Every year for well over 600 years, the festival of Hocktide has been celebrated in Hungerford. But not this year. The restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic have meant that for perhaps the first time for centuries the events have been cancelled – or at least postponed.
There doesn’t appear to be any record of the events being cancelled before. Certainly they were not interrupted by the two world wars. Perhaps during the Black Death in the 14th century was the last time the ceremonies were paused.
Behind the scenes, however, work still caries on. The end of year accounts will still be presented, the office holders of the Town and Manor of Hungerford for the coming year have still been agreed: however, the wonderful festivities of Tutti Day itself have not taken place. No Ale-Tasting, no Commoners’ Court, no Tutti-Day lunch, no Tutti-men and Tutti-girls progressing around the town followed by television crews and other interested supporters. No Constable’s parade or Constable’s Service.
But despite this, life in the Town and Manor goes on. The cattle are on the Common and Freeman’s Marsh, the flag is flying on the Town Hall and the Constable, Nick Lumley, is steering the ship through these difficult times. You can spot him each week leading the way in managing the social distancing restrictions around the wonderful Wednesday High Street market.
There are tentative plans for holding the Hocktide events in the autumn – Hocktober is the obvious name – but of course no one knows if this will be possible. However, there’s always next year’s Tutti-Day to look forward to, on Tuesday 13th April 2021.
The Wednesday market continues
Every Wednesday from 8am until about 1pm, our regular stallholders provide fruit, vegetables, bread, cakes, cheese, eggs, apple juice, cooking oil, meat, olives and (before 11.30am) fish. (Note that on some occasions not all stallholders will be present but they generally are.) The market is limited to food sales only and a strict control on numbers and queuing is enforced. Be prepared for a short wait (generally not more than 10 minutes).
This has proved to be a popular and practical way of buying fresh food and we hope that it will continue to run. The weather has also been very kind with only one wet Wednesday since the start of social-distancing. Even that, however, did little to reduce the attendance.
Cycling on the Common
We’ve posted notices on the Common asking people not to cycle (this applies only to the footpaths on the grassed areas – the roads are normal public highways open to all traffic). We’ve done this for several main reasons:
• To protect the cattle from disturbance (from groups and faster cyclists);
• To apply the legal requirements of the Countryside & Rights of Way Act (which forbids cycling, amongst many other activities, on Common land).
We can appreciate the strong feeling that this post has generated, as we love and enjoy being on the Common as much as everyone else in Hungerford. We’re not looking to prevent families from taking toddlers out on their bikes during family trips. The problem is caused by those who use the footpaths as if they are roads (which as with most problems, are a very small minority of users). The paths across the Common are only footpaths, not cycleways: we are just asking people to behave with common sense and respect the Common.
The return of the cows
As any visitor to the Common will have noticed, the cows are back in their ancestral summer pasture. With their new-found freedom, they can be a bit lively for the first couple of weeks. Whilst we hope people will still enjoy these beautiful open spaces in these troubled times, please exercise extra care when visiting whether this is in a car, or walking. This is especially pertinent to dog owners – whom we welcome – and would ask to keep your dogs on short leads when near the cows.
We’ve asked Penny Post not to brighten the photo below as it helps make the point that, even on sunny days (and still more so at dawn and dusk) the cows can be hard to spot. Sadly, every year there there are several incidents involving cars and cows colliding and neither comes out of such incidents unscathed. Please keep your speed down.
The cattle are an essential part of maintaining the SSSI and part of our rural payment scheme. The Common and Marsh lands are provided as a facility to the town at no expense to the rate payers.
Parking on in the High Street
Please observe the ‘No Parking after midnight’ signs put up on Tuesday afternoons in some bays on the Town Hall side of the High Street.
Some traders set up very early in the morning but can’t do this if vehicles are parked there.
The Town Hall
The non-use of the Town Hall complex in the current circumstances is obviously frustrating. If anyone has any suggestions as to how this superb local resource can be used to benefit the community and in a way consistent with the government regulations, please get in touch with the Constable, Nick Lumley, on email@example.com or 07734 837 921.
Who needs friends?
The Town and Manor of Hungerford is a local charity. It owns the lands to the east and west of the town and looks after them at entirely at its own expense for the use of the people of Hungerford and visitors to the area. It also looks after the trees in the High Street, runs the weekly market and takes care of The Croft village green and the chestnut trees there. It is also responsible for the running of the Town Hall and the upkeep of the rivers.
All of this is done at no expense to the residents. Not one penny comes to the organisation from council tax to provide these fabulous open spaces and facilities which are of particular importance in these unusual times as a place to walk, exercise dogs and get out.
We pay for this by getting farming grants, grazing fees, renting out the fishing rights, fees from the Town Hall and rents from properties.
As a result of Covid-19, however, the income to the charity has seriously depleted. The only event in the Town Hall for over a month was the Blood Donors on 1 May. Most of the staff have been furloughed. All educational walks, Hocktide, antiques fairs and use by various clubs and organisations have been cancelled. This is why we need friends…
We started Friends of The Town and Manor last year and several people have joined, including a regular visitor from America – but we need more..
Membership is £25 for individuals or £40 for a family.
For this, we will hold special friends events when all this is over, there is a regular newsletter, and you will be invited to all our social gatherings with the chance to see some of the beautiful areas not open to the public, with expert guidance and informed educational tours of the estate. You will also be given a priority booking for events held by the organisation.
If you want to support a charity that provides Hungerford with outstanding environmentally friendly spaces that are preserved against development, for all to use, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01488 686555 for an application form to join.
Just in case you needed further reminding of just how special the land that we own and manage for the public benefit is, here’s a recent photo of the Dun winding its way through Freeman’s Marsh.
The responsibilities of the Town and Manor
The Town and Manor of Hungerford is a unique institution, the only such body in England to have survived (in other places, the functions and assets of these organisations have been assumed by local councils). Some reflections on its past, and its present, role can be found here.
Many aspects of the Town and Manor, including its ownership of the Town Hall, make it look like another tier of local government (which it is not) and as a result many people are unsure of what aspects of local life it is responsible for. These are some of the main things that the Town and Manor does, all at no cost to the local residents:
• Hungerford Common (including maintenance, the cows, the paths, the trees and event licences).
• Freeman’s Marsh (including maintenance, the cows, the paths and the trees).
• The trees in the High Street from the Canal Bridge to junction of Atherton Road (maintenance).
• The Croft (including grass cutting, trees, posts and event licences).
• The Town Hall (including bookings and maintenance).
• River Kennet and River Dun (including weed cutting, debris clearance and bank maintenance).
• Hocktide (all aspects of the festival).
For any problems, issues or enquiries relating to any of these matters, please contact Jed Ramsay on email@example.com.