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This article is from "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford" by Norman Hidden, 2009.

The mystery of Stocken Street In the 11th and 12th centuries the town of Hungerford developed around the intersection of an ancient east - west road and a probably later north - south route. At the point of intersection the town market, with its ‘cross’, developed and became the town centre.

By the early 16th century the north - south road was known as the Salisbury road and the east - west road as the Newbury road (on the east) or the Marlborough road (on the west). It should be explained that this is no longer today’s route either to Marlborough or to Newbury, for although the modern route from Newbury runs north of the river Kennet, the old route ran south of the river and so did the route to Marlborough. The town’s high street ran along the north - south road, as it does today; the town portion of the old Newbury road being known as Park Street and that of the west road (no longer the main route to Marlborough) as Church Street. In Tudor times (and until quite recently) Park Street was called Cow Lane and Church Street was called Church Lane.

A modern map in Hungerford Town Hall marks those houses which possess commoners’ rights derived from their existence at the 1612 feoffment. There are no such houses in Cow Lane (Park Street), eight only in Church Lane (Church Street), all the remainder, about 80 odd, being situated in present day Bridge Street and High Street, which two streets together comprised the medieval High Street. It is clear that the early town lay along the north - south road and that the intersecting east - west route (‘the old and great market road’ as a c.1750 mapmaker called it) [1] was by that time subsidiary. It is clear from the positioning of houses which held commoners’ rights that there can have been in medieval times only these two roads in which such houses stood within the vill of Hungerford. There were, however, a number of supplementary unbuilt-on lanes or footpaths, leading to the church or into the fields, with names such as Church Passage, le Churchway, Dedeman’s lane, for example. But on none of these were burgages with rights of common.

The earliest use of the names Lane and Church Lane both occur in the 1573 survey [2]. The name High Street appears in its English form for the first time in 1591, but its Latin form alta strata is to be found a great deal earlier e.g. in a deed of 1338 (Vode - Tinctor), as well as in 1420 and 1480 [3]. If during this period in the 14th and 15th centuries no other street names occur, this should occasion no surprise. However, the name of one other street occurs with as much regularity as does ‘the high street’. Its first use is recorded by c.1300 [4] in Berkshire R.O. deed H/RTa33, where one croft of land in Stocken Street is granted to the chantry of the Blessed Mary. Other references occur in 1349 [5] with the grant of a toft there; in 1420 a tenement in Stocken Street was granted by Thomas Webb to John Kember, which lay next to that of the vicar on one side; in 1573 the parsonage had a barn in ‘Stockham’ Street, with a close adjoining.

The variant spelling in 1573 shows that the significance of the older form has slipped from memory or knowledge. In the account of the boundaries of Sandon Fee, contained within the 1573 survey, we are told that the boundary began at Hungerford mill pond ‘and so to Stackham Bridge and leadeth up the river and boundeth on Freeman’s Marsh on the south’.

If we assume that Stackham is a corruption of Stockham, and that Stocken Street ran across Stockham bridge this description should help us identify the street as on the west side of the town and continuing over the river Dun in a north westerly direction across Freeman’s Marsh. Today, just before the present Vicarage, Church Street forks on the left to become the road to North Standen and on the right to lead to the church. It then proceeds by a footpath across the canal to a little bridge over the Dun, the latter river continuing southwards along the southern boundary of Freeman’s Marsh. This route seems identical with that already deduced from the 1573 survey reference to Stackham Bridge. That Stocken Street ran in the neighbourhood of the church is reinforced by the fact that several of the references quoted above refer to or describe church property there.

It is also significant that the last references we have to Stocken Street (in the corrupt form of Stockham Street, Stackham Bridge in 1573, and the even more corrupt form of Strackham Bridge in 1591) [6] coincide with the first reference to Church Lane (also in 1573). If we disallow the corrupt forms as being merely vestigial memories of the original name, the contrast is even more striking in that the name Stocken Street was used throughout the 14th and 15th centuries whereas the name Church Lane had not yet emerged.

