Discover your ancestor who was buried in one of 175 parishes in Berkshire, England, between 1536 and 1962. The records may reveal their name, when they were buried, and where they were buried. You may also uncover the circumstances in which they died and were buried. Included in these records are those of Jethro Tull, not the progressive rock band of the same name, but the 18th century agricultural pioneer.
Each record comprises a transcript of the original burial register from 175 Berkshire parishes. The amount of information listed varies, but the records usually include a combination of the following information about your ancestor:
• First name
• Last name
• Death year
• Burial date
• Burial year
Later records may include further details. These additional details might include:
• Birth year
• Cause of death
• Other details (such as coroner’s’ verdict, cremation, unconsecrated ground, private burial)
The record set comprises almost 750,670 records from 175 parishes in Berkshire.
These records date from 1536 to 1962.
Please note that no images are included in these records.
Berkshire is a county in southeast England, located to the west of London. It’s known as the Royal County of Berkshire due to the presence of Windsor Castle. Reading is the county town of Berkshire.
The “Other details” category on the transcripts provide significant information on changes in society from the 16th to the 20th century. The causes of death and the methods of burial reveal much about improvements in treatment of (and vaccination against) disease, the working lives of children, the evolution of transport from “waggons” to motor cars, and gradually changing attitudes towards suicide.
Deaths from illnesses
There are 557 known deaths from smallpox in the records, dating from 1644 to 1902. The decline of smallpox in the Berkshire records coincides with the establishment of the Vaccination Act of 1853, which ordered mandatory vaccination for babies up to three months old. The Act of 1867 extended the age requirement to 14 years, as well as adding penalties for vaccine refusal. Many others died from illnesses that aren’t a threat today. In 1767, Mary O’En of Speenhamland died of “p,” referring to the plague, one of 615 recorded plague deaths from 1578 to 1786. Many of these occur during the Great Plague of 1655 – 1656 in England. There are also 73 known deaths from cholera in the records. William Heath of Brightwalton died in 1809 from another widespread disease as his notes reveal: “Russian influenza visited every house causing the death only of W Heath +”
A number of children died of diseases that are easily treatable today. In 1793, seven-year-old Susanna Cawdwell of Appleford died of the measles, and five years later, six-year-old Elizabeth Knight succumbed to fatal “fits.” In 1808, three-year-old Henry Chapman of Appleford died of a “bad cold.”
The language used to describe cause of death can reflect attitudes of the time; for example, in 1789, Thomas Justice died of “intemperance.” In 1810, Elizabeth Church died aged 85 of “decay of nature.” The language used to describe disease itself has also changed; please note that if your ancestor died from tuberculosis, there are 143 records for “consumption” but only one for “tuberculosis.”
Deaths by vehicle
In 1728, Samuel Lay of Aldworth, was “killed by waggon accident”. Many others in the 1700s and early 1800s were killed either by falling from the shafts or being run over by the wheels of the waggon. With the production of the first automobile in Britain in 1897, the nature of transport accidents gradually changed. Seven-year-old Edwin Breach of Thatcham was the first person in the Berkshire burial index to be “killed by a motor car” in 1904, with many more to suffer the same fate as cars became more popular. In 1897, William Barber of Basildon was, “coroner's order - killed by train, 3 passing together in a fog”.
Deaths by suicide
The notes are very telling about changing attitudes towards suicide. There are only 32 stated suicides in over 750,000 records, which itself implies that many were covered up or left unstated. Most of the coroners’ notes on suicide are in Latin. Suicide victims were often buried without religious service in remote, unconsecrated parts of the graveyard.
The earliest suicide victim in these records was Mic Mabelly of Kingston, who was buried in 1712 in Holy Cross Church, Sparsholt: “a felo-da-se [suicide] buried privately in the back side of the churchyard.” Felo de se is an archaic Latin phrase meaning “felon of himself,” showing that the deceased had committed a crime that was punishable by a shameful burial. In 1823, Elizabeth Turner of Idstone was “buried under verdict of felo de se [suicide], no service being read.”
As the 18th century progressed, however, suicide came to be seen as an act of temporary insanity, which removed the criminal implications of the act. John Bulham of Speenhamland, who was buried in 1821, was said to have committed “laqueo ipse sibi necem conscivit insanus [suicide by hanging while insane]”. John Casson, who was buried in 1845 in Speenhamland, committed “ipse sibi mortem conscivit insanus ut spero [suicide while, I hope, insane]”.
England’s more tolerant attitude towards suicide can be seen in the case of John Valentine Criddle’s death in 1955; his record states: “suicide, Christian burial.”
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but it struck on two occasions in Blewbury, four decades apart. In 1884, Thomas Street of Blewbury was “coroner's order - killed by lightning,” while in 1844, Charles Mortimer Beasley endured the same fate. In October 1940, Edward Arthur Henley, John Frederick Westall, and Kathleen Ann Mary Westall were “killed by enemy action” in Ascot, with no further details provided.
Some of the deaths of people at work reveal details about the industries that employed people throughout the past four centuries in Berkshire. In 1665, William Morres of Bray, was “killed by a piece of timber at Oakley Wharfe,” and in 1825, Charles Batten of Bucks, Great Marlow, was “Killed in the gravel pits.” In 1870, 14-year-old William James Bolton of Binfield was “killed 13 August at Winkfield while feeding a threshing machine,” while a couple of years later, John Davis of Ashampstead Norris was “killed in a chalk well by the falling in of the chalk.”
Description of deaths
A number of records are intriguingly vague. Several are described as being buried in unconsecrated ground, but there is no explanation as to why. In addition, the cause of death of many children and adults was listed as “decline,” with no reason given as to their decline. Vague descriptions of deaths include those of Thomas Huntley of Aldermaston in 1626 who “was killed in ye Box in ye 12 acrees” and eight-year-old John Briant of Newbury who was buried at St. Nicolas Church in 1805. His cause of death is simply listed as “evil.”
Others are appallingly specific:
In 1582, Peeter Foche of Hungerford was “killed by misfortune of a knife.” In 1801, Thomas Morris of Binfield was “killed by a bull,” and 15 years later, Daniel May of Arborfield also came to a bad end with an animal when he was “killed by a kick or a bruise of one of Mr Simond's horses.” In 1878, seven-year-old James Hedges of Wallingford “died from falling upon a pocket knife which went into the heart”.
Jethro Tull, an English agricultural pioneer from Basildon, Berkshire, was a key player in the British Agricultural Revolution. In 1701, Tull perfected a horse-drawn seed drill that economically sowed the seeds in neat rows, and later invented a horse-drawn hoe. His methods were adopted by many large landowners, helping to form the basis of modern agriculture and influencing the cotton culture in the American Southern Colonies. In the records, Tull is described as a “gentleman.” On 9 March 1741, he was “buried in woollen - was the author of Horse Hoeing Husbandry.”