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Hungerford has developed from its earliest days as a market town, supplying the needs of the local residents and those of adjacent villages.

The earliest record of a market in Hungerford was in 1248, and later records show that there were two fairs, and three annual markets, for cattle, for wool, and for sheep. There are frequent references to the associated occupations of tanners, saddlers, fellmongers (dealing with fleeces and hides), mercers, dyers and weavers.

This article is split into a number of sections:

- The early town and first market

- The annual St Lawrence fair in August

- The Market Cross

- The Market stalls and Stall holders

- Traders' Occupations

- The 1573 Town Hall

- The market and fairs in the 18th and 19th centuries

- The Wool Fairs

Some of Hungerford's historic fairs:

- Weekly Wednesday market (and in Corn Exchange)

- Annual Spring Cattle fair - last Wednesday in April (or May)

- Annual Summer Wool fair - last week in June

- Annual St Lawrence Statute (hiring) fair - 10 August

- Sheep fair - 17 August

- Statute (hiring) fair - Wednesday before 10 October

- Statute (hiring) fair - Wednesday after 10 October

Photo Gallery:

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- Hungerford Market, June 2009

- Hungerford Tolls Record, 1890-1956

- Hungerford Tolls Tarriff, 1890

- First page of Hungerford Tolls Record, 1890

- Street market outside the Town Hall, c1910

- Hungerford Fair, 2nd October 1950 showing Edwards' Golden Gallopers. Both before and after the Second World War the well known Swindon showman, Robert Edwards, who always claimed to have been born in (a caravan in) Hungerford High Street, regularly brought his gallopers to Hungerford and other local towns. His first roundabout had been bought second-hand in 1916 for eighty sovereigns! When this photograph from 1950 was taken they had brought 'Chariot Racer', 'Arcade', 'Joy Cars' as well as 'Shooter' and other supporting side stalls. They were a great attraction, nearly filling the High Street.

- Stop me and Buy One, 1938. Bill Watts is seen here with his T. Wall & Sons Ltd. "Stop me and Buy One" tricycle. The photograph is taken in the market place, where Edwards' 'Monte Carlo Rally' ride was erected for the fair. You can just see that the front of the ride is over the white line – a necessity because the ride had to be built around the lime tree. It must have been the only fairground ride in the country with a tree growing out of the centre!

- Hungerford Market, Apr 2009

The early town and first market:

Whilst the original vill of Hungerford developed around the church and the area now know as The Croft, a new medieval planned town was laid out, sometime between 1120 and 1250. (For more on the new town layout, see the Manorial History section).

The new town was established around the north-south (Oxford to Salisbury) road (now High Street), and the much older east-west road (now Park Street and Church Street). At the intersection of these two roads, a market, and market cross were set up.

In the 12th century markets sprung up throughout the kingdom, and local merchants benefited from the protection afforded by the lords, and the weekly market brought in locals from the surrounding villages.

The earliest record of a market in Hungerford was in 1248, in the time of king Henry III, when it was mentioned in a court case.

The case is recorded in the Berkshire Eyre (the King's court of itinerant justices) (MT Clancy, The Berkshire Eyre of 1248, Selden Society, vol 90, 1973, p 27). William, son of Henry, is alleged to have dug two dikes (fossa) in Shefford, which impeded Geoffrey of Oakhanger from going to Hungerford market as conveniently as he had been wont to. Geoffrey clearly regarded such an obstruction to his market-going as a serious matter, and so did the justices, who ordered the dikes to be destroyed and awarded Geoffrey damages. This illustrates the importance of the Hungerford market to villagers in Shefford.

Two members of the jury of this Eyre, who came from Hungerford, were named Mercator, (i.e. Merchant). This was a period in history when names were occupations and occupations became names, so clearly the merchant influence was strong even in such an otherwise basically rural society. Wealthy merchants may have travelled some considerable distance to do business or even settle in such a thriving small market town. In his history The Jews of Oxford (Oxford Historical Society, new series IX, 1951) Cecile Roth describes this enterprising community as extending its activities along the Thames and Kennet valleys, and quotes instances of these Oxford traders in Hungerford in 1244 and 1253. Indeed, in 1278 there is a reference in the Close Rolls (Chancery Records, C54 Close Rolls, 1278) to one of them as a local man 'Meyr de Hongreford'.

