27 JULY 1867, Page 12



HAVING completed our survey of the counties of the Southern Coast and South-West of England, it seems our most natural step to take next in order that block of country occupying the interval between the counties of Wilts and Gloucester on the one side, and the Metropolitan District on the other. This intermediate country includes the counties of Berks, Oxford, and Buckingham. Taken together, these three counties constitute an approximately square block, though considered separately the form of each county is very irregular. Berkshire,—the " Royal county," as it is called, from the Royal residence at Windsor lying within its limits,—" in form," says a writer in the Quarterly Review, "re- sembles nothing in the world, unless it be the worn-out high- low of some early frequenter of Covent Garden, which has been cast out into the street, especially if there be a rent in the toe, and a piece of the leather sticking up." It divides itself into four districts. The north-western is the Vale of White Horse, "answering to the upper leather ;" the south-western is the Vale of the Kennet, " answering to the sole of our highlow, from the heel to the ball of the foot." These two vales, running east and west, are divided from each other by the hill district, a high chalk range, the con- tinuation of the Wiltshire Downs, " which runs right across the county, from Lambourn and Ashdown, on the west, a little above the heel, to Streatley, in the east, on the instep." Two rivers fall from this range—the Ock, in a north-easterly direction, through the vale of White Horse into the Thames near Abingdon, and the Lam- bourn, in a south-easterly direction into the Kennet, at Newbury. "At Streatley the Thames runs through this range of hills, which after the temporary interruption march away north-east through Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire ; but as if unwilling to let the queen of English rivers slip entirely away from them, the hills recross the stream into Berks at Wargrave, and from that point to Maidenhead confine the Thames again in a chalky embrace. This small outlying district of chalk forms the northern part of the fourth or forest district of Berkshire, and answers to the ragged piece of leather sticking up on the toe of our boot. The remainder of the forest district, comprising the towns of Windsor and Wokingham, Windsor Forest, Ascot Heath, and the neighbouring villages, is separated from the Vale of Kennet by the river Loddon, which enters that county at Swallowfield, on the ball of the toe, and runs almost due north till it joins the Thames at Wargrave." Besides these rivers there is the Wilts and Berks Canal, through the Vale of White Horse, and the Kennet and Avon Canal, from Newbury to Wiltshire. The Vale of White Horse comprises also on its north side a low range of sand-hills, " which run along the banks of the Thames from Faringdon to Radley, and include Cumnor and Bagley Wood."

Oxfordshire, which forms the northern frontier of the Berkshire boot from the mouth at Lechlade along the instep to the com- mencement of the toe, at Reading, consists of two irregular blocks placed diagonally north-west and south-east, and joined together by a neck of land only seven miles in width, on the western frontier of which stands the capital of the county from which it derives its name. The north-western and larger block faces with its upper and longest frontier line the counties of Gloucester and Warwick, while its two other frontier lines, radi- ating from its base in the vicinity of Oxford, separate it from Berk- slim to the south-west, and from the counties of Buckingham and Northampton to the north-east. The south-eastern and smaller block of country widening from the narrow neck to Abingdon, on the west, and to Thame on the east, fills up the hollow formed by the fall in the Berkshire boot from the instep to the toe (at Reading), and the projecting piece of leather which rises thence to Henley. From that point it is bordered on its eastern frontier to Thame by the southern part of the county of Buckingham. The surface of Oxfordshire is for the most part level or gently undulating. A long range of hills runs from the left bank of the Evenlode in the west of the county northward to Chipping-Norton, and thence eastward to the neighbourhood of Doddington. "A low offshoot runs north-westward, near Great Rollwright, and connects the range with a group of hills that occupies a considerable district on the north-west boundary, and forms part of the watershed between. the Severn and the Thames." The most southern part of the county is occupied by the Chiltern Hills, which form the line of chalk downs crossing from Berks to Bucks, and which were for- merly covered by a forest of beech trees. They are now either sheep-walks or used as arable land. The highest eminences here. and on the north-western frontier are 820 and 836 feet respec- tively. The only other hills worth mentioning are those into' which the ground rises gradually to the east of Oxford, between the Cherwell and the Thames, of which Shotover Hill (1,599 feet). is the highest. Between Oxfordshire and Berkshire runs that upper portion of the Thames known by the name of the Isis, which re- ceives all the other rivers of the county in its course. These are the. Windrush, which, rising in the Cotswold Hills, in Gloucestershire, after a course of 18 miles past Burford, Witney, &c., falls into• the Isis at Northmoor ; the Evenlode, also derived from Glouces- tershire, which flows by Charlbury and Woodstock, and after tra- versing the county for 22 miles joins the Isis near Ensham ; the Cherwell, which, rising in Northamptonshire, has a course of 30 miles in Oxfordshire, and after passing Banbury and Adder- bury, forms a junction with the Isis at Oxford ; and lastly, the Theme, which flows from Stewkley, in Bucks, and reaching Oxfordshire at Thame, falls into the Isis at Dorchester, 15 miles. lower down. To these we may add the Oxford and Warwick Canal, which enters the north of the county, and follows the course- of the Cherwell to the Isis at Oxford.

