The historical rivalry between Berkshire and Buckinghamshire
PUBLISHED: 11:22 22 May 2018 | UPDATED: 14:52 23 May 2018
Buckinghamshire and Berkshire are no longer bordering on hostility… but the rivalry bats on, says Jan Raycroft
Two long ‘skinny’ shire counties. One, Buckinghamshire, pretty much perpendicular and pointing towards the Midlands. The other, Berkshire, a horizontal slab running from the start of the West Country to close to the edge of London. And sharing a natural boundary of mostly the River Thames at lovely spots like Eton and Windsor, plus together meeting up with a third, Oxon, at Henley.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, as we prepare for THAT wedding at Windsor, quite a lot over the centuries, and usually Royal rulers were at the centre of it all. Today Berkshire and Buckinghamshire’s conflicts are most likely to be over the Minor Counties Cricket Championships. Both have a proud history of taking the title many times since 1899 and Buckinghamshire’s first victory of 10 to date (they last won in 2009), while Berkshire have done the double in 2016 and 2017 and are the current one day and three day champions of England and Wales.
The batsmen have been knocking up centuries, but it might be a few hundred years back we need to go to get to the bottom of all this polite but sometimes ‘distant’ neighbourliness. For the Royal County of Berkshire, much of which was dragged through years of conflicts, towns and villages besieged and gritting teeth while being forced to temporarily ‘switch sides’ in The English Civil War, could easily look over the border for a particular cause of their tribulations… Buckinghamshire’s hero, ‘The Patriot’ John Hampden.
Bucks was mostly staunchly for – and under the control of – the Parliamentarian cause during that war, other than some skirmishes at Brill and Boarstall. Meanwhile Berkshire had two major battles at Newbury, another at Reading, and conflicts and upheaval over the control of villages across the county.
So who was John Hampden, whose statue looks over the centre of Aylesbury and has schools at Wendover, High Wycombe and Thame named after him? Related to Oliver Cromwell through his mother, Hampden lived at Great Hampden (the family had been there since before the Norman Conquest). As a parliamentarian he became famous before the Civil War. Hampden stood trial for refusing to pay ‘ship money’ to King Charles I when the monarch attempted to levy what had been a medieval tax which a ruler could claim without going through parliament. Seven of 12 judges ruled against Hampden, but a flame was struck in the minds of those who believed such taxes to be undemocratic.
When the King tried – and failed – to have Hampden and four others unconstitutionally arrested in the House of Commons in 1642 it sparked the Civil War. Within a year Hampden would die from wounds, probably from his own exploding pistol, received in battle at Chalgrove Field in South Oxfordshire.
The Parliamentarians eventually won, but Buckinghamshire never forgot its martyr and hero – and neither did others who celebrated democracy. The Victorians chose a statue of Hampden to place in the Central Lobby of the Palace of Westminster to mark the precedent established that a monarch cannot govern without Parliament’s consent. The symbolic slamming of the door in the face of an arriving ruler for the State Opening of Parliament each year commemorates the actions of Hampden and the other four a king once tried to arrest there.
Berkshire, meanwhile, had little to lionise as a result of the conflict. Many of the Civil War’s battles and skirmishes there might have had a ‘winner’ but much of this was down to men fighting themselves to a standstill or being forced to allow – or make – a strategic retreat following heavy casualties on both sides.
The First Battle of Newbury in1643, with the Royalist army under the personal command of King Charles, saw 2,500 casualties with the Royalists, low on ammunition, forced to allow the equally exhausted Parliamentarians to safely retreat to London from Wash Common. The Second Battle of Newbury, in 1644 at Speen, resulted in a tactical win for the Parliamentarians, but brought no strategic advantage. And Donnington Castle was reduced to a ruinous state.
Then there was The Siege of Reading, a near seven month campaign against a Royalist garrison running through the 1642-43 winter. The town, which changed hands several time during the war, and residents suffered most as a result of the garrison’s demands until its surrender.
Eventually, with the Parliamentarians victorious in the war, King Charles was held for a time at Caversham Park and it’s believed that a poignant and final meeting with his children was held at a Maidenhead inn in 1647 prior to his trial and subsequent execution early in 1649.
In 1688 Reading would offer a better welcome to a Royal visitor. William of Orange had arrived to take the crown from the Catholic King James II – indeed he was offered the ‘royal headgear’ at the Bear Inn in Hungerford. William needed just one decisive battle to reach the throne and his victory at Reading was welcomed – and celebrated for many years – by the townsfolk. James fled via London to France while William crossed the Thames Valley to cheers, arriving at Windsor.
There’s no doubt that it’s for the best that we we’d rather bowl balls and use bats as ‘weapons of choice’ on the village greens of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire these days.
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