Although the origin of the name ‘Hocktide’ is open to debate, the origins of Hocktide itself almost certainly lie in the activities of the shire reeves (later sheriffs) The office of shire reeve dates back to pre-Conquest times and was one of several aspects of Anglo-Saxon administration which the Norman and Plantagenet kings were happy to retain and adapt. The introduction of feudalism had advantages and disadvantages for the monarchy: one of the disadvantages, which became clearer over time, was the the stewards and bailiffs who acted as administrative officers for the nobles often became very powerful local figures (as did the nobles themselves), which tended to threaten the king’s rights. The shire reeve was an important counterbalance to this feudal and sometimes disloyal authority. He acted as the king’s representative, holding courts, collecting rents and other dues owed to the crown and generally looking after the royal interests in the shires. The kings made great efforts not to allow the office to become hereditary so as to retain control of the appointments. The shire reeve, though rarely popular (as the Robin Hood stories amply demonstrate) was a figure of considerable local consequence and was for many centuries vital to the organisation of an increasingly centralised country .
The shire reeves would hold regular courts, known as Tourns, which by the mid-13th century had become well-established throughout England. The most important of these were held around the times of the quarter days (roughly co-inciding with the solstices and equinoxes) when rents were traditionally due. Providing one was a freeholder, medieval justice was very inclusive: indeed, attendance at these courts was compulsory for landholders. The social structure ultimately depended on the landowners in each Hundred (an administrative division of a county, Berkshire having about 20) being collectively answerable for the actions of their peers. One of the tasks at each Tourn was thus to establish which freeholders had died, which had reached the age of majority for such matters (12) and – less commonly in this socially static age – which had arrived or left the area since the last count.
For hundreds of years, these activities were conducted as regularly as the seasons in every part of the country. Today, the tradition actively survives in only one place – Hungerford.
Over time, regular events and ceremonies tend to lead to permanently established organisations to administer them. Bodies like Hungerford’s Town and Manor developed all over the country in order to preserve and administer the various rights and privileges (as well as the obligations) conferred by various grants from kings and nobles. Many towns would be associated with particular powerful families and it was advantageous to the town to keep these relationships harmonious. In Hungerford’s case, the most famous such landowner was John of Gaunt – the Duke of Lancaster, the third son of Edward III and the father of Henry IV – whose many grants in the late 14th century, including fishery rights, have resulted in his name still being well known in the town today.
However, the relationship between the Town and Manor, the Duchy of Lancaster. other local interests and the increasingly centralising ambitions of the government became progressively less easy and simple (see the link below to the article on the history of the Town and Manor). This was a pattern repeated elsewhere. Particularly from the 19th century, when the structure of local councils with wide-ranging powers was formalised, the duties, responsibilities and privileges of these ancient organisations became subsumed into these new bodies.
For various reasons, which the article linked to below also discusses, this did not happen in Hungerford. Instead, its assets and duties were consolidated into a charitable body, an formalisation which took place in 1908. The Town and Manor was thus established as a significant landowner but one governed by charity law. It is quite distinct from the Hungerford Town Council. In some ways, the two organisations operate parallel jurisdictions, one based on a raft of medieval and early-modern precedents, the other on present-day municipal arrangements. Although the Town and Manor’s main functions are very practical, its jurisdictional powers have become largely ceremonial.
They have not, however, disappeared. Every now and then, and particularly in the two weeks after Easter, they are plainly visible, if at times seeming as mysterious as the protocols in the House of Commons. These two organisations may seem to have few similarities but there is a common thread running through both. Their ceremonies are useful reminders of times when rights and liberties were hard won and in need of protection and expansion; when people were answerable to and responsible for their peers; and when communities would periodically and publicly assemble to to resolve disputes, pay their dues and generally manage their affairs according to time-honoured and widely understood traditions, precedents and common law. This continuity provided, in those uncertain times, one of the main bulwarks against anarchy. In a largely illiterate society they needed to be conducted with a good deal of visible and audible ceremony. Every spring in Hungerford, this visible and audible ceremony survives. Oyez, oyez!
For more information on the history of Hocktide and the Town and Manor you can do no better than clicking on the links which will take you the appropriate parts of the Hungerford Virtual Museum. The above section was written by Penny Post and any errors of fact or interpretation are its responsibility. The following section draws heavily on information supplied by the Town and Manor and Hungerford Virtual Museum. Most of the photographs were taken by Tony Bartlett.
