Berkshire County Council

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The Council of the Royal County of Berkshire
Berkshire County Council
Coat of arms or logo
Banner of the arms of the County Council
Established 1 April 1889
Disbanded 1 April 1998
Preceded by Court of Quarter Sessions
Succeeded by Six unitary authorities - West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, Wokingham, Bracknell Forest, Reading and Slough.
C.C. Trembath[1]
Seats 87
Last election
6 May 1993
Meeting place
Berkshire Shire Hall.jpg
Shire Hall, Shinfield Park, Reading

The Council of the Royal County of Berkshire, also known as the Berkshire County Council, was the top-tier local government administrative body for Berkshire from 1889 to 1998. The local authority had responsibilities for education, social services, public transport, planning, emergency services and waste disposal, and had 87 members. Berkshire County Council shared power with six lower-tier district councils, each of which directed local matters.

On 1 April 1998, under the provisions of the Local Government Act 1992, it was abolished and replaced by its six former districts, the unitary authorities of West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, Wokingham, Bracknell Forest, Reading and Slough.



The Local Government Act 1888 created County Councils to replace the Court of Quarter Sessions and elections in 1888 brought about the county council's launch.[2]

From ‘’’A History of the first Berkshire County Council’’’:

There can be little doubt from reading the debates in Hansard that many advocates of elected County Councils thought they would bring about a new heaven and a new earth, and it is also clear that many others regarded the new County Councils as local parliaments. Both schools of thought were in time to be disillusioned.

Berkshire County Council sat originally in the Crown Court of the Assize Court in Reading (a practice that was followed in Pembrokeshire as recently as 1938) In 1903 they moved briefly to Nisi Prius Court, before finding a more permanent residence in 1911 at Shire Hall in Reading. Following the Local Government Act 1972, the council found a need to move to bigger premises at Shire Hall in Shinfield Park in the winter of 1980/1981,[3] at an estimated cost of £27.5 Million.[4]

List of Chairmen[edit]

Berkshire County Council had both a council leader and the mostly ceremonial role of chairman (no women are known to have been chair during the council’s existence).

Chairmanships were unlimited in duration or number of times (e.g. Sir George Robert Mowbray held the chairmanship twice in – 1944-1946 and 1960-1965).

In 1965, Chairman Sir Louis Dickens changed the term of office to 3 years, to be changed one year before elections. In 1974, the Local Government Act changed the size of and nature of the council, hence the distinction between 'Old' and 'New' County Councils.

Old Berkshire County Council (1889-1974)[edit]

William George Mount (Chairman of the preceding Court of Quarter Sessions 1887-1889) 1889-1905 Conservative

Albert Richard Tull 1905-1906

William Hew Dunn 1906-1911

Sir Robert Gray Cornish Mowbray 1911-1916

James Herbert Benyon 1916-1926

Sir William Arthur Mount 1926-1930

Thomas Skurray 1931-1938

- Known by the famous poem:

  • S upreme he sits in Council Hall
  • K eeping a ceaseless watch o’er all
  • U ntiring in his chosen work
  • R efusing any task to shirk
  • R esolved his county’s rate shall be
  • A thing too small for eye to see
  • Y ea, verily, A King is he!

Alderman Arthur Thomas Loyd OBE 1938-1944 Conservative

Sir George Robert Mowbray 1944-1946

Henry Arthur Benyon 1946-1947

Herbert James Thomas 1947-1954

William John Cumber CBE 1954-1957

Colonel Granville Watson CMG OBE 1957-1960

Sir George Robert Mowbray (As above) 1960-1965

Air Commodore Sir Louis Walter Dickens (Instituted 3 year Chairmanships)1965-1968

Derrick Aylmer Frederick Henry Howard Hartley Russell OBE 1968-1971

Richard Henry Carilef Seymour 1971-1974 [5]

New Berkshire County Council (1974-1998)[edit]

Frederick Derrick Pickering CBE 1974-1977 Conservative

Lt. Col. Richard Watt MBE 1977-1980 Conservative

Lewis David Moss CBE 1980-1982 Conservative

W.T. Timperley DFC 1982-1983 Labour

Ian Morgan[6] 1983-1986 Conservative

Frederick Gareth Robert Gimblett CBE 1986-1989 Conservative

William Anthony Wiseman (‘Tony Wiseman’)[7] 1989-1992 Conservative

Ronald James Day[7] 1992-1995 Liberal Democrat

C.C. Trembath 1995-1998 Liberal Democrat

Abolition and creation of the Unitary Authorities[edit]

The 1990s led to the restoration of county boroughs under a new name, unitary authorities which radically changed the administrative map of England. The Banham Review of 1992 sought to consolidate local authorities where possible and abolish unnecessary tiers of government. The changes to Berkshire County council were part of the final wave of changes in 1998, resulting from the act.[8]

The council was abolished, and the ceremonial county is now governed by the six unitary authorities: West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, Wokingham, Bracknell Forest, Reading and Slough.

