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The Four Town Halls:
The present-day Town Hall & Corn Exchange is a prominent Victorian building standing in the market place. But Hungerford has had at least four town halls:
- The 1871 Corn Exchange and Town Hall, Aug 2001
- The 1607 Town Hall in 1769
- The 1607 Town Hall in 1769. (Reversed from the above copy. Which is correct?!)
- Painting of the Town Hall by G Shepherd, 24 Jul 1829
- From a painting of the Town Hall, similar to the Shepherd painting
- The High Street showing the 1786 Town Hall, from a Carte de Visite by E T Brooks of Newbury, dated in pencil on the back "1865".
- The same CDV photograph, re-published by Albert Parsons, as part of his "Ye Olde Hungerford" series.
- The 1786 Town Hall c1867, now with Mr Hall's clock in the new clock tower built by Messrs Wooldridge.
- For a few months only there were two Town Halls in Hungerford. The photograph above shows the now empty clock tower, the clock having been transferred to the tower of the newly-built Corn Exchange behind. Between January and April 1872 the old building was demolished, some of the materials being used to build cottages in Church Street.
- Two Town Halls, 1871, CDV by Alfred Lane
- Town Hall, c1902
- Grand Dinner (?what), c1910
- The Town Hall, 1916 [Collier "C91"]
- Peace Celebration Dinner, 1919
- Peace Celebration Dinner, 1919
- Film poster outside the Corn Exchange
- Town Hall and Market Place, 1929 ["15725"]
- "Newhome" Gas Cooker event, undated
The first "Mediaeval" Town Hall was known as the "Courte House", as it was there that the Hocktide Court had its meetings. The first Town Hall and/or Market House might have been existence as early as 1267, the reputed date of the original Market Charter and the institution of the Assize of Bread and Ale. It is almost certain that it existed by 14th century. There is a record to say that a court was held in 1361.
This may have been the same building as the Cross House. In a town rental c1470 there is an entry of 1d 'per domo Sti. Crucis in medio vill', or 'for the house of the Holy Cross in the town centre' (TNA DL 43/1/4). The usual plan for a market house in many towns across Britain was for the ground floor to be open to the street on three sides through arches, but closed at one end where a small room housed the various measures and implements of the market clerk. Frequently the building included an upper chamber which might be used for one or more of a variety of purposes, such as a court house or town hall, chaplain's school house, or simply leased for an income. The Cross House seems to have been one of the possessions of the Chantry of Holy Trinity, adding support to the possibility that the upper room was used as a school, which we know existed, and which it was usual for a chaplain to run.
A survey by the Duchy of Lancaster of 1543/4 referred to the "Courte House" as being "ruinous and utterly dekeyed". There is no mention in the survey of a "Cross House", and it seems likely that were indeed one and the same building.
Although the age of this first building is not known, an important structure like this may have lasted about 200 years, and it might therefore have been erected during the mid 14th century, possibly even under the instruction of John of Gaunt.
It seems that the old combined house-cum-town hall was becoming dilapidated - the complaints of the 1544 and 1549 surveys were again repeated during the "Charters Case" in 1573, which again referred to the "weakness of the building", as well as mentioning that the caretaker of the hall in 1572 was Thomas Hamlyn. (See 1573 survey (T?S p12).
Something had to be done!
The second "Elizabethan" Town Hall. In 1573 a new Town Hall was erected.
In 1573 the old Cross House was leased to a shoemaker, John White, as one of the ex-chantry buildings (that is, building from which the chantry drew the rental) which were sold off after the dissolution of the chantries. In the 1573 town survey (a very authoritative and thorough investigation headed by the Surveyor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Edward Twynho) the Cross House is leased to John White at an increased quit rent of 2d. The entry is immediately followed by a statement new to these surveys: "The town and whole parish of Hungerford have at their own cost builded an house with shop under called the Town Hall, wherein the Queen's courts and law days are kept and there is also the prison kept [there]."
