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Berkeley in 1835

BERKELEY, a parish in the hundred of Berkeley, in the county of Gloucester, 16 miles from Gloucester, 113 from London, is divided into the borough of Berkeley, the tithings of Alkington, Breadstone, Ham, Hamfallow, Hinton, and the chapelry of Stone. This place, according to Domesday survey, must have been of great extent, population, and opulence, the town itself being a royal demesne and free borough held of the crown ; and in that survey this town is one of the only two places in the county of Gloucester which are stated as having a market, Tewkesbury being the other. Here, also, in former times, was a wealthy nunnery, which owed its dissolution to Earl Godwin. The town, which consists of four streets diverging from the market-place, is situated on a small river called the Avon, which empties itself into the Severn, a mile and a half from the town.

In 1831 the inhabitants of the town were 901, and of the parish 3,899 : the latter contains 14,680 acres. The principal trade of the town is in coals, which are imported from the Forest of Dean in small vessels, which at spring-tides can come up to the town ; but this trade, owing to the diminution of the cloth manufacture in Gloucestershire, has of late considerably declined. The surrounding country consists almost entirely of rich meadow-lands, and the vale of Berkeley has long been deservedly celebrated for its excellent cheese. The west side of the parish is bounded by the Severn, which has here a width varying from two miles to three-quarters of a mile.

The parish church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a very large and handsome structure, in the pointed style. The west window is large, and very beautiful. Near the pulpit are two recumbent figures, which represent Thomas Lord Berkeley, and Margaret his wife. The former is the original of the character of that name in Shakespeare's play of "Richard the Second." A simple tablet in the chancel marks the burial place of Jenner, the discoverer of vaccination, who was a native of this place. Adjoining the chancel is the mausoleum of the Berkeley family, in which are several very curious monuments. In the church is sculptured a large toad, with the heads of two children under it, the tradition relating to which is that the toad devoured two of the children of one of the lords of Berkeley. The tower, which is square and modern, has six bells, and is situated at a considerable distance from the church. The living is a vicarage, of which Lord Segrave is the patron. The great tithes of the parish belong to the dean and chapter of Bristol. There is a chapel of ease at Stone, three miles distant from the church ; and of four chapels belonging to dissenters two are in the town and two in the tithings. Sunday schools are taught at the church and at the dissenting chapels ; and there is an endowed school for the education of 38 boys and girls in reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The fairs are on the 14th of May and the 1st of December. Tuesday is the market-day ; and there are markets for cattle on the first Tuesday in April, and the first Tuesday in November. A new market-house was erected in 1825, the town-hall over which is now used as a chapel by dissenters of the sect of Independents.

Two miles and a half from the town, at Sharpnesse Point (a long, low, projecting rock on the eastern bank of the Severn), is the entrance into the Gloucester and Berkeley canal. This canal is 18 feet deep, and 60 feet in width, and is navigable for vessels of 600 tons burden. This canal, after traversing a distance of 16 miles (part of its course being only divided from the Severn by the canal-bank), terminates at Gloucester, where there is a commodious basin, bonded yards, and ample warehouses. The money for excavating the canal was raised in shares, but that not being sufficient to complete the work, a loan was granted by government, the payment of the interest on which prevents much profit being made by the shareholders. The opening of the canal took place in 1826. Owing to the contractions of the river at this part, the tide rushes past with great rapidity, so that it requires considerable skill, and a knowledge of the proper time of the tide, to enable a pilot to conduct a ship with safety into the canal. On the north bank of the canal is the towing-path : 12 shillings a horse is paid for towing a vessel to Gloucester. A vessel of 50 tons requires one horse, and an additional horse is added for every 50 tons up to 150 ; in vessels above 150 tons one horse is added for every 100 tons up to 350, above which burden all vessels have six horses. Besides the home trade, the vessels are principally from the West Indies, and from the Baltic with deals and timber, a part of which is generally floated up the canal, that the ship may draw less water. The trade, notwithstanding the dangerous navigation of the Severn, has increased very much of late, and contributed to the prosperity of Gloucester. In one week, in the summer of 1834, 146 vessels went up the canal to Gloucester, the tonnage of which was 7,900 tons.

In the year 1833, tonnage was 346,773 tons.
In the year 1834, tonnage was 399,364 tons
Increase 1833-34 was 52,591 tons.