The weekly market in Hungerford appears always to have been held on Wednesdays.

In 1296, in the reign of Edward I, an inquisition post mortem shows that the tolls of the market belonged to the Earl of Lancaster, overlord of the manor of Hungerford (Victoria County History, Berkshire, iv p187).

In 1341 these market tolls were estimated by local jurors to the markets of the township were worth 40 shillings per annum. By 1394, however, their value had dropped to 23s 10½d. (TNA DL29/683/11061)

The annual St Lawrence fair in August:

By 1361 an annual fair in August was established on the feast day of St Lawrence (10th Aug), patron saint of the parish church. The tolls for this annual fair also went to the lord of the manor (TNA, Chan Inq pm Ed III pt 1, 122).

It was in 1361 that Maud (of Lancaster) inherited the huge Lancastrian estates, but she herself died childless the following year, on 10 Apr 1362. The Lancastrian estates passed to her sister Blanche, who was married to Edward III's fourth son, John of Gaunt, who was thus, at the age of 22 years, created 2nd Duke of Lancaster. John of Gaunt is reputed to have granted so many rights and privileges to the inhabitants of Hungerford, although firm evidence of this in the form of written charters was said to have been lost.

The importance of the local fishing rights has been much emphasised, but perhaps just as important were the rights to market tolls. In the Ministers' Accounts of 1431/2 and again in 1487/8 the townsmen had to reiterate their claims to exemption from rendering market tolls to the Duchy of Lancaster, 'inasmuch as they allege themselves excused by charter' (TNA DL29/691/11193, DL29/728/11981). By 1487/8 it was not so much the market toll receipts which concerned the townsmen but the wider freedom which the lost charter had given them.

The Market Cross:

The centre of the market was marked by a cross (also called the "high cross" or the "holy cross").

At some date a market house (also called the "Cross House" and "Court House") was erected there and this was where the tolls were collected.

The soil of the roadway where the tolls were collected belonged to the lord and therefore a rent was payable to him for this particular use. In the Ministers' Accounts for 1431/2 (and subsequently) an item shows 1d rent paid to the lord from 'the site of the Cross in the middle of the market there' (TNA DL 29/728/11981).

The market stalls and stall holders:

Around the Cross house and along both sides of the wide High Street, both to the north and to the south of the cross, were the market stalls and stall holders. The remaining records of these, containing reference to empty and abandoned stalls, suggests that they date from a period when the market was no longer in its heyday.

In 1431 the list was as follows (TNA DL 29/683/11061):

- a group of 3 stalls leased by the tanners,
- one stall leased to Richard Bocher,
- 3 stalls 'demised to divers men for market days',
- one vacant site demised for a stall to be built thereon,
- one stall 'of new rent' demised to Robert Fisher,
- one stall to John Baron, butcher,
- one to Thomas Knoll,
- one to Ralph Draper,
- one to Will Home and another plot or site,
- one stall to John Draper,
- an empty site demised to William Webbe 'lying opposite the tenement of John Blache on the west side, for making of one stall',
- one empty stall site to John Smith,
- another empty plot for a stall 'opposite the tenement of the rector',
- one site to John Wamewell,
- one plot of ground in the market to Walter Wygmore,
- another to William Wynde,
- a plot for a stall to Ralph Tanner,
- a stall to Simon Wygmore 'next to the stall of Walter Wygmore'.

This is a total of 14 stalls and 9 sites. Rents for individual stallholders were 4d, except for Robert Fisher and Walter Wygmore whose rent in each case was 6d. Stalls varied in size from 8 feet x 3 feet to 10 feet x 8 feet. Although the sites 'for a stall to be built thereon' suggest that the market was in a period of expansion, some of the sites may have been granted some time previously and remained undeveloped. This is suggested by the fact that some stalls still standing may have been abandoned, for the section of the accounts which deals with 'decayed' (uncollectable) rents includes a separate entry for the 3 stalls in the market place next to the Cross (the rent corresponds to that for the 3 stalls 'demised to divers men for market days') and also for the stall of Robert Fisher.