This evidence is repeated in 1607 when the Hocktide Jury presented - "The Townsmen of Hungerford have at their own cost and charges built and erected one house call the Town Hall wherein the Queen's Majesty's Courts and Law Days for the said Manor are usually kept, with a shop under the said Hall and also two prisons thereunto for the punishment of malefactors. There is also adjoining the said Town Hall one Market House for Corn with a loft over the same for which there is paid a yearly quit rent to the King of 2d. and not far distant from the same there has been built by Erasmus Webb and by him given to the Town and Market House for butter, cheese and other like commodities" (Berks RO H/M6). Follow this for more on the buttermarket.
Only one of these buildings paid a quit rent - the old market house, which paid 2d. In 1573 the Cross House had paid a quit rent of 2d, a sum the more notable because few premises escaped so lightly.
The shop over the Town Hall seems to have been let to the Bellman and this was the custom for many years. The prison cells were used from time to time for billeting soldiers, the cells being sometimes known as the "Blind House".
In the vicinity of the town Hall stood the Pillory, Stocks and the Ducking Stool. Presumably the latter instrument was taken to the town pond which was further up the High Street.
The Constable's accounts for 1658/60 contain the item "Paid the painter for the King's Arms and colouring the Town Hall £1.13.0, the occasion being the restoration of the Monarchy.
The various chantry properties were acquired first by Robert Chaloner, then by Henry Edes. The "Market House" had been acquired later by Sir Richard Hawkins (c.1634- 1687) a London merchant. In 1675 the upper part of the building was leased to John Ball (a local joiner) for 99 years, on condition he carried out extensive repairs and alterations to the building.
When Sir Richard Hawkins died in 1687 the town trustees purchased this market house from his executors and on 29 Nov 1688 the executors of Sir Richard Hawkins released to the town feoffees the Market House and Millmead (Berks R.O: H/T33).
On 22 Feb 1688/9 there is a declaration of trust by the feoffees (Berks R.O: H/T33) of Millmead and the Market House, released to them by the executors of Sir Richard Hawkins, alderman of the city of London, deceased together with Richard Hawkins his son and heir and Katherine his widow on 29 Nov 1688 for consideration of £12 10 shillings.
It seems therefore that the "Market House" was privately owned by Sir Richard Hawkins, a London Alderman. It was bought from his executors after his death in 1688, the same year that Prince William of Orange came to The Bear.
Around the Town Hall stood the usual pillory, stocks and whipping-post. A ducking-stool was kept there, and when required it was wheeled up the High Street for use in the town pond which used to be on the east side of the High Street opposite the old National School building.
The north gable of the Town Hall contained a "Clock House", and in 1687 a new clock was bought for £10, a large sum indeed at that time. The clockwinder at the time was John Tubb. Follow this for more on the Town Clocks.
The first occasion on record of the Town Hall being let for a public performance was in 1718 when a "Fire Eater" paid 10/- to give a performance and in 1750 it was let for a "Puppet Show".
This Jacobean Town Hall was to last until the latter part of the eighteenth century, when in its turn it too was replaced by a new building.
The third "Georgian" Town Hall was built in 1786, and stood in the middle of the market-place, surmounted by its octagonal cupola.
It was similar to the 1607 building, and included a blind house (as a lock-up or prison cell), and a place for the fire engine. In 1832, following a period when the blind house was in heavy use following the "Swing" Riots of 1830, the magistrates complained of the poor sanitary arrangements in the cells, so the "blind house" was extended by making use of the space previously set aside for the fire engine, which was housed elsewhere.
There is a nice painting of the Georgian town hall by G Shepherd, dated 1829.
By the 1860s Hungerford felt in need of a larger Corn Exchange and a new Town Hall.
Times had changed and Berkshire now had a County Police Force. Hungerford had a police station with cells in Hungerford, so this feature of the preceding halls could be omitted.
The population of the Berkshire portion of the Hungerford Parish had dropped, partly because of the loss of the coaching trade. The railway was bringing other people and trade into Hungerford and an enlarged Corn Exchange was fast becoming a necessity and the subject of much speculation and planning, whilst the whole of the old building was, naturally enough after 100 years, in constant need of considerable repairs.
In February 1861, Mr Hall, the Magistrate's Clerk, offered to provide half the cost of a new Town Hall, in place of repairing the old one, but his offer was not accepted. However, in June 1862, Mr. Hall gave to the town a grand new clock.
