Berkeley, England - Encyclopedia

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BERKELEY, a market town of Gloucestershire, England, near the river Severn, in that portion of its valley known as the Vale of Berkeley, on a branch from the Midland railway. Pop. (1901) 774. It is pleasantly situated on a gentle eminence, in a rich pastoral vale to which it gives name, celebrated for its dairies, producing the famous cheese known as "double Gloucester." The town has a handsome church (Early English and Decorated), a grammar school, and some trade in coal, timber, malt and cheese. Berkeley was the birthplace of Dr Edward Jenner (1749), who is buried in the church. Berkeley Castle, on an eminence south-east of the town, is one of the noblest baronial castles existing in England, and one of the few inhabited. The Berkeley Ship Canal connects Gloucester with docks at Sharpness, avoiding the difficult navigation of the upper part of the Severn estuary.

The manor of Berkeley gives its name to the noble family of Berkeley. According to tradition, a nunnery to which the manor belonged existed here before the Conquest, and Earl Godwin, by bringing about its dissolution, obtained the manor. All that is certainly known, however, is that in Domesday the manor is assigned to one Roger, who took his surname from it. His descendants seem to have been ousted from their possessions during the 12th century by Robert fitz Harding, an Angevin partisan, who already held the castle when, in 1153, Henry, duke of Normandy (who became King Henry II. in the following year), granted him the manor. Under an agreement made in the same year, Maurice, son of Robert fitz Harding, married a daughter of Roger of Berkeley. Their descendants styled themselves of Berkeley, and in 1200 the town was confirmed to Robert of Berkeley with toll, soc, sac, &c., and a market on whatever day of the week he chose to hold it. This charter was confirmed to Thomas, Lord Berkeley, in 1330, and in 1395-1396 Lord Berkeley received a grant of another fair on the vigil and day of Holyrood. The descendants of the Berkeley family still hold the manor and town. Berkeley Castle was the scene of the death of Edward II. The king was at first entrusted to the care of Lord Berkeley, who, being considered too lenient, was obliged to give up his prisoner and castle to Sir John Mautravers and Thomas Gournay. The town has no charter, but is mentioned as a borough in 1284-1285. It was governed by a mayor and twelve aldermen, but by 1864 their privileges had become merely nominal, and the corporation was dissolved in 1885 under the Municipal Corporations Act. Berkeley was formerly noted for the manufacture of clothing, but the trade had decreased by the 16th century, for Leland, writing about 1520, says "the town of Berkeley is no great thing.. .. It bath very much occupied and yet somewhat doth clothing." See John Fisher, History of Berkeley (1864).

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