The ancient English festival of Hocktide survives in Hungerford
Hocktide dates back to medieval times. It was an important time of the year, after Easter, when rents were collected, judgements made and the rights of a town asserted. At one time, it was held in almost every town in the country. Today it survives in only one – Hungerford, because the tradition has been maintained by the Town and Manor of Hungerford charity which owns a lot of property and land in the town (including the Town Hall and Hungerford Common).
This article traces the history of Hocktide in Hungerford and describes how the event is conducted and celebrated in the 21st century.
The Constable for Hungerford Town & Manor, Ellie Dickins, said, “The Hocktide festival is well worth seeing for both local residents and visitors. The traditional celebrations are a unique sight that we work hard to preserve for future generations.”
The Selection of Hocktide Jury – Tuesday 23 April
This takes place at 6pm on the Tuesday following Easter Monday (23 April 2019) 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. For Commoners only. A commoner is someone who has the ancient right to take resources from a piece of common land as defined by the laws of the Hocktide Court. Commoners’ rights are assigned to the owner/occupier of specific properties in Hungerford.
The Macaroni Supper – Friday 26 April
This traditional meal of Macaroni cheese and watercress, with ale, is held upstairs in the Town Hall on the Friday after Easter (26 April 2019). 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. For Officers only (not the general public).
The Ale Tasting – Monday 29 April
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 7.30 – 9.30pm on the Monday evening (29 April 2019) before Tutti-Day in the Corn Exchange, and the evening makes a splendid prelude to the important day to come. This event is organised solely by the Ale Tasters – this year they will be Mark Genders and Garry Rees. By invitation only.
Tutti Day – Tuesday 30 April 2019
Tutti Day is a glorious and slightly eccentric continuation of the medieval rent collection ritual by the Titheing Men (also known locally as Tutti Men). It’s traditional for Commoners to decorate their properties in Hocktide colours of blue and silver. There is a traditional day-long schedule including a formal lunch hosted by The Constable which the public can buy tickets to attend.
8 a.m. Summoning of all Commoners to Hocktide Court
The Bellman will sound the Constable’s horn from the Town Hall balcony. All Commoners will be summoned by the bell and proclamation to attend the Hocktide Court.
All Commoners and the general public are invited to attend this ancient court.
9 a.m. Tithing Men Setting Off
The Constable presents the Tutti Poles to the Tithing Men on the Town Hall Steps. The Tithing Men then set off, accompanied by Orangeman Jim Scarlett and the Tutti girls, to collect the dues from the Common Right Properties. Traditionally the Tithing Men collected rent but now they collect kisses in exchange for an orange, in recognition of the town’s support of William of Orange in the 17th century.
9.05 a.m. Hocktide Court
The selected Hocktide Jury will attend the Court in the Town Hall and all Commoners are called. Spectators are welcome to watch and listen to this very old tradition.
This year’s Tuttimen were Sarah Jackson and Philip Porter.
The Tutti Girls were Teigan Hill, Zoe Maidment, Rebecca Hale and Ellie Bampton, all Year 10 students from John O’Gaunt School.
1pm Hocktide Luncheon
Attendance by invitation from The Constable or purchase of tickets from Crown Needlework. Tickets cost £45pp for the formal lunch with traditional toasts and a Plantagenet punch (from a closely guarded secret recipe). The Bar is open from 12.00 noon to enable you to buy wine by the bottle and soft drinks for lunch. A complimentary glass of wine before the lunch is provided for you and your guests in the Magistrates Room.
Shoeing the Colts
After lunch, the Blacksmith proceeds with the shoeing of newcomers to the Tutti-lunch, who are called ‘colts.’ The blacksmith pretends to drive a nail into their shoe and the hammering only stops when the colt shouts ‘punch.’ This tradition is carried out light heartedly and no one should be hurt. A little struggle makes it all the more fun, but colts can be shod gracefully if they so wish. A donation of £5 is appreciated to cover the cost of shoeing.
3 – 5pm Tutti Day Crafts for Children
All local children welcome to meet the Tutti Men and enjoy craft activities at the United Reform Church.
5pm Anchovies on Toast
All are welcome for the traditional anchovies on toast, courtesy of the Three Swans opposite The Town Hall
7.30 pm Hungerford Town Band
Every year the town band performs for the pleasure of the people of Hungerford in the Corn Exchange.
9pm Return of the Tithing Men
The Constable welcomes the Tithing Men back at The Three Swans the end of their long and arduous day.
Court Leet – Friday 3 May 2019
All office holders, including the new Constable and committee members are sworn in for their office for the ensuing year.
Constable’s Sunday – Sunday 5 May
Please gather at 10:45am outside the Corn Exchange. The parade starts at 11am and will be led by the Town Band. The service at St. Lawrence’s Church starts at 11:15am to welcome the new Constable.
Lesley Bradley and Bruce Mayhew as Tutti Men supported by Orangeman Jim Scarlett and John O’Gaunt students Maddison Pettifer, Molly Skipworth, Georgia Smith and Sian Wheeler as the Tutti Girls.
Lots of fun – including a particularly raucous ‘Shoeing of the Colts’ by blacksmith Pete Rackham in Hungerford Town Hall after the Hocktide Lunch…