search database








Berkeley Church
Berkeley's church, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, may look somewhat strange at first glance. Isolated from the main body of the church, its present tower, built in the mid 1700s and positioned a respectful distance away amongst the tombstones, marks the site of an earlier church. The unexpectedly large size of Berkeley's church reflects its status as a Minster church.

Nestling close to the Severn Estuary some fifteen miles south of Gloucester in the vale to which it lends its name, Berkeley is a small former market town steeped in history. The parish borders a number of others, on the eastern side of the Severn Estuary, these being Slimbridge, Cam, Stinchcombe, Stone and Hill whilst situated to the west across the River Severn are the parishes of Blakeney, Lydney and Aylburton. A substantial parish in terms of size when compared with other parishes in Gloucestershire, Berkeley contains several tithings - Alkington, Breadstone, Hamfallow, Hinton, Ham and formerly Stone. At one time a chapelry of Berkeley, Stone has been a parish in its own right since 1797. In 1911, for ecclesiastical purposes, the hamlet of Woodford in the tithing of Alkington became part of the parish of Stone.

In the past many of the local people were involved in the rural economy in one way or another as farmers and labourers. Berkeley was also home to many individuals who made a living through occupations connected with the River Severn and the Gloucester to Sharpness Canal such as fishermen, river and canal pilots, sailors and dock workers.
Click here for a map of Berkeley.

When Henry II ascended to the throne in 1154 he granted Robert Fitz Harding the Barony of Berkeley. Robert went on to establish the foundations of Berkeley Castle which still remains in the ownership of his descendants. The earldom continued through successive generations, ending in 1810 upon the death of Fredrick Augustus. In middle age, Frederick Augustus met and became enchanted by Mary Cole, the beautiful seventeen-year-old daughter of a butcher from Gloucester who, believing that she'd been through a valid marriage ceremony, came to live with him at Berkeley. Mary produced a number of offspring before a second and subsequently legally recognised marriage took place. Upon his father's death, the eldest son of the union, William Fitz Harding, unsuccessfully claimed the peerage which was finally laid to rest by his younger brother, Thomas Moreton, the eldest legitimate son, who declined to claim it.

Deposed by his wife and Earl Mortimer, it was to Berkeley Castle that King Edward II was brought and imprisoned in 1327. It was hoped that the weakly king would soon perish. When his death did not come soon enough to satisfy his captors, the King was subjected to torture and brutally murdered. It is said that some of the townsfolk of Berkeley heard terrifying screams coming from the castle the night Edward met his Maker. Following his death, Edward's body was taken away to be entombed at Gloucester Cathedral.

Berkeley's most famous son, Edward Jenner, whose father was vicar of Berkeley, was born at the vicarage in 1749. It was in a thatched hut in the vicarage garden that Jenner, who became a well-liked and respected local doctor, carried out many of his experiments in vaccination. After successfully inoculating eight-year-old James Phipps against smallpox using cow pox lymph from the hand of dairymaid, Sarah Nelmes in 1796, Dr. Jenner introduced and promoted inoculation as a means of overcoming the threat of death posed by the disease.