To accommodate the new clock, Messrs. Wooldridge were instructed to build a suitable new clock tower, and the feoffees borrowed £150 at 5% interest to pay for the work. In October 1866 Mr Wooldridge was paid £107.5s.0d. on account and in June 1867 he was paid £177.17s.4¾d for the complete job. In the same year the insurance cover on the building was raised from £600 to £1000 with an additional cover of £250 for the clock and bells.
It seems that this major structural change proved unsatisfactory, as within a few years the feoffees decided to build a new Town Hall, and to push the boat out by incorporating a grand new Corn Exchange.
The site chosen in 1868 as suitable for a new Town Hall and Corn Exchange was adjacent to the market place - where stood (as Summers states p81) "a building known as Church House, the exact uses of which do not appear, and behind which it seems to have stood the tithe barn". Norman Hidden explains that "the 'exact uses' of the Church House do not appear for the simple reason that the house had no 'uses', at least as Summers would seem to envisage. The building was called Church House because it had been given to the church by William Warnewell, clerk, about the year 1501, and from that time onwards the rent of its lease provided a portion of income for the parish church. Apart from its ownership and the income from its rent, the house differed little if at all from any other rented burgage".
Whatever its purpose, the Church House was in the ownership of the Hungerford Church Wardens and in the occupation, under lease, of a Mr Jelfs. The Clerk was instructed to enquire into the possibility of an exchange of properties and also the sum required by Mr Jelfs for the surrender of the lease. This proved to be £100 and for the site an exchange was arrived at whereby the feoffees acquired 1 rod 8 poles in the High Street for 5 acres 0 rods and 33 and one third poles on the Port Down. This was permitted under an order of February 3rd 1870 of the Enclosures Commissioners.
From this point all systems worked - it was agreed that the money for the building be raised by donation and on note of hand by the feoffees at 4% .
In May 1870, Mr James H Money, an architect in Newbury, submitted plans which were approved but with an amended specification to bring costs down to £2,700.
The NWN reported (on 19 May 1870) "Proposed Corn Exchange: Our readers will recollect that three designs for the new Corn Exchange were sent in, all of which were for some time submitted to public exhibition. The design out of these three which came in for the greatest share of approval was the one bearing the motto "I aim to win", and which we learn has subsequently been accepted by the authorities. The architect who was the author of this design is Mr James H Money, of Speenhamland. The specificatiionos will be ready for the builders in a few days, and the public may expect to see a commencement of the work before long." (Thanks to Dr David Peacock for this)
In June an agreement was arrived at with Mr Killick, the owner of the north side, to obtain rear and side access. Mr Killick received the unwanted piece of land at the western end of the acquired plot.
The NWN reported (30 Jun 1870) "New Corn Exchange: The tender of Mr Hoskins has been accepted as contractor for the building of the new Corn Exchange, and a commencement will no doubt be made in a week or two. Instead of the imposing facade designed to project upon the pavement it is feared that this part of the plan will not be carried out, and that the new building will be set in a line with those which it adjoins. This will not fail to detract much from the appearance of the structure." (Thanks to Dr David Peacock for this)
(Dr David Peacock points out, Feb 2016, that in the Listed Building description, the architect was Ernest Prestwick of Leigh in Lancashire. This appears to be out of date, and probably simply wrong. According to Pevsner 2010, it is by John Money. However, local newspaper and other accounts state that the architect was James H. Money of Newbury (1834-1918), son of John Money, although his firm may at the time have still been using the name of John Money & Son. James H Money was also the architect for all three parts of Newbury Town Hall, and many other buildings in Newbury.)
The Hungerford builders, Mr Wooldridge and Mr Hoskins were both asked to put in tenders for the work and that of Mr Hoskins was accepted. Planning authorities were not then in existence, absolute reliance being placed upon a qualified architect and a builder of good reputation who employed skilled craftsmen.
The foundation stone was laid on 7 Sep 1870 by Mr George Cherry of Denford Park. After his death in 1887 a memorial portrait was presented by subscribers to the County in the Grand Jury Room, Assize Court, Reading. A copy of the portrait was made, paid for by Miss Cherry, who presented it to the town. It is the work of Mr C Low. The frame bears the inscription "George Charles Cherry, Esquire. Presented to the Town of Hungerford by RMC, 1889". It still hangs in the Hungerford Town Hall.
