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Berkshire (pron.: /ˈbɑrkʃər/ or /ˈbɑrkʃɪər/, abbreviated Berks) is a county of south east England, located to the west of London. It has also been known as the Royal County of Berkshire since at least the 19th century because of the presence of Windsor Castle; this was recognised by the Queen in 1957 and letters patent were issued confirming this in 1974. Berkshire is a county of historic origin and is currently both a ceremonial county and a non-metropolitan county without a county council. Berkshire County Council was the main county governance from 1889 to 1998, except for the separately administered County Borough of Reading. In 1974 the towns of Abingdon, Didcot and Wantage were transferred to Oxfordshire, Slough was gained from Buckinghamshire, and the separate administration of Reading ended. Since 1998 Berkshire has been governed by the six unitary authorities of Bracknell Forest, Reading, Slough, West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead and Wokingham. It borders the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Greater London, Surrey, Wiltshire and Hampshire.
From a landscape perspective, Berkshire divides into two clearly distinct sections with the boundary lying roughly on a north-south line through the centre of Reading.
The eastern section of Berkshire lies largely to the south of the River Thames, with that river forming the northern boundary of the county. In two places (Slough and Reading) the county now includes land to the north of the river. Tributaries of the Thames, including the Loddon and Blackwater, increase the amount of low lying riverine land in the area. Beyond the flood plains, the land rises gently to the county boundaries with Surrey and Hampshire. Much of this area is still well wooded, especially around Bracknell and Windsor Great Park.
In the west of the county and heading upstream, the Thames veers away to the north of the (current) county boundary, leaving the county behind at the Goring Gap. This is a narrow part of the otherwise quite broad river valley where, at the end of the last Ice Age, the Thames forced its way between the Chiltern Hills (to the north of the river in Oxfordshire) and the Berkshire Downs.
As a consequence, the western portion of the county is situated around the valley of the River Kennet, which joins the Thames in Reading. Fairly steep slopes on each side delineate the river's flat floodplain. To the south, the land rises steeply to the nearby county boundary with Hampshire, and the highest parts of the county lie here. The highest of these is Walbury Hill at 297 m (974 ft), which is also the highest point in South East England region and between London and South Wales.
To the north of the Kennet, the land rises again to the Berkshire Downs. This is a hilly area, with smaller and well-wooded valleys draining into the River Lambourn, River Pang and their tributaries, and open upland areas famous for their involvement in horse racing and the consequent ever-present training gallops.
As part of a 2002 marketing campaign, the plant conservation charity Plantlife chose the Summer Snowflake (a.k.a. the 'Loddon Lily') as the county flower.
Demographics According to 2003 estimates there were 803,657 people in Berkshire, or 636 people/km². The population is mostly based in the urban areas to the east and centre of the county: the largest towns here are Reading, Slough, Bracknell, Maidenhead, Wokingham, Windsor, Sandhurst, Crowthorne and Twyford. The Reading/Wokingham Urban Area alone has a population of more than 350,000, making it southeast England's second largest 'city' in all but name. West Berkshire is much more rural and sparsely populated, with far fewer towns: the largest are Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford and Lambourn. The population of Berkshire increased greatly during the 19th century, due largely to proximity to an expanding London. In 1831, there were 146,234 people living in Berkshire; by 1901 the population had risen to 252,571 (of whom 122,807 were male and 129,764 were female).