Motives for abolition[edit]

In what the general secretary of the National Association of Local Government Officers described as a "completely cynical manoeuvre",[9] most of the functions of Berkshire County Council were given to the six unitary authorities, though some functions such as emergency services and public transport were taken over by joint boards.

It is said one reason for the abolition was because a Labour/ Liberal Democrats coalition had taken overall control of the council in the 1993 election. It was said that Wokingham MP John Redwood was one of the driving forces for its abolition to remove a rival local authority, although the Lib Dems in 1992 in opposition were said to have tabled a motion for abolition as well.

Another motive for the abolition could be ironically ascribed to the council’s success in contracting out its services to smaller authorities and private contractors. A recent former chairman of Buckinghamshire County Council described a table "full of contracts" as being the full workload of the Berkshire County Council, hence its obsolescence.


One of the last Chairmen of Berkshire County Council, Tony Wiseman, went on to found CRAG (a combination of the Readingstoke Action Group and CPRE) with a number of other former members of the council. CRAG successfully opposed Wokingham borough council's plan for building of houses between Reading and Basingstoke (to create a conurbation dubbed Readingstoke).[10][11]

After the abolition and until the 2009 local government reforms, the ceremonial county of Berkshire was unique in England as being the only non-metropolitan county to have no County Council throughout its entire area, with the entire county governed by unitary authorities.

Powers and composition[edit]

As stated above, under the Local Government Act 1972[12] the chief responsibilities of Berkshire County Council, in common with other non-metropolitan county authorities, included education, social services, public transport, planning, emergency services and waste disposal. It served to provide a strategic county-wide framework within which the differing plans of its six district councils could be harmonised.

As with many County Councils, the Local Government Act 1972 changed the structure of the council, and a large area around Abingdon and the Vale of the White Horse became part of Oxfordshire while Slough, which had been within Buckinghamshire, became part of Berkshire.[13] The former County Borough of Reading - which had been part of the historic assize and ceremonial county - also became part of the administrative county.

Elections to the Berkshire County Council[edit]

Elections were held to Berkshire County Council every 3 years, with chairmen being selected in the second year of each term (in all years after 1965).[14] After the 1974 re-organisation elections were held every four years, the last full election taking place in 1993.

Political Composition[edit]

Majority control of Berkshire County Council
Years Party
1990–1998 No overall control
1974–1989 Conservative
1945–1974 No overall control
1889–1945 No overall control

Between 1889 and 1945, the Council was fairly apolitical, although two of the Chairmen (William George Mount and Arthur Loyd) went on to become Conservative MP's.

Following the 1945 General election, the Labour Party won 17 councillors in 1945.[15] Despite this win, Labour were still a minority and party politics didn't really come to the fore until 1974, with the Local Government Act 1972. This Act also brought representatives of the former County Borough of Reading on to the County Council for the first time and brought the Borough of Slough into the County from Buckinghamshire while the northern part of the county was transferred to Oxfordshire.

The council was then dominated by the Conservatives, until 1990 when they lost overall control but continued to run the Council's administration.

In 1992 a Lib Dem coalition with Labour took majority control of the Council and, following the 1993 elections, dominated the council until the coalition fractured in 1996. A Lib Dem administration with the Conservatives then ran the Council until it was split into unitary authorities.

Coat of arms[edit]

Owing to the reorganisation of the council under the Local Government Act 1972, the coat of arms for Berkshire County Council is different before and after 1974.

Pre 1974 (1947-1974)[edit]

Arms and Crest [the stag argent] granted 18 July 1947. Crest changed and supporters granted 7 April 1961.

The coat of arms granted by the College of Arms to the Berkshire County Council are described as:

  • Arms: Azure two Lions passant guardant in pale Or a Bordure embattled Ermine.
  • Crest: On a Wreath of the Colours upon a Mount Vert a Stag at gaze Or in front of an Oak Tree fructed proper.
  • Supporters: On the dexter side a Lion Gules gorged with an ancient Crown Or and charged on the shoulder with a Tudor Rose proper and on the sinister side a Horse Argent gorged with a like Crown pendent therefrom a Bezant charged with a Pile Sable.

