wife Renée then restored the building before donating it to the National Trust. [Website]
Crossing the River Thames from Maidenhead to Taplow is this impressive railway bridge, officially opened in 1838. A testament to the engineering prowess of Victorian Britain, its designer was the famous Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a man ranked as the second ‘Greatest Briton’ in a 2002 BBC poll. It was built for the Great Western Railway, which linked London to much of the rest of the country. The bridge was the subject of an 1844 painting by J. M. W. Turner, now in London’s National Gallery. The bridge is Grade-I listed. Photo © Nancy/Wikimedia
The Reading Museum began in 1883 when a collector donated his private museum, a collection of objects from around the world, to Reading. Since then the Museum has grown and come to focus on the natural and social history of the local area. Of particular note is the Silchester Gallery, a collection of artefacts excavated from the Roman town of Silchester, including the famous Silchester eagle. The museum has a large collection of artefacts from West and South Africa, North America and South America and South East Asia. Photo © Leslie/Wikimedia [Website]