Hungerford Common Port Down is an area of about 220 acres (89 hectares) of common land to the east of Hungerford. It is registered under the Commons Registration Act 1965.
Since 1908 (the Town & Manor Charity Scheme, 1908), it has been owned by the Official Trustee of Charity Lands, but it is managed by the Town and Manor of Hungerford, who are responsible to the Charity Commissioners. Particular responsibility is vested with the the Commons Committee, who themselves are responsible to the Trustees. Commoners of the Town and Manor have rights of grazing on the land. (See Properties attracting Common Rights).
The name "Port Down" is derived from the Saxon and French word porte - a door or gate, and the Saxon word "Dun" - a hill. Thus - the "gated down". To this day, there remain gates (now with cattle grids) at all entrances to the Common.
The early history of the Common, and its expansion over the past 700 years:
The size of the common has varied over the centuries.
The earliest mention of the Common Port Down was in charters under Edward III in the 1300s. The size was not recorded.
200 years later, in Henry VIII's reign, a Duchy of Lancaster Survey in 1513-14, states that the common contained 50 acres (West Berkshire SMR MWB3380).
Just 30 years later, in 1543-44, another Duchy of Lancaster survey stated there was a "common belonging to the town called Portsdown, containing 60 acres, upon which groweth 50 timber oak, which oak the town claimeth to have for their necessary building". The same survey listed "a common called Sandon [now spelt Sanden], containing 12 acres, which the tenants of the Dean of Windsor and certain individuals claimed", and also "a common called Helmesheath, containing 100 acres, of thorn and home thin set with oaks, which two individuals with their tenants claimed common". (Duchy of Lancaster Depositions, Henry VIII., Vol 44, R. No. 5).
The Common in the time of Elizabeth I:
By the time of Elizabeth I, and Inquisition of 11 Feb 1573 found that the town lands comprised:
- Hungerford Port Down, 140 acres
- Freeman's Marsh, 20 acres
- Helmes Heath, 100 acres
- Sanden Down, 16 acres
- Woodmarsh of Lammas Ground, 12 acres,
- Mill Meadow, 7 acres (belonging to the manor of East Garston)
- The Island (in the river Kennet)
- One acre in the town "given by deed for a place to sport in (The Croft)
There were some changes to the common under an Act of 1794 in readiness for the Kennet and Avon Canal being built across the common (confirmed by an indenture of 10 Jun 1802).
In 1806, a further 5+ acres was added in Everland Furlong. [On 10 Apr 1806, Sir Walter James James, in consideration of £21 and the following exchange, conveyed 5a, 1r, 33p. in various parcels in Everland Furlong between the Port Down and the Canal to the Feoffees in trust for the inhabitants of Hungerford, and the Feoffees conveyed to him all their Rights of Common over Coulsham's Meadow, in the Parish of Kintbury, formerly part of the Manor of Hungerford.]
(The Everlong field is clearly separate to the common on Rocque's map of Berkshire, 1761, and is still shown separately on the Enclosure Award map of 1819-20, marked as "Feoffees in trust for the commoners over Hungerford Port Down").
Perhaps the greatest change to the Common Port Down was in 1819, when it was extended by about a third at the time of the Parliamentary Enclosure, by adding part of Sanham Down and Everlong. [Follow this link for more on the Common Fields].
"Jim" Davis says that "The Port Down, as also The Croft and Freeman's Marsh, was exempted from enclosure under the Enclosure Act 1819. An area of 25a 2r. 15p in the Everland in the Town Tithing of Hungerford was made over to the Feoffees to be thrown into The Port Down. This was No. 15 in the Award List and is shown as for "Down Horses", whilst in the same award an area of 21a 2r 24p. in West Brooks was allotted "Marsh Horses".