Stalls at first are likely to have been temporary structures - the word used for them 'shamell' meaning literally a 'bench'. It is possible that later references in the accounts to 'stalls' may refer to more permanent structures, whereas 'sites' may indicate removable stalls. Thus, for example, in 1431/2 Richard Bocher has 'one stall of new building' and Walter Webbe is granted a site 'for one stall to be built thereon.' The quit rent paid, of course, was for the site rather than for the stall itself. Where a stall prospered in business, year after year, there would be an inevitable tendency to erect a more permanent structure and to set up booths or to convert a street-facing room in a house into a shop. Thomas Dighton's 'little shop standing in the street' in 1573 is very likely a late relic of these booths (BRO H/M5).

More on the leases of market stalls:

The Accounts also provide a record of the dates on which the leases were granted (usually to last for a term of lives). The earliest of the leases thus granted or regranted in 1431 would seem to have been Richard Bocher's in 1395. Later accounts show that the holdings might continue within a family for several generations. In such cases the name of the original holder remains in the series of accounts. Thus as late as 1509/10 some of the 1431 rental names still appear, even though circa 1470 their stalls were said to be 'in decay'. Where there are stall-holding changes, these are to new holders of different surnames, and such changes indicate a 'tenable' stall rather than one 'in decay'. Most stalls still paid a uniform annual rent of 4d, but exceptions to this were the three stalls near the market cross let to 'diverse men' (a total rent of 16d) and the stalls of the tanners (3s 6d).

More from the Duchy of Lancaster rentals and surveys:

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 same rental contains two lists, one of 'tenable' stalls, another of stalls 'in decay'. By this date the number of tenable stalls has been reduced to seven and the number of stalls in decay has increased to eleven. Whatever the state of the market in 1431, clearly it had been in decline since that date.

In 1487 John Gunter made a return of the profits derived from the manor, when the townsmen alleged that they were excused by charter from paying anything to the crown on account of the market tolls" (VCH p187). The actual wording is "from the outgoings or profits of diverse grains issuing from the tolls there collected in this year through the market days , they do not render anything inasmuch as nothing of this kind has happened within the time of this account and inasmuch as they allege themselves excused by charter". (Berks RO DL29/691/11193).

A survey by the Duchy of Lancaster of 1543/4 referred to the "Courte House" as being "ruinous and utterly dekeyed".During the "Charters Case" in 1573 , mention was again made of the "weakness of the building", and in 1598 it was said to have been "but meanly repaired".

The next town rental in 1552 (TNA DL 42/108 f 91) continues to list seven stalls, two held by Nicholas Baker, two by the farmer of the lands of a newly dissolved priory, one by a chantry and two by John Aley.

By the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553) the Cross House may have been nearing the end of its useful existence. It was then still leased, "in the tenure of Roger Tuggy" at a rent of 4 shillings per annum (TNA E 36/258 f 148).

Within a year of that date, another document refers to 'lez Standynges' in the town market place, of which one tenement called the Cross House was assessed at 7s 4d rent, but because of its decay this rent was reduced by 3s 4d (TNA DL 29/7231/11779). In 1552 a town survey lists the Cross House at its usual quit rent of 1d; in 1591 it was leased by Philip Seimor at a rent of 20d p.a. with a quit rent raised to 2d (TNA DL 42/117).

In the 1573 town rental there are no references to stalls, nor are there in any subsequent survey. This does not mean that the market had ceased but probably reflects the stalemate in town and manorial administrative relations which followed the loss of the town 'charters'.

The traders' occupations:

Ministers' Accounts do not usually record the occupations of the stall holders, though we have reference to (anonymous) tanners and to John Baron the 'bocher' (or butcher), whose stall had previously been held by John Bocher ("John the butcher").

Indeed the surnames of the 1431 stall holders may give us a fair indication of some of the trades flourishing - fisher, butcher, draper, weaver (Webbe), tanner are among them.

One of the most interesting entries is that which relates to 'le travers' - a word which would seem to mean 'the workshop'. It is first found in a manorial court roll for 1480 (DL 29/683/11061) where it is recorded that Thomas Bukland alias Smith paid 2d. quit rent for a 'travers' 8 foot by 3 foot in the High Street for shoeing horses (ad equos ferrandum). The site was 'facing the lord's hospice' and had been granted to Thomas in 1466. In 1552 this was one of Nicholas Baker's two stalls.