Population of Berkshire:
1831: 146,234 1841: 161,759 1851: 170,065 1861: 176,256 1871: 196,475 1881: 218,363 1891: 238,709 1901: 252,571 1951: 198,000  1983: 400,000 
Ceremonial County The ceremonial county of Berkshire consists of the area controlled by the six unitary authorities, each of which is independent of the rest. Berkshire has no county council. The ceremonial county has a Lord Lieutenant and a High Sheriff. The Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire is Mary Selina Bayliss, appointed in May 2008 and the High Sheriff of Berkshire for the year 2011 is Robert Barclay Woods CBE.[9
The Oracle Corporation campusReading has a significant historical involvement in the information technology industry, largely as a result of the early presence in the town of sites of International Computers Limited and Digital. These companies have been swallowed by other groups, but their descendants, Fujitsu and Hewlett-Packard respectively, still have local operations. More recently Microsoft and Oracle have established multi-building campuses in the borough. Other technology companies with a significant presence in the town include Agilent Technologies, Assuria, Audio & Design (Recording) Ltd, Bang & Olufsen, Cisco, Comptel, DediPower Managed Hosting, Ericsson, Harris Corporation, Intel, Nvidia, Rockwell Collins, Sage, Sagem Orga, SGI, Symantec, Symbol Technologies, Verizon Business, Virgin Media, Websense, Xansa (now Steria), and Xerox. The financial company ING Direct has its headquarters in Reading, as does the directories company Yell Group and the natural gas major BG Group. The insurance company Prudential has an administration centre in the town. PepsiCo and Holiday Inn have offices. As with most major cities, Reading also has offices of the Big Four accounting firms Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst and Young, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Slough Trading Estate plays a major part in making Slough an important business centre in South East EnglandSlough is home to Europe's largest trading estate and the world's second largest trading estate. Slough has more company headquarters than any other town or city in the UK. Slough is also home to the UK's biggest Business Park, which is to be increased by Segro over the next few years. The global headquarters of Reckitt Benckiser and the UK headquarters of Mars, Incorporated are based in Slough (one of the Mars factories has been redeveloped and some production moved to the Czech Republic). The European head offices of major IT companies such as Research In Motion, Network Associates, Computer Associates, PictureTel and Compusys are all in the town. O2 is headquartered here across four buildings. The town is also home to the National Foundation for Educational Research, which is housed in The Mere. Other major brands with offices in the town include Nintendo, Black and Decker, Amazon.co.uk, Honda, HTC, Scottish and Southern Energy and Abbey Business Centres. Dulux paints are still manufactured in Slough by AkzoNobel which bought Imperial Chemical Industries in 2008. The Slough Trading Estate attracts many world-wide organisations due to its proximity to London Heathrow Airport. Slough has seen major companies such as Burger King, LG Electronics and many more move into the trading estate over the past few years. More details on the trading estate are available on the Segro website.
Bracknell is another base for high-tech industries, home to companies such as Panasonic, Fujitsu (formerly ICL) and Fujitsu-Siemens Computers, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Siemens (originally Nixdorf), Honeywell, Cable and Wireless, Avnet Technology Solutions and Novell. Its success subsequently spread into the surrounding Thames Valley or M4 corridor, attracting IT firms such as Cable and Wireless, DEC (subsequently Hewlett-Packard), Microsoft, Sharp Telecommunications, Oracle Corporation, Sun Microsystems and Cognos. Bracknell is also home to the central Waitrose distribution centre and head office which is on a 70-acre (280,000 m2) site on the Southern Industrial Estate. Waitrose has operated from the town since the 1970s. The town is also home to the UK headquarters of BMW Group.
Newbury is home to the world headquarters of the mobile network operator Vodafone, which is the town's largest employer with over 6,000 people. Before moving to their £129 million headquarters in the outskirts of the town in 2002, Vodafone used 64 buildings spread across the town centre. As well as Vodafone, Newbury is also home to the UK headquarters of the pharmaceutical company Bayer AG, National Instruments, Micro Focus, NTS Express Road Haulage, Jokers' Masquerade, Newbury Parcels and Quantel. It also is home to the Newbury Building Society which operates in the region.
Berkshire has a number of traditional dairy farming areas and has been famous of its cheese production for centuries. Abingdon Abbey once had many dairy-based granges in the Vale of the White Horse (now Oxfordshire) and in the south-east of the county, Red Windsor Cheese was developed with elderberry marbling. Today, a number of distinctive cheeses are exclusively produced in Berkshire, including Wigmore, Waterloo and Spenwood (named after Spencers Wood) cheeses from the Wigmore family at Village Maid Cheese in Riseley  (adjoining the Duke of Wellington's estate); and Barkham Blue, Barkham Chase and Loddon Blewe from Two Hoots Cheese at Barkham. 
The new grandstand at Royal AscotAscot Racecourse is used for thoroughbred horse racing. It is one of the leading racecourses in the United Kingdom, hosting 9 of the UK's 32 annual Group 1 races, the same number as Newmarket. The course is closely associated with the British Royal Family, being approximately six miles from Windsor Castle, and owned by the Crown Estate.
Ascot today stages twenty-five days of racing over the course of the year, comprising sixteen Flat meetings held between May and October. The Royal Meeting, held in June, remains a major draw; the highlight is the Ascot Gold Cup. The most prestigious race is the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes run in July.
Newbury Racecourse is in the civil parish of Greenham, adjoining the town of Newbury. It has courses for flat races and over jumps. It hosts one of Great Britain's 32 Group 1 races, the Lockinge Stakes.
Windsor Racecourse, also known as Royal Windsor Racecourse is a thoroughbred horse racing venue located in Windsor. It is one of only two figure-of-eight courses in the United Kingdom. (The other is at Fontwell Park). It abandoned National Hunt jump racing in December 1998, switching entirely to Flat racing.
Lambourn also has a rich history in horse racing, the well drained, spongy grass, open downs and long flats make the Lambourn Downs ideal for training racehorses.
Reading vs Swansea in The Championship at the Madejski StadiumReading F.C. is the only Berkshire football club to play professional football. Formed in 1871, the club is one of the oldest teams in England, but did not join the Football League until 1920, and first played in the top tier of English football in the 2006–07 season.
Newbury was home to A.F.C. Newbury, which was for a period one of only two football clubs to be sponsored by Vodafone (the other being Manchester United). In May 2006 Vodafone ended its sponsorship of the club, following which the club collapsed. A local pub team from the Old London Apprentice took over the ground temporarily and now compete in the Hellenic Football League as Newbury F.C..
There are several amateur and semi-professional football clubs in the county. These include Maidenhead United, Slough Town, Thatcham Town, Ascot United, A.F.C. Aldermaston, Sandhurst Town and Windsor F.C.
Reading is a centre for rugby union football, with the Aviva Premiership team London Irish as tenants at the Madejski Stadium.
Newbury's rugby union club, Newbury R.F.C. (the Newbury 'Blues'), is based in the town. In the 2004/05 season, the club finished second in the National Two division earning promotion to National One. Newbury had previously won National Four South (now renamed as National Three South) in 1996/97 with a 100% win record. In 2010/11 the club finished bottom of National League 2S, with a single win and twenty-nine defeats. The club was founded in 1928 and in 1996 moved to a new purpose-built ground at Monks Lane, which has since hosted England U21 fixtures.
Slough Rugby Club play in the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Southern Premier League (5 leagues away from the Aviva Premiership)
The Bracknell Bees Ice Hockey Club are former national champions, who currently play in the English Premier League.
Slough Jets also play in the English Premier League winning the title in 2007. Slough Jets also won the play-offs in 2005/2006, 2007/2008, 2009/2010 & 2011/2012. they have finished in the top 4 in the last 9 seasons. They also won the EPIH Cup in 2010-11. Slough Jets have been in the EPIHL since 1999.
Hockey Slough Hockey Club is home to the Slough Ladies 1XI who play in the Women's Premier League. Slough Hockey club have 5 adult teams; the Ladies 1XI play in the top tier of English Hockey, the Ladies 2XI play in the TrySports League, the Mens 1XI play in MBBO Regional 1, the Mens 2XI play in MBBO Division 3 & the Mens 3XI in the Thames Valley Conference.