We know from deeds in which the name Stocken Street occurs that the street contained dwelling houses. This was a fact which the official commoners’ rights map records as applicable only to either the High Street or present day Church Street. Nevertheless, at least one of the dwellings in Stocken Street c.1300 belonged to the chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Whether this was the same as the tenement transferred in 1420 from Webbe to Kember is not known, but certainly as early as c.1470 the chantry held there two ‘part burgages’ which seem to correspond to the two tenements ascribed to the Blessed Virgin Mary chantry and located in Church Lane in the surveys of 1573 and 1591.

A particularly useful document is the 1513 terrier of the lands of the rectory of Hungerford [7]. This mentions both Stockham Mead and Stockham Street. Stockham Mead would seem to be north of the river Dun, that is, just across Stockham Bridge and in or adjoining the lands of the manor of Hopgrass. A deposition relating to events c.1550 mentions the soils at the upper end of Stockman (sic) Mead ‘which parteth Freeman’s Marsh‘. In Stockham Street the rectory held two adjoining tenements, one of which had a tenement of Sir Walter Hungerford on its west and the street to its north, the other having ‘the king’s road’ on the north and the vicarage garden on the south. Since the first of these two tenements is specifically stated to be in Stockham Street, the second and adjacent tenement must therefore also be so. A third rectorial tenement follows these two, ‘between the king’s road there on the south and the said rectory on the north’. There is no reference to Church Lane in the whole of this terrier, although the rectorial holdings and parsonage lands detailed abound in this area in proximity to the church; and although there is a reference to ‘le Churchway’ this is shown by its own description within the terrier as a road leading from the church southwards towards Sandon.

The three rectorial tenants in Stockham Street did not possess commoners’ rights, for by virtue of their rectorial tenancies they were ineligible for them. They represent, however, an additional 3 dwellings in what may now begin to be seen as a relatively wellpeopled street. Yet the only street other than the High Street which can fulfill such a description is that which later centuries began to call first Church Lane, then Church Street. There is one small additional pointer - the 1513 terrier groups the three Stockham Street tenements together and in the margin a later hand has written the caption West Street, just as for the remaining tenements the same hand has written marginally Hungerford Street (rather than High Street). There was only one road which ran west from the centre of Hungerford, just as there was only one other populated road, and that was the present day Church St.

The origin and even destination of the westward road is obscure. The editor of ‘Berkshire Place Names’ derives its name from Stoccen which, she suggests, may mean ‘among tree stumps’. She also argues, in relation to ‘street’, that the parish is crossed by a Roman road. The direction of the old Roman road, however, which passes just south of Great Hidden farm does not indicate a road which went through Hungerford, but one which passed to the north of it before crossing the river, perhaps at Colcote, to continue towards Littlecote.

Stocken Street is unlikely to have been part of this Roman road, but possibly was something very much older. In ‘The History of Roads: from Amber Route to Motorway’ Heinrich Schreiber states that ‘ancient European highways, such as the prehistoric amber roads, were laid across soft ground by placing logs at right angles to the direction of the traffic’ [8] These roads which date back to the 5th Century B.C. were later called ‘corduroy’ roads because of the up and down alternations which result from their log construction. If Stocken Street did indeed continue westwards across the Marsh, it may well have been such an ancient log route, its name perhaps indicating its nature?


1 Berks. R.O.: D/EB P1 Sketch by Wm. Watts
2 Berks. R.O.: HM5/1
3 Huntington Library USA, Hastings MSS; Berks. R.O.: H/RTa10; PRO: DL29/690/1483
4 See ed M.Gelling ‘Berkshire Place Names’
5 Wilts. RO: 490/1508
6 PRO. DL42/117
7 Windsor XV.31.61
8 Heinrich Schreiber: ‘The History of Roads’ Barrie and Rockcliffe, 1961

See also:

- Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford

- Stocken Street