In 1854 there was a most interesting addition to the Port Down; by an assignment by a Lease by William Bartlett to the Feoffees of Hungerford. Interesting in that the original lease was from Thomas Carr of Sanden Fee to Joshua Stephens of Hungerford for a term of 1000 years at a peppercorn rent, dated February 13th 1677. In the assignment the property is described as "A piece of arable land, previously demised on the 10th day of August 1681, being in the Tithing of Sanden Fee in the parish of Hungerford and containing five and a half acres (more or less) bounded on the East by the Highway leading from Hungerford toward Inkpen and on the South and West by lands heretofore belonging to the Misses Robinson but which have lately been purchased by the parties of the Second Part (The Feoffees) and on the North by the Hungerford Port Down". The original deed is in the possession of the Trustees and a wonderful example of calligraphy. It is curious that the report of 1905 made no mention of this transaction, but it is mentioned in the 1908 scheme.
By an indenture dated 28 Dec 28th 1853 Thomas Major, in consideration of £1 6s 10d and £33 l0s 7d conveyed to Thomas Viner and others, (The Feoffees) 16acr 23p in Sanden Fee and 9a 2r 36p, both adjoining the Port Down on the South West Corner and these parcels were thrown into the Port Down. The bulk of the money came from the monies paid by The Great Western Railway, and the balance from the Common Fund.
In 1870 under an Order from the Enclosure Commissioners the Feoffees exchanged 5a 0r 33p of the second parcel for 1r 8p in the High Street belonging to the Church Wardens and upon which they erected the present Town Hall and Corn Exchange.
Three major engineering schemes were largely responsible for biggest changes to the Port Down - The Kennet and Avon Canal, the Great Western Railway and the Sewerage & Drainage Scheme of the Hungerford District Council. (See below)
The 1908 Charity Scheme:
By the time of the 1908 Charity Commissioners Scheme, Port Down comprised a total of 192.143 acres.
The Common Port Down now comprises an unspoilt area of about 220 acres (about 89 hectares). This area includes a number of earlier common fields, including the Port Down, Everlong, Inglewood Down and part of Sanham Down.
The Common Port Down is registered under the Commons Registration Act 1965 and the Countryside, Rights of Way and Wildlife Acts 2000/04 and the management is operated within the constraints of these laws.
There are a number of irregularities visible, including strip lynchets (on Everlong, close to the Down Gate), and the remains of gravel and chalk pits.
A long linear ditch and bank, now partly obscured by rough shrubs and trees, runs east from the port down gate towards Kintbury. This appears to be the boundary between the Common Port Down and the Everlong, and is thought to have been the remains of the "Old and Great Market Road from Hungerford to Newbury", shown on a sketch map dating from c1750.
Many other, less obvious remains, were identified during an extensive and detailed survey by English Heritage in 2005, as part of their Urban Commons Project. Interestingly, aerial photographs showed probable remains of a prehistoric or Roman field system, as well as later land improvement and landscaping. The survey is entitled "Hungerford Common, Freeman's Marsh and Environs, Aerial Survey and Investigation Special Project AER/5/2005, English Heritage".
The main entrance to the Common is at the Down gate, with the adjacent pub called the Downgate (previously the Royal Exchange, and the Spotted Cow).
Nearby, on the north side of the road, is the restored round cattle water trough. This was installed in 1904, and supplied with mains water from Park Street. (The Water Company had been formed in 1903). It started leaking badly in the 1950s, when the concrete troughs on higher ground to the south of the road were installed. The 1904 round trough was restored in 2013.
- Hungerford Common, May 2009
- Western half of a map of c1750 showing the "Old and Great Market Road from Hungerford to Newbury"
- Aerial photograph September 2001, showing, in addition to the main roads across the common, and the trout farm top right, the weaving line of the shrubs along the Everlong boundary and the linear terracing to the north west.
- The terracing on the north west part of the Common, Sep 2001
- The Common, Down Gate area, c1900.
- The Down Gate [Parsons, c1905]
- The Common Port Down, 1910. [Freeman's Series]
- The Down Gate [Parsons, c1910]
- The Port Down [Parsons, c1910]
- Cattle on The Port Down [Collier C86, 1910]
- View of Eddington from The Port Down [Collier C94, 1910]
- Common Port Down, 1910, looking east from Down Gate. This shows the avenue of elm trees which had been planted in the late 19th century, and were felled in 1973 after they suffered from Dutch Elm Disease. [Collier C95]
- The Port Down [c1915]
- View of Eddington from The Port Down, showing Hungerford East Signal Box [Parsons, c1920]
- The Common and Dunn Mill lock, 1934.