Canal Receipts 1833 were £12,136, 5 shillings
Canal Receipts 1834 were £13,448, 0 shillings, 6 pence
Increase 1833-34 was £1,311, 15 shillings, 6 pence

1833 Customs Duties inward were £106,751
1834 Customs Duties inward were £131,117
Increase 1833-34 was £24,366

Berkeley Castle is situated at the south-east side of the town. It is not ascertained at what date this building was commenced, but about the year 1150 it was granted by Henry II to Robert Fitzhardinge, governor of Bristol (who was descended from the kings of Denmark) with power to strengthen and enlarge it. Maurice, the son of Robert, was the first of the Fitzhardinges that dwelt at Berkeley, of which place he assumed the name, and fortified the castle, which is situated on an eminence close to the town, and commands an extensive view of the Severn and the neighbouring country.

The castle of Berkeley is a most perfect specimen of castellated building : it is in complete repair, and not ruinous in any part. It is an irregular pile, consisting of a keep and various embattled buildings, which surround a court of about 140 yards in circumference. The chief ornament of this court is the fine exterior of the baronial hall, which is a noble room in excellent preservation, and adjoining it is the chapel. The apartments are very numerous, but except where modern windows have been substituted, they are mostly of a gloomy character. In one of them is the ebony bed and chairs used by Sir Francis Drake in his voyage round the world. The entrance to an outer court is under a machicollated gate-house, which is all that remains of the buildings which are said to have formerly surrounded the outer court. The keep is nearly circular, having one square tower and three semicircular ones. That on the north, which is the highest part of the castle, was rebuilt in the reign of Edward II, and is called Thorpe's Tower, a family of that name holding their manor by the tenure of ‘castle guard,’ it being their duty to guard this tower when required. In another of the towers of the keep is a dungeon chamber, twenty-eight feet deep, without light or any aperture of any kind except at the top : in shape it resembles the letter D, and the entrance to it is through a trap door in the floor of the room over it ; but, from being in the keep, which is high above the natural ground, this gloomy abode is quite free from damp. The Roman method of filling the inner part, or medium of the walls, with fluid mortar, occurs in the keep of this castle. The great stair case leading to the keep is composed of large stones ; and on the right of it, approached by a kind of gallery, is the room in which, from its great strength and its isolated situation, there is every reason to suppose that Edward II was murdered, with circumstances of great atrocity, on the 21st of September, 1327. It is a small and gloomy apartment, and till within the last century was only lighted by fleches. It is stated by Holinshed that the shrieks of the king were heard in the town ; but from the situation of the castle and the great thickness of its walls, that is quite impossible. After his decease his heart was inclosed in a silver vessel, and the Berkeley family formed part of the procession which attended the body to Gloucester, where it was interred in the cathedral.

The then Lord Berkeley was acquitted of any active participation in the measures which caused the death of the king ; but shortly afterwards he entertained Queen Isabella and her paramour Mortimer at the castle. This Lord Berkeley kept twelve knights to wait upon his person, each of whom was attended by two servants and a page. He had 24 esquires, each having an under servant and a horse. His entire family consisted of about 300 persons, besides husbandmen, who fed at his board. In this castle royal visitors have been several times entertained. After its having been a place of rendezvous for the rebellious barons in the reign of John, that king visited it in the last year of his reign. Henry III was there twice. The other royal visitors have been Margaret, queen of Henry VI ; Henry VII ; Queen Elizabeth, whose name one of the rooms still bears ; George IV, when Prince of Wales ; his present Majesty, when Duke of Clarence. In the reign of Henry V a law-suit was commenced between Lord Berkeley and his cousin, the heiress of the family, which was continued 192 years : during which contest the plaintiff’s party several times laid siege to the castle. In the civil wars of Charles I this castle was garrisoned on the side of the king, and kept all the surrounding country in awe ; but it was afterwards besieged by the army of the Commonwealth, and surrendered after a defence of nine days. In the west door of the church are several bullet holes, which are supposed to have been made by the besieging army. On the north of the castle is a very perfect remain of the ancient fosse, which is now quite dry, and some very fine elms and other trees are growing in it. A terrace goes nearly round the castle, and to the west of it is a large bowling-green, bounded by a line of very old yew trees, which have grown together into a continuous mass and are cut into curious shapes.