The 1573 town hall:

In 1573 a new Elizabethan Town Hall was built at the local townsmen's expense: "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].".

Around the Town Hall stood the usual pillory, stocks and whipping-post. A ducking-stool was also kept there.

Nearby was a market house for corn, and another for butter and cheese. "There is also near adjoining unto the said Town Hall one market house for corn, with a loft over the same, from which there is paid yearly quit-rent to the King 2d.; and not far distant from the same there hath been builded the market house for butter, cheese and other commodities." 

There seems little doubt that the market house was the old Cross House, let to Philip Seimor in 1591. Whether the upper chamber of this served also as the old Court House which the new town hall had replaced, is not clear. There was a shop "under the same Hall, and also two prisons thereunto adjoining for the punishment of malefactors. Not far distant from the same town hall there hath been builded the market house for butter, cheese and other commodities."

At a later date.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.

The market and fairs in the 18th and 19th centuries:

Hungerford's market did not cease to exist after the Middle Ages, but its nature changed in that instead of being the most important single economic activity, the drive behind all the others, it became more of a supplement to other activities - instances for example of tanning, fulling, dyeing, brewing, fishing, sheep-farming frequently occur - most of which could sustain themselves even without the market's added benefits.

In the early seventeenth century, once the town achieved settlement of its long-disputed borough status (see The Case of the Missing Charters) the market enjoyed a notable resurgence.

The Annual Spring Cattle Market:

The Constables' Accounts of 1789 state: "The first Great Markett on ye Second Wednesday in May was on ye 9th day of ye same month in ye year 1739 - Thos Woodroffe, Constable.

Mr Thos Robinson ye first man that sold any cattle in ye Markett which was two heifers for a man of Kintbury."

The new Town Hall, 1786:

A new town hall was built in the market place in 1786. The 1796 Berkshire Directory that Hungerford "has a weekly market every Wednesday, for corn, pigs, and butcher's meat; and a statute fair on the 10th of August, and one for cattle the last Wednesday in April, when there is a decent shew. Here is a good market-house and shambles."

It seems that trade in the old Town Hall was not always as brisk as might have been hoped. The Newbury Weekly News reported (in its very first edition, on 7 Feb 1867, that at Hungerford the previous day...

"The attendance at to-day's market was not large. The quantity of wheat was small, the trade for which was very quiet at Monday's reduction of prices. Barley, of this we had a considerable supply, both of weathered and fine samples, trade for which was by no means brisk, and cheaper than last week. Oats, beans, and peas were in short supply at late rates. The following are the prices: Wheat 60s to 68s; Barley 31s to 50s; Oats 21s to 28s; Beans 42s to 48s; Peas 40s to 46s; Bread 8d the 4lb loaf; Flour, per sack, 50s."

The present-day Town Hall and Corn Exchange building was opened in 1871. Follow this for more on the Town Halls.

The importance of sheep:

It is hard to overstate the important place that sheep held in the British economy until quite modern times. It has been estimated that in 1500 the human population of England was no more than 3 million - but there were 8 million sheep.

Wool was needed for everything from blankets to clothes, and only the very rich could afford such expensive alternatives such as linen or silk. There are many large and important "wool" churches - largely paid for by the wool and cloth trade - including St. Nicholas' in Newbury.

One of the largest sheep fairs in the country was held at East Ilsley, where up to 80,000 sheep could be brought to market on a single day, from as far away as the Salisbury Plain.

Hungerford's Annual Summer Wool Fair:

In 1873 the Hungerford Wool fair was held on 25th June "at the Corn Exchange, and was very well attended by buyers and dealers. The number of sheets pitched was 263, 24 more than last year. The prices realised were not so good as last year by about 10s; being for Mixed, 43s to 44s; Tegs, 46s to 48s; Ewes, 42s to 43s." At the Wool Fair on 1st July 1874, the number of Tods pitched was 2738, 136 more then the previous year. In 1876, only 1854 tods of wool were brought to the Corn Exchange. They were sold for 33s to 35s, despite being in good condition.

