Hungerford

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Hungerford is a market town and civil parish in Berkshire, England, 9 miles (14.5 km) west of Newbury. It covers an area of 5,372 acres (22 km2) and, according to the 2001 census, has a population of 5,559 (2006 estimated at 6,789).

The EH property of Chisbury Chapel is close by, and Hungerford is a gateway town to the North Wessex Downs AONB.

The town centre area, around High St, Church St and Park St is a conservation area.

Hungerford probably gained a market in 1248 during the reign of King  Henry III. There is little written evidence of this until 1296 when  King Edward I confirmed to the inhabitants of the Town certain Rights and Privileges  including the right to hold a Market.  Today, there is a farmers’ market, and there are craft fairs and antique markets.

Hungerford is on the River Dun in the Kennet Valley. It is the westernmost town in Berkshire, situated on the border with Wiltshire, and lies within the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The highest point in the entire South East England region is the 297 m (974 ft) summit of Walbury Hill, situated only 4 miles (7 km) from the town. The Kennet and Avon Canal separates Hungerford from what might be described as the town’s only suburb, the hamlet of Eddington.

The town marks the border of the South East England and South West England regions (it is situated only 3 km within South East England), being some 68 miles (109 km) west of central London and 55 miles (88 km) east of Bristol on the A4 national trunk route. It is almost equidistant from the towns of Newbury and Marlborough, and lies 2.5 miles (4 km) south of junction 14 of the M4 motorway.

The parish was formerly divided into four tithings : Hungerford or Town, Sanden Fee, Eddington with Hidden and Newtown and Charnham Street. North and South Standen and Charnham Street were always officially detached parts of Wiltshire until transferred to Berkshire in 1895. Leverton and Calcot were transferred to Hungerford parish from Chilton Foliat in Wiltshire in 1895. All the land south of the Kennet was formerly included in Savernake Forest.

Hungerford is the only place in the country to have continuously celebrated Hocktide or Tutti Day (the second Tuesday after Easter). Today it marks the end of the town council’s financial and administrative year, but in the past it was a more general celebration associated with the town’s great patron, John of Gaunt (see below). Its origins are thought lie in celebrations following King Alfred’s expulsion of the Danes.

The ‘Bellman’ (or Town Crier) summons the Commoners of the town to the Hocktide Court held at the town hall, while two florally decorated ‘Tutti Men’ and the ‘Orange Man’ visit every house with commoners’ rights (almost a hundred properties), accompanied by around six Tutti Girls, drawn from the local school. Originally they collected ‘head pennies’ to ensure fishing and grazing rights. Today, they largely collect kisses from each lady of the house. In the court, the town’s officers are elected for the coming year and the accounts examined. The court manages the town hall, the John of Gaunt Inn, the Common, Freemen’s Marsh, and fishing rites in the Rivers Kennet and Dun.

There is an old legend that “Hingwar the Dane” (i.e. Ivarr the Boneless) was drowned accidentally while crossing the Kennet here, and that the town was named after him. This stems from the probably mistaken belief that the Battle of Ethandun took place at Eddington in Berkshire rather than Edington in Wiltshire or Edington in Somerset.

Hungerford is a Saxon name meaning ‘Hanging Wood Ford’. The town’s symbol is the six-pointed star and crescent moon.

The place does not occur in the Domesday Book of 1086, but certainly existed by 1173. By 1241, it called itself a borough. In the late 14th century, John of Gaunt was medieval lord of the manor and he granted the people the lucrative fishing rights on the River Kennet.

The noble family of Walter Hungerford, 1st Baron Hungerford originated from the town (c. 1450–1450), although after three generations the title passed to Mary, Baroness Hungerford who married Sir Edward (afterwards Lord) Hasting and the family seat moved to Heytesbury in Wiltshire.

During the English Civil War, the Earl of Essex and his army spent the night here in June 1644. In October of the same year, the Earl of Manchester’s cavalry were also quartered in the town. Then, in the November, the King’s forces arrived in Hungerford on their way to Abingdon.

During the Glorious Revolution of 1688, William of Orange was offered the Crown of England while staying at the Bear Inn in Hungerford.

St. Lawrence’s parish church stands next to the Kennet and Avon Canal. It was rebuilt in 1814-1816 by John Pinch the elder in Gothic style and refurbished again in the 1850s.

In the late 19th century, two policeman were shot by poachers in Eddington. Their memorial crosses still stand where they fell.

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