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This article records abstracts of entries in the Trustees' