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The Birth of Berkshire in the Saxon South
in the Saxon South

King Athelwulf founded Berkshire -  Nash Ford Publishing


  • In Saxon times, the southern side of the Upper Thames Valley seems to have been made up of two areas. The north and west (the Vale of the White Horse, the Berkshire Downs and Kennet Valley) was called Ashdown. The east (Windsor Forest) was called Sunningum.
  • Sunningum seems to have been a small kingdom around Sonning. One of its kings may have been called Tappa.
  • The early Saxons were pagans. In the 640s, St. Birinus told the people of the Thames Valley all about Jesus and they became Christians. An important double monastery was set up at Abingdon. There were smaller ones at Cookham, Reading, Cholsey, Kintbury, Bradfield and Hurley.
  • The local bishop had his cathedral at Sonning and parish churches were set up all over the place. Are there any Saxon remains in a church near you?
  • The Kings of Wessex (to the south) and Mercia (to the north) argued a lot about who should rule the area. It switched kingdoms several times, but eventually became part of Wessex.
  • The Kings had wooden palaces at Faringdon, Drayton, Cholsey, Wantage and Old Windsor. The Witan (group of King's advisors) sometimes met at them.
  • King Athelwulf of Wessex seems to have made Berkshire a county in the 840s. It was ruled for him by an Ealdorman who lived at Wallingford and Aldermaston.
  • When the Vikings invaded the South of England in the 860s, they set up their headquarters at Reading. King Alfred beat them at the Battles of Ashdown (on the Berkshire Downs) and Edington (in Wiltshire) and sent them packing. He then set up forts at Wallingford and Cookham. They were called 'burghs'.
  • Berkshire men fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It was won by the invading Normans (from France). They took over the country. Most Saxons hated them, but they were welcomed by the Lord of Wallingford.

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