The Parish Magazine of September 1874 records an exceptional Sheep Fair on the Downs on 17th August. In 1872 there had been 1300 sheep; in 1873, 3,500 sheep, but in 1874 there were 6,600 sheep - a remarkable increase. In 1875 there were about 5,000 sheep penned.

An entry in the September 1881 edition of the Parish Magazine states: "Our annual Sheep fair was held on the Downs on Wednesday August 17. The supply was unusually good, and the number of sheep brought to the Fair being not much short of seven thousand. Most of the sheep were of excellent quality and fetched better prices than at previous fairs. Lambs sold at 30s to 40s per head; one lot at 48s. Sheep generally fetched 40s to 50s per head." [A Tod is an English unit of weight, chiefly for wool, commonly equal to 28 pounds (12.7 kilograms) but varying locally.]

The 1891 Kelly directory lists: "Two statute or hiring fairs are annually held in the Market Place, one on the Wednesday before and the other on the Wednesday after old Michaelmas Day [10th or 11th October]; there are also fairs held the last Wednesday in April for cattle, the last week in June for wool and August 17th for sheep."

Michaelmas Day, on 29th September, is the Feast of St Michael the Archangel. It marks the end of the farming year. Traditionally it was the time when houses and land changes hands, and farm workers and domestic servants were hired for the coming year. Goose fairs and sheep sales were held on this day for hundreds of years, and in various parts of the country Michaelmas Day is still known as Goose Day.

In Marlborough two Mop Fairs (or Hiring Fairs) are still held either side of 11th October. Farm workers, labourers, servants and some craftsmen would work for their employer from October to October. At the end of the employment they would attend the Mop Fair dressed in their Sunday best clothes and carrying an item signifying their trade. A servant with no particular skills would carry a mop head - hence the phrase Mop Fair.

Employers would move amongst them discussing experience and terms, once agreement was reached the employer would give the employee a small token of money and the employee would remove the item signifying their trade and wear bright ribbons to indicate they had been hired. They would then spend the token amongst the stalls set up at the fair which would be selling food and drink and offering games to play.

Michaelmas Day:

Michaelmas Day is celebrated on 29th September but Mop Fairs were tied to the seasons and the harvest, not the calendar. When the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752 and eleven days dropped from that year events associated with the end of the harvest moved eleven days later to 10th October. This date is known as "Old Michaelmas Day" and since 1752 has been the date Mop Fairs take place.

Whilst most hiring fairs (or "mop" fairs) were held around Old Michaelmas Day, some were held in anticipation of Candlemas Day (2nd February), when yearly contracts were entered into.

The 1911 and 1916 Cosburn's Directories state that the "Corn Exchange is open for business on Wednesdays from 12.30 till 3.30".

By 1920, Kelly Directory reports "The Market day is Wednesday, and a pitched market is established in the Corn Exchange." The two statute fairs are still held annually, as are the wool fair in the last week of June and the 17th August sheep fair.

By 1939 (Blacket's Directory) says that the weekly Wednesday market is for "Eggs, etc.". The "Corn Exchange is open for business every Wednesday from 12 till 2pm. Clerk of the market, S.F. Bushnell."

The Wednesday market rises again:

After a lapse of about 50 years, the Wednesday street market was restarted in 1983. See "Trustees agree to Hungerford street market", NWN 21 Apr 1983, "Market returns after 50 years", NWN 14 Jul 1983 and "Market begins trading again after 50 years", NWN, 21 Jul 1983.

This move was not universally popular, however, and it appeared in Feb 1986 that the market may close. See "Street market closure likely at Hungerford", NWN 2 Feb 1986.

Nowadays the only remaining market is the weekly market held on Wednesdays and a seasonal Farmers' Market on Sundays. The Farmers' Market celebrated its 6th birthday in May 2012 (see NWN "Big 6 celebration for farmers' market", 31 May 2012).

See also:

- "Hungerford's Market in the Middle Ages", by Norman Hidden (reprinted in Berkshire Old and New, Vol 15, from which parts of this article derive).

- Parish Magazines

- Rural Calendar

- Town Halls

- Buttermarket

- Steam fairs on the Common, 1970-78