- A popular event on Common, c1950? What was the event? Can you help? Please email the Administrator
- The Port Down [?1960s]
- The Port Down [?1960s]
- The Port Down [?1970s]
- Hungerford Common, Oct 2013
- The 1904 water trough on the common, restored Aug 2013. [Dec 2015]
Three great construction works across the Common:
The Kennet & Avon Canal:
The Kennet and Avon Canal was constructed across the common in 1798. Jim Davis records that "There is no record of the sum paid to the Feoffees for the cutting through the Port Down, and they are not shown in the list of people in the Schedule to the Act whose properties were taken. For the record, there were eleven Hungerford properties in the Schedule, several involving two houses. The Trustees of the Hungerford Free School and the Dean and Chapter of Windsor are two of the bodies mentioned - these were on the west of the town.
However, in 1802 the proprietors of the Kennet and Avon Canal, in consideration of the sum of £91 3s 9d. conveyed to the Feoffees various plots of land that had formerly been the property of the Feoffees and were now no longer required by the Canal Company. The plots included one of 3r 5p "between the Dun Mill River and the Canal", presumably in what we now call the "Bottom Meadow"."
The Berks and Hants Railway:
The "Berkshire and Hampshire Railway" was built across the Port Down and opened to the terminus station at Hungerford in December 1847. This involved a sale of 25 acres (for £1288) which allowed the purchase of further lands adjoining Port Down in the south west corner.
The Sewerage and Drainage System:
Six years after the Water Works were installed, Hungerfrod had a Sewerage and Drainage System - built across the Common in 1909. These great works included the architectural pump house at the swing bridge, north of the canal at Everlands Road, a pipe line, which is only partly underground, and the treatment works at the eastern end of the Common. See Mains Drainage Scheme.
Jim Davis says: "The first reference to a railway across the Port Down occurs in the minute of the Trustee meeting of February 1845, when the Constable reported to his Trustees that the Great Western Railway wanted certain lands on Inglewood Down and Everlands and that it was proposed that the land be made available on the basis of a rent of £4 per acre based upon thirty years purchase and compensation at twenty years. Messrs. Fuller and Marsh were appointed Agents for the Feoffees.
The following month it was reported that Mr Brunel, the Railway Engineer, valued the land required at £1 5s 0d per acre at forty years purchase and that Mr Fuller had valued the land at £2 per acre at forty years purchase, but that he (Mr Fuller) thought the railway would give £100 per acre to include compensation.
A week later the Constable was able to tell his Trustees that the Railway had offered £120 per acre and would undertake not to deviate from the plans deposited with the Clerk, that fences and bridges would be constructed to the satisfaction of the Agents and that all disputes should be referred to the Engineer of the Kennet and Avon Canal.
It was resolved that the offer be accepted and that if thought necessary, the Clerk be authorised to employ Counsel to watch the progress of the forthcoming Act of Parliament through its stages through the House. It would seem that the Railway authorities were dragging their feet, or the Trustees thought they were, because on the 22nd of April that year the Trustees agreed to send a petition and a deputation to the House of Commons because of the lack of a satisfactory assurance from the Railway. Consider that only two months had elapsed since the matter was first mentioned and think what a ball the planning authorities would have over a matter like this today!
However, matters moved on and in February 1846 the Clerk explained the workings of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act as it applied to the sale of Common Land and it was resolved to call a meeting of the Commoners to explain the intentions of the Trustees with regard to the money resulting from the sale. In July 1846 plans to connect the Lower Common (as we call it today) with the Port Down by means of an archway suitable for the passage of cattle under the railway were approved.
In 1847 the Great Western Railway completed the line to Hungerford, passing through the Port Down and the allotment of the Enclosure Act, taking in all 10 acr 2r 38p at £120 per acre. The agreed price was £1288 10s 0 inclusive of the standing timber and interest at 4 per cent until payment.
The actual sum paid was £1384 10s 0d and this was invested in 1853 in the purchase of two parcels of land of 16acr 1r 23p and 9acr 2r 36p both adjoining the Port Down on the south west corner and then thrown into the Port Down as Common Land. The purchase price of the two parcels was £1673 10s 7d the balance of the purchase price being found from Common Funds.
In view of the eagerness of the Trustees to have the Railway to Hungerford the comments of Rev. Summers as to its effect on the town are interesting. He says "As has be on the case with many small towns, the railway has perhaps taken away more trade than it has brought, and the population of the Berkshire portion of the parish, which had increased from 1,987 in 1801 to 2,696 in 1851, but decreased during the next 50 years to 2,363 in 1901.
The Sewerage and Drainage System was built across the Common in 1909. See Sewerage and Drainage System for much more information.
There are several old gravel and chalk pits on the common. The deep one just east of the cattle trough is thought to have become used as a mud hole for use in making wattle and daub for housing.
In September 1878 the Mayor and Feoffees placed some "commodious seats on the Downs, for the convenience of the townspeople who resort there."
The water trough:
The dew pond in front of the pub at the Down Gate was filled in 1904 after the installation of the mains water trough.
The Constable and Feoffees commissioned town builder John Wooldridge to build a mains-fed water trough for horses, one of the first in the country. following the opening of the Hungerford Water Works in 1903.
The trough became obsolete and neglected when the new cattle troughs were installed during the 1960s.
In 2013 the Constable (Susan Hofgartner) and Trustees employed local builder Jim Scarlett, a Commoner, to refurbish the trough. The work was completed in Aug 2013.
Activities on the Common:
The Common has been used over the years for a wide variety of recreational purposes, including Bare Knuckle fights in 1821 and 1827, major army manoeuvres in 1872, many rural sports (including the Annual Sports of The Royal and Ancient Order of Foresters) and jubilee events, an army camp in 1st World War, a golf course and steam fairs!
Aeroplanes on the Common:
During the period around the First World War, many early aeroplanes landed on the Common. The local photographer, Albert Parsons, who himself joined the Royal Flying Corps during the war, has left us with many photographs. See Aeroplanes on the Common.
In the 1920s, Alan Cobham, the aviation pioneer, applied to build an airport on the common. The project did not get approval!
A gate-keeper's hut stood on the north side of the road at the Down gate until c1930.
A 5-hole golf course was built on Hungerford Common in the early 20th century - although the dates are unclear. There was a Golf Club hut near the gate-keeper's hut. [If you can help provide further information on the golf course, please email the administrator].
Military Camps during First World War:
Between January 1915 and 1917 several RASC(MT) Companies assembled in Hungerford, and there are many photographs of them on the Common. Follow this link for more on Military Camps during First World War.
Houses and factories on the Common?
From time to time proposals have been made to alter the use of the Port Down. Jim Davis wrote: "We have seen how the Railway, the Canal and the Sewerage Works came and altered the appearance of the general landscape, but these things did not change the basic use, that of Common grazing land.
At one time the Trustees were popularly credited (or discredited) with the lack of development in Hungerford and the fact that there has been no huge industrial development here.
The Hungerford Enclosure Act of 1819 left the Port Down intact, in fact it added to it, but in this 20th century there have been one or two proposals which would have altered the nature of the Common. They are recorded in some detail because the attitude of the Trustees and the Hocktide Jury was surprising, to put it mildly.
In February 1919 the Trustees had before them a letter from the Berkshire Land Steward asking if they could make land available, either on the Port Down or on Freemans Marsh for the re-settlement of ex-service men . The Trustees replied that whilst they were in sympathy with the scheme, the rights of the Commoners precluded the use of the Port Down or the Marsh for that purpose.
In May 1932, a suggestion which surprisingly enough emanated from the Hocktide Court was considered by the Trustees. It was that in order to make the Common more profitable to the Town, a piece of land on the north of the road be used for Building purposes. The Trustees took this suggestion very seriously and wrote to the Charity Commissioners for permission.
The Commissioners referred the Constable to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, who in turn replied that generally speaking, no enclosure of land subject to Rights of Common, whether by agreement or otherwise, is valid in law without the Ministry's consent and that the Ministry's general practice, particularly in the case of an urban common to which Section 193 of the Law of Property Act of 1925 applies, is to require as a condition of consent to any enclosure, the addition to the Common Land of not less an area to that enclosed and equally advantageous to the Commoners and the public.
It was decided to take no further action in the matter, the surprising thing about the suggestion is that it came from the Hocktide Jury.
In January 1936 the Trustees had before them the planning proposals of the County Planning Officer. As one would have expected the Port Down was scheduled as a Public Open Space. A proposal was made that an objection should be lodged to this and that the land on the north side of the road from the Down Gate to Red Bridge should be zoned for industrial purposes, and this was duly seconded.
A Trustee protested that it the Trustees agreed to any use of the Common other than that of the Common Land for the benefit of the Commoners of Hungerford they would be acting against the terms of the Charity. He went on to propose an amendment that the zoning of the whole of the Common as an Open Space be agreed to. This was seconded and put to the meeting and voted upon and lost by six votes to two.
The original proposition was then put to the meeting and was carried by six votes to two, and in further discussion the view was expressed that the land on the North between the Railway and the canal should also be zoned for industrial purposes.
A Committee of five people was appointed to meet the County Planning Officer and to put to him the views of the Trustees. This committee reported back to the Trustees on March 9th 1946 and stated that they had met Mr Newton, the Planning Officer, who had told them that while he could not agree with the Trustees that the Port Down should be zoned for industrial purposes on the North side he would put forward to his Committee a suggestion that the whole of the Port Down should be scheduled as an Open Space with the provision that should the Trustees wish to develop any part of the Port Down they should make application which would receive sympathetic hearing!
It is difficult to understand the attitude of the Trustees in this matter, especially as there was no mention of consultation with the Hocktide Jury. Over the years one gets the impression that sometimes the Hocktide Jury was dragged into a matter which would have appeared to have been one entirely for a Trustee decision, but in this case the decision to appeal against the Open Space was very definitely to the detriment of the Commoners Rights.
One must remember however that in 1936 the country was still suffering from real unemployment, and generally speaking, any project. likely top provide work for the thousands of genuinely unemployed men would have been very welcome.
There were of course other proposals in the County Planning Officer's Scheme which affected other parts of the Estate of the Town and Manor; but we are here dealing with the Port Down. So much for the legend that the Trustees have always resisted development in Hungerford.
In December 1951 the question of development of the Common was again raised, this time for housing. The Trustees considered a letter from the Hungerford District Council asking if they were prepared to negotiate for the sale of about forty-two and half acres of the Port Down, being that portion bounded on the North and East by the Inkpen and Kintbury roads. The Clerk reported that he had informed the Commons and Open Spaces Preservation Society of the proposal and that any negotiations would have to receive the consent of the Commoners and the Charity Commissioners.
It was proposed and seconded and resolved that the Trustees would not recommend the Charity Commissioners to agree to the disposal of that part of the Common. Messrs H. J. Bushnell and E. W. Munford, being members of the Hungerford R.D.C., though present, took no part in the discussion.
The matter came up again in April when the Clerk read correspondence from the R.D.C. from which it appeared that the R.D.C. were now thinking in terms of the New Common. Three Trustees including Major Harvey, the Constable, were appointed to deal with the R.D.C. The Hocktide Jury were also asked to appoint a representative to look after the interests of the Commoners.
At the May meeting a letter from Mr H J Bushnell, one of the Trustees who was also a member of the Hungerford District Council, was read. He wrote that, as a member of the R.D.C. he had very strong views as to the necessity of the R.D.C. acquiring land for building and he felt that it was incompatible for him to also hold office as a Trustee of the Town and Manor.
He therefore tendered his resignation which the meeting decided to accept. The Clerk was instructed to convey to Mr Bushnell the regret of the Trustees and their appreciation of his work. A vacancy was declared.
The Constable then reported upon the meeting which had been held with the R.D.C. representatives. After some discussion it was resolved that the Rural District Council had not given sufficient consideration to the alternative sites available for building and that if the Council persisted in their application the Trustees should recommend to the Commoners that the matter be dealt with by compulsory purchase and therefore the subject of an Official Enquiry.
