So, 2021 is over and done with and all at the Town and Manor would like to wish you all a happy, prosperous and healthy new year.
Below is a summary of some of the main tasks, projects and challenges that occupied the Town and Manor last year. Many of these are ongoing or recurring. It’s also certain that 2022 will provide more in a similar vein. As before, we’ll provide a summary of these each month.
“2021 was for us, as it was for all, a bit of a mixed bag,” the Town and Manor’s CEO Ellie Dickins observed. “The low points included the accidents involving the cows on the Common and the flood damage to the Town Hall, although in both cases we’ve put things in place to address and hopefully fix these problems for the future. On the plus side, we’re delighted to have completed the Sparkling Streams project, kept the regular Wednesday markets going, held at least some of our traditional ceremonies and continue to make donations to support local organisations. As the summary below shows, despite the challenges we’ve all faced, 2021 was in many ways a typical year for the Town and Manor in which we continued to respond to the varied and sometimes unexpected needs of the land and property that we own and manage for the public benefit.”
The references below (eg Nov/Dec) refer to the various monthly updates in Penny Post in which the matters are covered in more detail. All refer to 2021.
Ensuring the health and diversity of the waterways for which the Town and Manor is responsible is an important part of its work, particularly since a lot of media coverage has recently (and correctly) been devoted to river pollution. The Town and Manor was delighted to announce in February (see Feb/Mar) that a grant had been awarded from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and DEFRA. The £40 million Green Recovery Challenge Fund, part of the government’s wider green economic recovery, jobs and skills package, provided funding for environmental charities and their partners to work on projects across England to restore nature and tackle climate change.
The North Wessex Downs AONB was the lead applicant administering the grant award on behalf of the Heritage Fund and the Partnership included Action for the River Kennet (ARK), Hungerford Town and Manor and the Southern Streams Farmer Group. This project took place during the autumn and was completed in November (see Nov/Dec).
Traffic on the Common
The Town and Manor has long felt that the speed limit here needed to be reduced. Even with the help and support of Hungerford Town Council, the three District Councillors and several local residents this proved not to be a quick or easy matter.
Eventually, however, all the lobbying, meetings and evidence-gathering paid off when, in August, West Berkshire Council’s Highways department signed off the agreement to reduce the speed limit over Hungerford Common to 30mph (see Aug/Sep). The signs were eventually installed in early December (see Nov/Dec).
Cows on the Common
On a closely-related theme, our part-time bovine guests arrived in April (see Apr/May) and departed in October and November (see Nov/Dec). Less happily, during their stay there were a number of traffic accidents involving cattle, including one on 29 August (see Aug/Sep). We hope that the new speed limit, coupled with a wider awareness of the dangers that speeding can cause to drivers themselves, as well as to cows, cyclists and pedestrians, will avoid any repeats in 2022.
The Wednesday Market
This is probably the most visible sign of the Town and Manor’s work in the town – every Wednesday from about 8am to about 2pm, the western side of the High Street is transformed into one of the best open-air markets in the district offering fruit, veg, plants, bird seed, olives, bread, meat, fish, cheese and honey as well as a number of stalls offering everything from antiques to bric-a-brac and from LPs to sweets.
This kept going throughout the year, lockdown or not (the traders cope with most extremes of temperature and rainfall but the one thing that can defeat them is high winds) and was rightly seen by many as a safe and friendly way of doing the weekly shop. Please be sure to observe the no-parking signs on Tuesday night (the stalls set up very early on Wednesday morning). The market was referred to every month last year: the Nov/Dec section is as good a one to go to as any for more on this and some photos of the stall holders.
Repairs to the Town Hall
Good and bad news on this one. The bad was that in late July there was a fairly serious flood in the Town Hall and Magistrates Room (see Aug/Sep) which resulted in extensive repairs over the following months. The re-decoration work started in December 2021 and isn’t expected to completed until the early summer (see Nov/Dec). As for the cause, I’m afraid that this is another charge to be laid at the door of the town’s pigeon population as it was their accumulated droppings and nest debris that blocked the gutters.
The better news is that, once these works have been completed, the building will have had a major facelift and be ready to take advantage of what we all hope will be a return to a healthy level of bookings for events and functions once life starts to return to normal.
It’s important to remember that, as well as being a landowner, the Town and Manor is also a charity. The land and property it owns (including the Town Hall and the Common) are maintained at no cost to the council-tax payer and , indeed, generates a surplus. This enables the Town and Manor to discharge another of its charitable objectives, that of making grant payments to local organisations.
In 2021 these totalled nearly £12,000 and the recipients included the Hungerford Extravaganza, the NWN over-80s Parcel Fund, Hungerford Town Council (towards the cost of the Christmas lights), St Lawrence’s Church (for A-V equipment), the Town Band, the Cricket Club, the Camburn Trust, the Arts Festival, the Royal British Legion, the Youth Club and the Primary School. For more on the Town and Manor’s donations and how you can apply, please click here.
This initiative, which we launched in June, seemed an excellent way of not only celebrating the remarkable natural landscapes which we manage but also making a further donation to those who helped capture this on film. Many thanks to all those who took part and congratulations to the winners, Alison Valesoa Laly and Gary Black (see Aug/Sep).
The Town and Manor is a unique survival from the time when most towns in the country had a body of this kind to guard against any erosion of the privileges that had been granted by the king or local magnate and to regulate the affairs of the community. Many of these have now been taken over by the municipal system that developed in the 19th century but the Town and Manor still retains a number of functions. These, and its colourful and at times mystifying traditions, are celebrated each spring in the series of events collectively known as Hocktide.
2021’s activities were necessarily somewhat curtailed but in April we were able to hold a socially-distanced Hocktide Court and Court Leet (see Apr/May). Hopefully we can return to more public and inclusive versions of these events in 2022.
As with all organisations, The Town and Manor needs to hold regular meetings to discuss and agree a wide range of matters ranging from contracts to coppicing and from deciding grants to deciphering new DEFRA regulations. These are unglamorous and unexciting but, unfortunately, also necessary.
As well as the monthly trustee board meeting, the trustees on average attend two meetings a month to discuss various items relating to the management of the fishery, common land, our buildings and finance. In addition we have sub-committees which on average convene twice a month, as well as other meetings, regular or ad hoc. That can add up to around 15 meetings of one kind or another in a full month. All part of the job…
Life goes on…
With several tracts of public land, buildings and waterways to manage, the passage of the seasons and any urgent repairs dictate the pattern of work, Covid or not.
Some of these works and projects have been referred to above: others in 2021 included an unwelcome but necessary clear-ups on the Common (see Jan/Feb and May/Jun); hazel coppicing (see Mar/Apr); public nature events during the Spring Festival (see Jul/Aug); and a survey of our trees (see Oct/Nov). A wide range of these and other tasks take place all the time and these will continue to happen in 2022 and beyond.
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 the 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 email email@example.com or call 01488 686555.
The photos below are selected from the many that were used to illustrate the monthly updates in 2021. We’re sure they need no introduction but, for the record, they are, top to bottom: scenes from The Wednesday market; three of the Common’s summer residents; the damage caused to the Town Hall by the August 2021 flood; and an aerial view of one of our sparkling streams.