In July 1871 the building was sufficiently advanced to talk about the clock and bell tower being moved from the old Town Hall. Mr Hall who had given the clock, was approached about the addition of two more faces. We assume now he agreed to the request of the feoffees.
The new Corn Exchange and Town Hall had taken just over 12 months to build, at a cost of £4,000.
The Corn Exchange opened for business on Wednesday 11 October 1871.
Unhappily, Mr Hutchins the Constable, who had presided over all the building arrangements, died on 9th October. Mr Earle was appointed in his place and the planned opening dinner to mark the occasion was postponed. Instead, a simple ceremony took place at 10 o'clock, when the Constable, Mr Earle, the Vicar and the feoffees toured the building, a few speeches were given, and a short service of prayers.
The insurance of the Town Hall was placed at £1,800 and that of the Corn Exchange at £1,200.
The first meeting was held in the Town Hall on the 26 October, for the Feoffees of the Town and Manor, and later it went on to be the venue for the Parish Council (recently the Town Council), as a Court room for the Petty Sessional Court and as a Masonic Temple.
The Corn Exchange was indeed a corn market until 1923. The Parish magazine of February 1878 records that the average price of corn for the seven years ending December 1877 is Wheat 6s 8½d; Barley 4s 10¼d; and Oats 3s 3½d. The charge for a stall in the Corn Exchange (there was 20 desks) was fixed at 10/6d. a day. The advisability of changing Market Day from Wednesday to Tuesday was discussed at considerable length, but finally it was decided to make no change.
The description of the 1871 Town Hall and Corn Exchange:
The Parish Magazine of November 1871 describes the new building: "Hungerford Town Hall and Corn Exchange is built of red brick and Bath stone for the front facade, and forms a very handsome elevation in the Italian style. The arches to arcade, which are supported by stone columns and carved capitals, are filled in with ornamental bricks, which, with the frieze ornamented in like manner, together with the well proportioned tower gives to the whole frontage a rich and pleasing architectural effect.
The building is entered through wrought iron gates under the clock tower, and on the left of the spacious entrance hall is the justice room, affording ample accommodation for the business of the courts. On leaving the justice room we enter the inner hall, out of which, by means of a handsome staircase of stone well lighted, the Town Hall is reached. By a short corridor (which gives accommodation on either side for convenient ante-rooms) we have immediate access to the Corn Exchange, the walls of which are lined with white bricks, interspersed with red string course and bands. It has an open timbered roof, stained and varnished; a skylight runs along the entire length of the room, giving good light and ventilation; a gallery is provided at the east end, approached from the principla staircase, and will be found very useful as a ladies' gallery, or for an orchestra.
On arriving at the top of the principal staircase, and opening from a spacious landing, we have on our right the Town Hall; on our left the gallery (overlooking the Corn Exchange) and ladies' retiring room. The Town Hall is a well proportioned room, and though ornamentation has been strictly avoided the effect is good and imposing. The whole of the works have been carried out in a most satisfactory manner by Mr Hoskings, contractor, Hungerford, from the design and under the superintendence of the architect, Mr James H Money, of Newbury. The handsome clock, presented to the town a few years since by Mr Hall, has been replaced in the new building, and two new-dials added. The weather vane to the clock tower has been presented by Mr Platt, of Hungerford. Mr Low, of Hungerford, who was the sub-contractor for the plumbing, painting, and glazing, presented the stained glass window in Town Hall, bearing the town arms and those of John o'Gaunt. The carving was done by M. de Visse."
In 1872 Mr Hoskins was instructed to remove the old Town Hall at once, it being agreed that no further payments be made to him until this had been done. The following year he put in a claim for £57.14s.4d. for extra work done, but after the specification had been studied it was decided that he was not entitled to any additional payment, but in view of the good work that had been done it was resolved to offer half the sum without prejudice.
The total cost of the entire building had been £4,000. In June 1874 it was resolved that note of hand holders be notified that their interest be reduced from four percent to three and one eighth per cent. The last of these notes of hand were paid off early in the 1900's.