The Commoners met on June the 18th and their decision based on the recommendation from the Trustees was forwarded to the Rural District Council. That appeared to end the matter since no further reference to it appears in the Minutes of the Trustee Meetings.
WWII - American Troops on the Common:
During the Second World War, just two months after D-Day, there were huge numbers of American troops around Hungerford. On 10th August, about 18,000 gathered on the common for a parade in front of General Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander. Follow this link for more on the American troops on the common.
Trees on the Common:
Robert James adds (Mar 2017) "The Common Port Down has been subject to tree management for rather more than 5 centuries and as such there is a management plan in place which is overseen (since 2000) by a professional Arboroculturist, Ben Holding.
In 1558 a survey was carried out by the Duchy of Lancaster ( forerunner of Crown Estates) where 50 timber Oaks were recorded.
In 1902 60 Lime and Maple trees were planted as a memorial to Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.
In 1972/3 over 70 Elm trees, dating from the last 19th century, died of Dutch Elm disease. These were replaced in 1975 on both sides of the road from Down Gate and the Inkpen Road. A few years later there were 4 spinneys and dells planted with a mixture of English Oak, Green and Purple Beech, English Lime and Maple.
Starting in 1999 a Millenium planting scheme has resulted in 208 ith some memorial trees being planting, again using English Oak, Green and Purple Beech, English Lime and Maple.
Each autumn a survey of the area is carried out to identify disease, safety, planting and re-planting opportunities.
Today there are 50+ old oaks ( at least one being 400 years old) in addition to the oaks of the Millennium Tree Planting.
The trustees have determined that after the Millennium planting, no further areas should be planted as spinneys, borders or avenues, and this remains at least for the time being."
It appears that the cattle grids at each approach to the Common were installed (at a cost of £390) in 1941. See
- Letter from Mr Munford to Lt-Col Hawkins, Berkshire County Council, 15 Nov 1940
- Letter from Berkshire County Surveyor to the Constable, Mr E Munford, 18 Jan 1941.
- Letter from Mr Munford to Col Hawkins, 24 Jan 1941
A ban on the use of metal detectors was imposed by the Town and Manor in April 1979. The NWN of 24 Apr 1980 reported "The Wessex Metal Detecting Group is protesting a decision by Hungerford Town and Manor - which control Hungerford Common - to ban the use of metal detectors on the Common.
Hungerford Common is different from other common land in that it is under the control of the Trustees rather than a local authority and the Trustees have greater power to say what shall and shall not happen on its land.
The ban on detectors was imposed last April and notices to that effect were posted on the common in August.
A spokesman for the Trustees said on Tuesday that a ban was imposed because cattle were grazed on the land and careless digging could pose a danger to them.
In addition, said the spokesman, the Trustees had a duty to protect the common for the people and retain any objects found in the ancient area to protect the heritage of Hungerford."
The Millenium Tree Planting Project:
As a celebration of the Millenium, a large number of trees were planted on the Common from 1999. The species included beech, oak, lime, maple and plane. See "Planting trees for the Millenium generation", NWN 21 Jan 1999.
Dr James "Jimmy" Whittaker kindly prepared a paper on the Millenium Tree Planting Project, and emailed it (Jun 2017) for includion in the Virtual Museum. Many trees have been added to the original set listed in his document.
The Common is grazed during the summer (15 April - 31 October) by yearling cattle belonging to various Commoners, and other farmers. In 2009-10 and 2010-11 there were 180 cattle grazing.
In Mar-Apr 2015 the unsightly power cables across the Common were buried, greatly enhancing the appearance and views of the Common. See "Unsightly power cables on beautiful common are finally to be buried", NWN 26 Feb 2015.
- The Millenium Tree Planting Project, a paper by Dr James Whittaker.
The HHA Archive also holds the following files:
- Hungerford Common The Great Fight on Hungerford Common, by Jim Davis [N32]
- Study of Hungerford Common - John of Gaunt School, 1986 [N76]
- The Birds and Plants of Hungerford Common 1980-84 – Richard and Margery Frankum