Handbook for Berkshire

During the summer of 1898, Meade Falkner enjoyed a long cycling tour of Berkshire. He filled four notebooks with pencilled accounts of the places he visited and they survive as a first hand record of his thoughts – written up on the spot or during the evenings. As his biographer, Kenneth Warren, says: “Falkner’s notes are above all of churches, but there is a good deal also of wider topographical interest and some insight into his interesting ways of thinking and his prejudices. Another fascination of the account, rough-hewn as it is, stems from the fact that it is a description of rural England on the very threshold of the motor age – no more than a decade later the situations which he depicted would have been very different”. *

Four years later, Murray’s published the fruits of this and other visits to the county. In  this Handbook for Berkshire, Falkner prefaced the work with the hope that it “may prove of use to such sober-minded people as can still be found to take pleasure in the quiet scenery and antiquities of an agricultural county”. As with his Handbook to Oxfordshire [1894], Falkner was trenchant in his views – some would say blinkered, - but this made for lively reading.

At Woolhampton, when the old church was destroyed in 1860 and a new one built, “a unique Norm. font of stone, with an arcade and figures of lead, together with some brasses, were flung into a grave under the present church, and buried”. Winkfield’s church was rebuilt and is “without interest”; Wokingham’s church of St. Lawrence was “restored till it is uninteresting”; whereas West Hendred had “an interesting and happily [1899] unrestored Church”. Poor old Hungerford, where Falkner stayed in 1898, was “a clean little town, with historic associations, but now possessing little of interest”. In his introduction, he fulminated that “as a county Berkshire churches have suffered more perhaps than those of any other at the hands of ‘restorers’”.

* There is a more detailed account of the holiday in Kenneth Warren’s article in the Society’s Journal No. 5  [July 2004].