The form of the county of Buckingham, which completes: the square block of country with which we are now con- cerned, is remarkable, though not so remarkable as those of its, sister counties of Berks and Oxford. It stretches in a long strip. of country nearly direct north and south for about 53 miles, with an extreme breadth east and west of 27 miles. The breadth,. however, varies greatly in different parts. Its extreme southern, extremity, close to Staines, is the apex of a triangle, the sides of which radiate north-westward to Great Marlow and the north of Henley, and north-eastward to Uxbridge and the west of Rick- mans worth. The breadth which is there reached diminishes again. in a line of latitude between Prince's Risborough and Wendover,, and then again widens to its greatest diameter from the neighbour- hood of Boarstall, on the west, to a little beyond Edliesborough the east. In the centre of this line of latitude lies the important, town of Aylesbury. The eastern frontier then trends in a wavy line direct north, till a little to the north of Olney we reach, again, the northern apex of the county. A line radiating hence• very irregularly in a south-westerly direction to the neigh- bourhood of Brackley, as its extreme westerly point, forms the• north-west side of a right-angled triangle, of which the right angle is between Fenny Stratford and Woburn (Bedfordshire), on• the east, with a base in the latitude of the town of Buckingham.. Between Brackley and Boarstall the western frontier line is a wavy line from north to south, radiating westward as it approaches: each of its extremities. The face of the country is much varied. The southern parts are occupied by the Chiltern Hills, with their appendages. This line of chalk downs enters the county from. Oxfordshire, and crossing it to the north-east, runs into Bedford- shire, near Dunstable. Their highest point, near Wendover, is 905. feet. They were all once covered with beech woods, so as to be nearly impassable, and became such a harbourage for thieves as to, cause the creation of the celebrated Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, for their especial guardianship. The citizens of London had, in the reign of Henry II., the special privilege of hunting in the Chilterns. The western part of the Buckinghamshire Chil- terns was occupied by the forest of Bernwood, which was dis- forested by James I. The heights above Great Kimble are still covered with box trees. The more northern parts of the county are diversified with gentle sand-hills, extending into Bedfordshire. The fertile Vale of Aylesbury spreads through the middle of the county, where its breadth is greatest, and affords a rich pasturage for cattle. Buckinghamshire, indeed, is chiefly celebrated for pas- ture lands. It contains 150,000 acres of meadows and pastures, and is said to feed 20,000 cows. Some of its rivers are also its boundary lines. The Thames divides the county from Berkshire for 28 miles, from Henley to Eton and Datchet. The Colne divides it from Middlesex for 24 miles. The Ouse touches the county at Turweston, near Brackley, and after first dividing it for some

miles from Northamptonshire, turns eastward and north-eastward by the towns of Buckingham and Newport-Pagnel to Olney, near which it quite the county, after a course of 43 miles. The Thame river, as we have seen, rises in the county at Stewkley, and flows south-west to Theme.

Casting, then, a general glance at the block of country thus more particularly delineated, we have the great system of chalk downs, of which the main line stretches in a north-easterly direc- tion from the Wiltshire frontier to that of Bedfordshire, and the open down and forest districts of which give their general character to the southern districts of the province. Piercing and interlaced with this system of hills is the water system, in which the Thames predominates. After the Chiltern system, the main feature of the province is the wide valleys, watered by numerous streams, and broken occasionally by outlying spurs or detached ranges of hills. These lowlands in Berkshire present the character of some of the richest natural corn lands, and in Oxfordshire and Buckingham- shire of some of the richest meadow and pasture lands in England. The north-western frontier is rendered bleak and rugged and unprofitable by another system of chalk hills, and the north-east extremity of the province rises, as we have seen, into low hills, in sand formation, while the western extremity of the southern boun- dary line is also composed of a strip of high sandy land.

The climate of Berkshire is healthy, and generally invigorat- ing, but the rich loam of the valley districts is not done justice to by the small yeomen farmers, who resist inno- vation, and agriculture in that county is decidedly in a back- ward condition. The country near Reading, however, abounds in market-gardens. The climate of Oxfordshire, though, in some parts healthy and bracing, is, in the northern districts, from the want of timber, chill in winter and unpleasantly hot in summer. The low grounds also, in the vicinity of Oxford, are con- sidered unhealthy, and there is much damp fog hanging about some of the hill and forest district. On the whole, the climate must be pronounced a cold one. The soils are of four kinds ; the red land, in the southern division, partly grass and partly fine arable land ; the stonebrash, chiefly north of Oxford and Witney, and an inferior soil ; the Chiltern chalk, in the south part of the county, covered with light calcareous loam, which is very profit- able ; and the miscellaneous soil of the remaining part of the county. The climate of Buckinghamshire is mild and, on the whole, healthy, except, perhaps, in some of the most closely wooded districts. We have already spoken of the rich pasture lands of the Vale of Aylesbury ; to the north of this the soils are inferior, and towards Bedfordshire of a sandy character. The Chiltern range and the land to the south-east of it are, on the whole, fertile and productive. In this south-east part of the county the surface is more varied, there being several depressions or valleys on the eastern slope of the chalk, in which some good loans occur. The mixture of chalk with the clay forms a soil well suited to wheat and beans, and abundant crops are produced. " In the valley of the Thames are some very good and well cultivated soils. The lower lands along the Thames and Colne, which are occasionally flooded, are in permanent meadows, and very valuable. The whole of this plain consists of a good loam, lying on the blue clay, called the London clay, but with the interposition in many places of a stratum of gravel, which adds much to the soundness of the soil above, by forming a natural drain for the waters. The arable land in this part of that county is carefully cultivated." About half the county is meadow and pasture. The fertile soil of the Vale of Aylesbury is composed of the Tetsworth clay, and there is a lime- stone known as Aylesbury stone. There are also manufactures in Buckinghamshire of straw-plait and lace. For picturesqueness Berkshire and Buckinghamshire assuredly carry off the palm in this Province, the high breezy downs, the rich woods, relics of the great forest which occupied the southern part, and the cheerful, open, and rich valleys rendering both these counties unusually attractive.

Such is the general aspect and character of the Province which forms the connecting link between the West of England and the great Metropolis, and one great highway between the west and the east of the Island.