Berkhey, a village swallowed by history

Berkheide is a reserve in the dunes between Scheveningen and Katwijk on the dutch coast, well known by many nature lovers. Few people though know that the name of the area can be traced back tot Berkhey, a fishing village that was an outcast in the late Middle Ages and eventually was swept away by the end of the sixteenth century.

In the fourteenth century the Lord of Voorschoten, Gillis van Cralingen, came to the area of Wassenaar, the Netherlands. In 1396 he established the village of Berkhey in the dunes. ‘Berk’ means birch, a tree that was common in that area. ‘Hey’ means moorland, suggesting the new born village was meant for cattle breeding.

But the truth was that the Lord had planned a fishing village. Fishery was very successful these days in the surrounding villages Scheveningen and Katwijk aan Zee. Van Cralingen wanted his share. He would give anyone willing to work as a fisherman land to build a house. In exchange he demanded some of the catch and four percent of the yield. The plan turned out to be fortunate, leading to serious rivalry between Berkhey and the surrounding towns.

Berkhey, berkheide, katwijk

According to the Society Old Katwijk, the people of Berkhey were mostly heretics and scum. But the competitive situation might have lead to that assumption. From 1412, it was prohibited for people from Katwijk to settle in Berkhey or even to communicate with inhabitants of the nearby village.

Little is know about what happened to Berkhey after that. Quite a few heavy floods, like the Elizabeth Flood of 1421 and the All Saints Day Flood of 1570, swallowed parts of Katwijk and Scheveningen. It is likely to assume that Berkhey was stricken as well. The register of Berkhey fishing boats in that period recorded nine so called pincks in 1475 and only two left in 1515, a down bound trend.

Berkhey is pictured one more time in a preserved 1598 drawing of a stranded sperm whale. The village is on a french map dated 1622, but after that, history erased the unfortunate fishing village. The fact that derivates from Berkhey still are quite common today as surnames in Katwijk, supposes that the last inhabitants of Berkhey fled to the nearby village.