The 20th century:
The Town and Manor Charity Scheme of 1908 laid upon the Trustees the duty of maintaining all the property of the Charity, with special reference to the Town Hall and Corn Exchange.
The new Town Hall was a meeting place for the feoffees of the Town and Manor, and later for the Parish (and later Town) Council. It went on to be used as a court room for the Petty Sessional Court and as a Masonic Temple .
In addition to its regular use in the early days as a corn and other markets (including wool fairs) (until 1923), the Corn Exchange has been used as the venue for a wide variety of town and private functions.
In the early 1900s, the Corn Exchange was in reglar use as a roller Skating Rink. The HHA archives hold a book (kindly presented by the Tubb family, 2015) summarising details of the skating sessions from 15 Mar 1910 (morning, afternoon and evening sessions on some days) until 4 Feb 1911.
There were regular dances and whist drives, and the Corn Exchange was used in the early to mid 20th century as the towns cinema (before The Regent cinema was opened in 1934). Films were shown on three nights each week, with a matinee on Saturday. The piano accompaniment was by Ivy Giles, and later by Miss Bell. Tickets were 3d. (See Eatwell and Cox interview).
It has been used as a concert hall, lecture hall, dinner venue, wedding venue, and more recently (since c1980) for the Hocktide lunch. During the 1939-45 war it housed the British Restaurant and the Food Office. The now defunct Labour Exchange was housed there and all Hungerford elections, both local and national, have been held there. There were also roller-skating sessions, and even for a show with live lions - The Lady of Lions!
At Hocktide 1940, the Constable, Mr Munford, reported that "The Corn Exchange as you know is entirely used by the Army, and although I have not at the moment received any remuneration, I hope after an interview with a War Office Official recently, to come to an arrangement...". During the war it was used as a Britsh Restaurant. Towards the end of the war, the Corn Exchange was totally taken over by the Americans as a "Do-nut Dug Out". Follow this link for more on events in the Corn Exchange during the Second World War.
The 1908 Town and Manor of Hungerford Charity scheme set up by the Charity Commissioners superseded the old Feoffment of 1617. The scheme laid upon the Trustees of the Charity the duty of maintaining all the property of the Charity, with special reference to the Town Hall and Corn Exchange.
As this building neared its centenary, like its predecessor it was in need of repairs and renovation. A "chicken and egg" problem arose in that the Corn Exchange was losing bookings for want of being in decent repair and repairs could not be carried out for want of bookings. As with the great majority, if not all, of the Town Halls, it could not be made self-supporting, but unlike all the others the deficit was not made up from the local rates.
In the years immediately prior to 1970 the Trustees and the Constable of Hungerford in particular had a real struggle to keep the buildings going.
For many years the Hungerford Fishery and the Port Down had contributed substantially to the building, but around 1970 consideration was being given to application to the Charity Commissioners for permission to demolish the building and to seek a method of fund raising to erect a new building on the site.
However, by the action of two townsmen, Clive Norman and Dick Wallis the first Hocktide Ball was organised which raised a considerable amount of money. This pointed the way and under the auspices of Mr Hugh Hassell the Ball was an annual feature for many years and was both a successful social event and an excellent fund raiser.
The Steam Rallies came next (1970-78), the brainchild of Mr John Newton, and these attracted people in unheard of numbers to Hungerford Common and raised £17,000 for the Town Hall Fund and other local charities.
Various renovation schemes were mooted, all costing a good deal more than the money available, or at that stage likely to be available. The trustees and representatives of the two main fund-raising bodies met several times with a local architect, but little progress was made and finally the Constable of the Day obtained the blessing and some good advice from the architect concerned and set about obtaining some separate estimates for the work needed to obtain bookings for the Corn Exchange, namely rewiring, the installation of trunked central heating and a suspended ceiling and then, still following the architect's advice, handed over the work to John Morley, a well known local builder as main contractor. John Morley had, incidentally, been the Blacksmith at the Hocktide lunch for very many years.
One piece of work put in hand by the Constable caused some dissent in the ranks of the fund raisers and that was the cleaning down of the stone and brickwork of the facade of the Town Hall, but it was realised eventually that the work was not purely cosmetic, since several vitally necessary areas of repair were thus revealed and the work carried on in full view of the public brought support for the fund raising activities.
