We normally kick off this monthly update with a quick summary of the various activities with which the Town and Manor has been involved. These might range from environmental projects to photography competitions and from lobbying for speed-limit changes to making donations to local organisations.
None of these have stopped: quite apart from anything else, the cycle of the seasons doesn’t permit any pause in our outdoor activities. However, the weeks after Easter are for us dominated by one thing – Hocktide. After a pandemic-induced pause in 2020 and 2021 we were determined that this would be back in full this year. The main section below provides a brief overview of its origins, describes the highlights of this year’s ceremonies and offers a couple of links for those who want to find out more about this unique event.
Spring also wouldn’t be spring in Hungerford without the return of the cattle to the Common and the Marsh. For reasons we explain, it’s never easy to make sure we have the optimum number of them as the vagaries of the English weather has a major effect on the amount of grass that is produced and how nutritious it is. Hooves crossed on this one.
More good news is that the Corn Exchange is now back to its best after nine months of refurbishment following the flooding last year. This is available to hire – details can be found below.
Finally, although Hocktide is our most eye-catching event, evidence of the Town and Manor’s work can be seen every Wednesday when the market sets up in the High Street. This is the best place for miles around to buy products ranging from crocuses to cheddar, from honey to haddock and from olives to oranges. Please be sure to observe the no-parking signs from midnight every Tuesday so that the traders can set up (which they need to do very early in the morning).
As mentioned above, Hocktide was our main focus in April. Having had to postpone the events for 2020, and having only the Hocktide Court last year; it was fantastic to be hosting all of the events that encompass Hocktide in full, last month.
Hocktide is the most visible moment of the Town and Manor’s year. The charity’s origins lie in the middle ages when Hungerford, along with many other towns, developed organisations to help regulate municipal affairs and defend the liberties and privileges that had been granted to them by the king or local magnates. In every town bar one, these organisations withered away or their functions were subsumed into the system of local councils that developed in the 19th century. The one exception – due to a series of historical accidents – is Hungerford.
Hocktide (which includes Tutti Day) takes place shortly after Easter. This is a propitious time marking the major Christian festival and the full arrival of spring. It was also one of the times when rents were traditionally paid and became also the occasion when the major ceremonies of these municipal organisations were conducted. Hocktide in Hungerford sees a remarkable survival of these – a reminder of a time when local organisations, independent of royal authority, were controlling their own affairs and defending their dearly-bought or hard-won freedoms.
Every aspect of the present-day festivities, from the toasts to the Duke of Lancaster to the procession of the Tutti Men, has its origins in an age when these were much more than mere matters of ceremony. Each Hocktide thus provides, as well as a good deal of eye-catching ceremony, an opportunity to remember times when many of the freedoms and rights as we now enjoy were by no means taken for granted.
For more information on Hocktide, see this article in Penny Post and this article in the Hungerford Virtual Museum. Many other articles exist, on these two sites and elsewhere, about the history of the Town and Manor generally.
The event needed to be cancelled in 2020 and severely curtailed in 2021 due the pandemic – something that even the Black Death in the 1340s failed to accomplish – but were back in style in 2022. Tutti Day began with Bellman Julian Tubb summoning the town’s commoners to the Hocktide Court at the town hall. The Constable, Peter Joseph, then sends this year’s Tutti Men (Nina Hathway and Sylvi Giuliani) on their visit commoners’ properties around the town (in former times they would have collected rents). Nina and Sylvi were accompanied by Orangeman Aaron Scarlett and three Tutti Girls, Naomi Fox-Shatford, Rosie Gregory and Matilda Hopkins, from John O’Gaunt School.
While this is happening, the Constable chairs the Hocktide Court and then presides over the Hocktide lunch. He is also in attendance at the Three Swans when the Tuttimen return after an arduous day collecting tithes and exchanging kisses (which has become an acceptable substitute for paying the rent in cash).
Other highlights included ale tasting, a macaroni supper and music from the Hungerford Town Band. There were also supporting events including crafts events for local children. The finale was the Constable’s Parade and church service, which concluded events on Sunday 1 May.
“A huge amount of work goes into organising Hocktide each year,” said the Constable Peter Joseph, “The Town and Manor of Hungerford is extremely proud to be continuing this ancient tradition. Many of the local people involved are the latest in a long line of family members to take part and it is fantastic to welcome the next generation of participants.
“After what have been a challenging few years for everyone, it has been wonderful to see our amazing community coming together once again to celebrate. The fact that this is the first time we have been able to hold the event for three years, makes this Hocktide all the more special. Plans will soon be under way for next year.”
Feeding the cattle
Many of you will have seen the growing numbers of the Common’s regular summer inhabitants over the past weeks. The first five arrived in early April, followed by another 120 being turned out throughout the month. We also have cattle grazing on Hungerford and Freemans’ Marsh – 162 in all.
It is always tricky to work out the optimum number to put to graze as there are so many factors that affect the season. Firstly, and most importantly, there’s the weather. The grass needs to grow as this is the only food source that cattle eat during the summer months on the Common. Not enough rain and the grass doesn’t grow to produce nutritious, sweet fodder; too much creates wispy long grass that can’t be eaten fast enough, becomes dry and then not as palatable, resulting in having the excess needing to be topped. Topping can only occur once the grass has seeded to ensure growth for next year, hence in previous years you may have seen contractors on the common cutting in late summer.
Back to its best…
The floor in the Corn Exchange has been repaired and is looking like new. This brings to an end the best part of nine months of repairs and refurbishment resulting from the flood in August 2021 – a major and disruptive annoyance at the time but at least it’s given us the chance to give this much-loved building some TLC.
The Trustees plan to continue the refurbishment in the coming years: due to the building’s’age and design there is always ongoing restoration work. Hungerford is unique in that the Town Hall is owned by the Town and Manor charity, not the local council. A majority of the restoration costs has been funded by the Town and Manor charity. This beautiful building is not supported by public funding or council-tax payers’ money.
The building is available to hire for events –whether it be for family parties, christenings, wakes, weddings, events of any size we can accommodate your needs. The rates of hire are competitively priced for a venue of this size and all local residents with a Hungerford postcode qualify for a 25% discount.
Please contact Tara on email@example.com or call 07880 311731 to arrange a viewing and to talk through your requirements. We can also provide a list of suppliers to help in the organisation of your occasion.
The Wednesday market
The Town and Manor continues to support the weekly Wednesday market. We would like to remind all visitors that the road outside the Town Hall is officially closed to all traffic every Wednesday to ensure the safety of all pedestrians. I politely ask for drivers picking up goods not to use this road as we have had several near misses last year.
We’re also pleased to report that West Berkshire Council has told us that it will be conducting repairs to damaged road surface of the parking bays on which the market sets up. These are scheduled to take place on Thursday 12 and Friday 13 May.
Please also observe the no-parking signs in parts of the High Street which apply from midnight on Tuesday.
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 cattle, the trees and event licences).
• Freeman’s Marsh and Hungerford Marsh (including maintenance, the cattle 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01488 686555.