The video above, narrated by Johnny Morris, was made about the 1991 Hocktide. It is a nostalgic documentary but there are many familiar faces and nothing much has changed in the past 25 years!
The key events of Hocktide are listed below. Please note that many of these are by invitation or entitlement only. Many of the activities on Tutti Day itself take place outside. Events which are open to all are referred to as such in the text.
The Selection of Hocktide Jury
This takes place on the morning of the Tuesday following Easter Monday (18 April in 2017) in the Magistrates’ Room. All commoners’ names are put into the Bellman’s hat – and the names are drawn singly by the attending Commoners. Those chosen are required to attend the Court of Tutti-Day.
The Macaroni Supper
This traditional meal of Macaroni cheese and watercress, with ale, is held on the Friday after Easter (21 April in 2017) at the Three Swans Hotel. It is attended by the Constable and other serving officers of the Hocktide Court. The Macaroni Supper is now used to discuss possible appointments to office at the new court.
The Ale Tasting
The “Assize of Bread and Ale” had 13th century origins, when it was important to monitor the quality of bread and ale in every town and village. It lapsed circa 1900, but was reinstated as “Ale Tasting” in the mid 1960s. It takes place on the Monday evening (24 April in 2017) before Tutti-Day in the Corn Exchange, and the evening makes a splendid prelude to the important day to come.
At 8 am, the Town Crier stands on the balcony of the Town Hall, sounds his horn, and summons all commoners to the court with the words:
“Oyez! Oyez! All ye Commoners of the Town and Manor of Hungerford and Liberty of Sanden Fee, are requested to attend your Court House at 9 o’clock this morning on pain of being fined. God Save The Queen, Duke of Lancaster!” He then walks the length of the High Street and Bridge Street repeating his call.
The Commoners Court: At 9 o’clock prompt, the court convenes in the Town Hall, At the head of the meeting is the Constable. The Hocktide Jury is sworn in, and they select a foreman. Business is then conducted in much the same way as it has for centuries, including the repeating of rights and privileges, the presentation of the annual accounts for approval before being submitted to the Charity Commissioners. The annual turnover of the Town and Manor is currently (early 2010s) around £300,000. (The capital value of the Town and Manor estate in 2012 was £6 million).
Then follows the Election of Officers for the following year. When this is completed, and other business matters are concluded, the Commoners Court is closed.
Meanwhile, the Tutti-men have set out on their journey which will last them all day. They carry the famous Tutti-Poles, decorated beautifully
in a traditional way with spring flowers and ribbons.
In the past the Tutti-men collected the ‘head-penny’ from each and every householder (with commoners rights), but this custom lapsed many years ago. Nevertheless, every commoner’s house is visited during the day, and inevitably the visitors are offered hospitality at each one. Traditionally they were able to ask for a kiss from the lady of the house in addition to the head-penny. The Tutti-men are accompanied on their tour by the Orange-man, a sort of mentor and guide, whose experience over many years is of considerable value to the Tutti-men during their strenuous day.
The Hocktide Luncheon. At mid-day the Commoners’ Luncheon is held for all commoners, their invited guests and some ticket holders in the Corn Exchange. After the meal, and the speeches by the Constable and his guest speaker, all newcomers to the Tutti-lunch, who are called ‘colts’, are shod, by having shoeing nails driven into their shoes by the local blacksmith. The hammering only stops when the colt shouts ‘punch’ and pays a contribution to his meal.
Local children (accompanied by an adult) are invited to The United Reformed Church in the High Street from 3pm to 5pm for a chance to find out a little more about Hocktide and to meet the Tutti Men – and scramble for sweets!
The Court Leet
On the Friday (28 April in 2017) following Tutti-Day, the Court Leet is held, when the new office holders are sworn in, and badges of office are passed over from the past office holders.
On the following Sunday (30 April in 2017), the second after Easter, the newly elected Constable leads his office-holders and other town officials and representatives of various organisations from the Town Hall (at 10.45am) to St. Lawrence’s Church for the ‘Constable’s Service’, the Bailiffs staff being carried by the Bellman as they walk in procession. All are welcome to attend.