From Civic Heraldry:

The two Royal Lions are appropriate because Berkshire is a Royal County, a privilege is unique among shire counties. They are derived from the arms attributed to the Norman kings and have association with Reading Abbey, which was founded by Henry I. The embattled border to the shield is intended to represent the castles of the County, of which Windsor is the best known survivor.

The crest is based upon the badge of the old Royal Berkshire Militia, and there is a tradition that a banner with this symbol, or one similar, was carried by the men of Berkshire at the Battle of Agincourt. The stag under the oak is assumed to represent the stags and oaks of Windsor Forest, which gave royal sport to the Saxon and Norman kings. William I, who had an eye for good hunting country when he chose Windsor for his residence and began its famous Castle [sic]. The Red Lion Supporter is another Royal symbol, and the Tudor Rose on the Lion's collar, a Royal association with Windsor Castle. The White Horse is a reference to the historic carving in the chalk of a great White Horse on the top of the Downs near Uffington. The horse has a pendant with a wedge shape upon it; this shape is known in heraldry as a "pile" and its inclusion here tells in punning form of the atomic pile at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell.[13]

Post 1974 (1974-1998)[edit]

  • Arms: Azure two Lions passant guardant in pale each crowned with an ancient Crown Or within a Bordure embattled Ermine.
  • Crest On a Wreath of the Colours upon a Mount Vert within a Mural Crown Ermine a Stag at gaze Or in front of a hollow Oak Tree leaved and fructed proper.
  • Supporters On the dexter side a Lion Gules gorged with an ancient Crown Or charged on the shoulder with a Tudor Rose proper and on the sinister side a Horse Sable gorged with a like crown pendant therefrom a Mullet of six points Gold.

Again from Civic Heraldry:

The arms were based very much upon the former Berkshire Arms. The principal change was the substitution of a Black Horse for a White Horse as the right-hand supporter, the White Horse representing the White Horse of Uffington which is no longer in the county. The Black Horse represents the county's considerable connections with horse-racing, there being a reference in old county histories to the ancient native horses of Berkshire being black. The six-pointed star on the collar, refers to the six borough and districts in the county, and also to the close association of Slough with the celebrated astronomer Sir William Herschel.[13]

And from Berkshire History:

Because the arms were officially granted to the Berkshire County Council and not actually to the county itself, they were altered slightly with the reorganisation of the administrative county boundaries in 1974 (largely the replacement of the white horse with a black one) and, since the council's demise in 1998, officially the county has no arms at all. Attempts to transfer the old arms to the Lord Lieutenancy have, so far, been unsuccessful.[16]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The main setting for BBC comedy show "The Wrong Mans" and the workplace for the main two characters.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Evans, Andrew (13 August 1992). "Public Service Management: End of the metropolitan line: County councils face an uncertain future. Andrew Evans recalls how the Government abolished local authorities serving 18 million people". The Independent. Retrieved 7 April 2011. 
  2. ^ Local Government Act 1888, Section 3 
  3. ^ "Shirehall 1981-2000", Berkshire Record Office, 4 February 2012, retrieved 4 February 2012 [permanent dead link]
  4. ^ "Ch. 52 specifically sections 2420 and 2488". A History of the first Berkshire County Council 1889-1974. 
  5. ^ "Ch. 54". A History of the first Berkshire County Council 1889-1974. 
  6. ^ County Council Meeting Minutes 10th November 1984 
  7. ^ a b County Council Meeting Minutes 9th May 1992 
  8. ^ The Berkshire (Structural Change) Order 1996. SI 1996/1879
  9. ^ "Angry reaction to councils White Paper". The Times. 8 October 1983. 
  10. ^ "Debate Protects the Public", Daily Telegraph, 4 February 2012, retrieved 4 February 2012 
  11. ^ "Goodbye Berkshire, Hello Readingstoke", The Independent, 4 February 2012, retrieved 4 February 2012 
  12. ^ see section 'Division of Functions' and citations there
  13. ^ a b c Civic Heraldry, 4 February 2012, retrieved 4 February 2012 [permanent dead link]
  14. ^ A History of the first Berkshire County Council 1889-1974 
  15. ^ "Ch. 39 specifically section 1903". A History of the first Berkshire County Council 1889-1974. 
  16. ^ Berkshire History: Berkshire Coat of Arms and Berkshire Flag, 4 February 2012, retrieved 4 February 2012 [permanent dead link]

External links[edit]