A Fishery supper was held in the Corn Exchange during the time when work was in progress and this function was regularly held there until support for this very popular fixture began to wane.
So, the building had its major restoration in the 1970s, largely paid for by the Steam Rallies on the Common. The NWN reported on 18 Mar 1971: "Hungerford Town Hall is to have a facelift. Work is to start next week on essential repairs to the bricks at the base of the Clock Tower. The stonework will be repaired and cleaned, the weathercock re-gilded and wood painted". These works cost £5,000 - £6,000.
On becoming Constable John Newton who had raised so much of the money, turned his attention to the central heating and general improvement of the Town Hall and took the controversial step of moving the venue of the Hocktide Lunch from the Three Swans, where it had been held for centuries, to the Corn Exchange, at the same time putting that fixture on a paying basis by selling tickets surplus to the requirements of the Trustees and Commoners to the general public.
The demolition of "Dick" Bartholomew's shop on the north side of the Town Hall caused the Trustees some concern, since it exposed the wall on that side to the weather and a very long time elapsed before there were any definite signs of a new building. Planning permission to demolish and develop the site had been originally granted on condition that the beautiful early Georgian facade was retained, but the site changed hands several times and the Hungerford District Council had disappeared in the reorganisation of Local Government, and so the present building, built for a local building society, bears not the slightest resemblance to the old building. Incidentally, the planners had passed plans which blocked one of the windows of the Town Hall and this was only discovered by the vigilance of Mr Hugh Hassell, a Trustee, who had agreed to keep an eye on the building in the interests of the Town and Manor Charity.
During the period in which Robert James was Constable more emphasis was laid on work by Committees and the Buildings Committee became especially active, being able to do so by the general improvement in the ordinary finances of the Town and Manor Charity. They were able to refurbish the Magistrates Room, making it a very suitable anteroom or bar - suffering a minor setback soon after completion by the introduction of a Molotov cocktail through a front window, the damage to the extent of some £700 happily covered by insurance.
In 1981 the Buildings Committee concentrated on further improvement to the Corn Exchange, the building on the north side being completed and the wall once more protected, enabling decoration to be completed. The result has been a very handsome hall which it is hoped will attract more and more functions.
Further works were carried out between 1986-89, when £630,000 was spent (at no expense to the public purse) on the roof structure, safety, heating, and catering facilities. The Charity Commissioners allowed the Trustees to sell part of Charnham Street Meadows to help fund the exceptional cost. See "Land sale helps fund Town Hall repairs", NWN 21 Jan 1988.
In 1984 the Town and Manor purchased three paintings by local artist John "Tom" Simson, depicting three important scenes from Hungerford's history. They hang in the Corn Exchange.
In 1996 (when Bruce Mayhew was Constable), there was a £25,000 refurbishment of the Town Hall and Corn Exchange. This included the sliding glass entrance doors, re-decoration (blue theme) ceiling spotlights, and the removal of the old ticket office. See "Refurbished Town Hall", 6 Jun 1996.
The first couple to use the Town Hall for their civil wedding was Chris Walters and Sue Johnson, in Feb 1999. Since then, the venue has been very popular for weddings.
In early 2000 the four clock faces of the Grade II listed clock tower were replaced with plastic faces, when Vodafone installed mobile phone antennae in the tower. At the same time, an automatic winding mechanism was installed, relieving the Bellman Robin Tubb of ongoing clock-winding tasks.
In Feb 2004 a lift was installed (£24,000 was donated by the Berkshire Freemasons) to enable wheelchair users to have access to the first floor facilities and the Town Hall. See "Masons give boost to wheelchair users", NWN 12 Feb 2004.
Today the Corn Exchange and Town Hall are in very regular use for town and private functions. They are owned and managed by the Town & Manor of Hungerford, and are thought to be the only Town Hall in the country not supported by the Council Tax (and Rates). However, a similar situation exists at Tetbury in Gloucestershire, where the Market Hall is the responsibility of seven elected Feoffees.
- Parish Magazines, esp Nov 1871, Feb 1878, Apr 1888, Sep 1889
The HHA Archive also holds the following files:
- Corn Exchange [A68], mostly relating to restoration work carried out in 1987