Berkshire County Council
|The Council of the Royal County of Berkshire
Berkshire County Council
Unofficial Flag of Berkshire 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.|
|First past the post|
|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. A strategic authority, with responsibilities for education, social services, public transport, planning, emergency services and waste disposal, it was composed of 87 members. Berkshire County Council shared power with six lower-tier district councils, each of which directed local matters.
It then used these offices up until 1 April 1998, when it was split into six unitary authorities under the provisions of the Local Government Act 1992. Rather than abolition, its powers were passed to the unitary authorities of West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, Wokingham, Bracknell Forest, Reading and Slough.
- 1 History
- 2 Powers and composition
- 3 Coat of arms
- 4 In Popular Culture
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 External links
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, at an estimated cost of £27.5 Million.
List of Chairmen
Berkshire County Council had both a council leader (effectively a CEO) 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)
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!
Sir George Robert Mowbray 1944-1946
Henry Arthur Benyon 1946-1947
Herbert James Thomas 1947-1954
William John Cumber CBE 1954-1957
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 
New Berkshire County Council (1974-1998)
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
Frederick Gareth Robert Gimblett CBE 1986-1989 Conservative
C.C. Trembath 1995-1998 Liberal Democrat
’Abolition’ and creation of the Unitary Authorities
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.
As it was a splitting up of a local authority, rather than a wholesale abolition, the ceremonial county of Berkshire continues to exist in the area controlled by the six unitary authorities. Hence the ceremonial county still has a Lord Lieutenant and a High Sheriff of Berkshire. The Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire who represents the monarch in his or her absence from the county is currently Mary Selina Bayliss, appointed in May 2008. and the High Sheriff of Berkshire is an annual appointment, promoting the county across the country and with discretionary functions similar to a mayor.
Motives for ‘abolition’
In what the general secretary of the National Association of Local Government Officers described as a "completely cynical manoeuvre", most of the functions of Berkshire County Council were devolved 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.
Although the county council was split up in 1998, the county area continues to exist, in mapping, and especially for statistical purposes and is one of the few counties to still lack a county council, after Labour restored many Metropolitan authorities (e.g. the GLC and GMCA) .
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).
Berkshire remains unique in England for having no County Council or District Council throughout its entire area (with just 6 unitary authorities, without County status). It is also the only non-metropolitan county to function in such a manner. Cheshire also was abolished 31 March 2009.
Powers and composition
As stated above, under the Local Government Act 1972 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. 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
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). After the 1974 re-organisation elections were held every four years, the last full election taking place in 1993.
|1990–1998||No overall control|
|1945–1974||No overall control|
|1889–1945||No overall control|
Following the 1945 General election, the Labour Party won 17 councillors in 1945. 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
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)
Arms and Crest [the stag argent] granted 18 July 1947. Crest changed and supporters granted 7 April 1961.
- Arms: Azure two Lions pas¬sant 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 asso¬ciation with Windsor Castle. The White Horse is a reference is 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.
Post 1974 (1974-1998)
- 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.
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.
In Popular Culture
- The main setting for BBC comedy show "The Wrong Mans" and the workplace for the main two characters.
- West Berkshire
- Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead
- Bracknell Forest
- Berkshire Records Office
- 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. independent.co.uk. Retrieved 7 April 2011.
- Local Government Act 1888, Section 3
- "Shirehall 1981-2000", Berkshire Record Office, 4 February 2012, retrieved 4 February 2012
- "Ch. 52 specifically sections 2420 and 2488". A History of the first Berkshire County Council 1889-1974.
- "Ch. 54". A History of the first Berkshire County Council 1889-1974.
- County Council Meeting Minutes 10th November 1984
- County Council Meeting Minutes 9th May 1992
- The Berkshire (Structural Change) Order 1996. SI 1996/1879
- The London Gazette: . 4 February 2012.
- "Angry reaction to councils White Paper". The Times. 8 October 1983.
- "Debate Protects the Public", Daily Telegraph, 4 February 2012, retrieved 4 February 2012
- "Goodbye Berkshire, Hello Readingstoke", The Independent, 4 February 2012, retrieved 4 February 2012
- see section 'Division of Functions' and citations there
- Civic Heraldry, 4 February 2012, retrieved 4 February 2012
- A History of the first Berkshire County Council 1889-1974
- "Ch. 39 specifically section 1903". A History of the first Berkshire County Council 1889-1974.
- Berkshire History: Berkshire Coat of Arms and Berkshire Flag, 4 February 2012, retrieved 4 February 2012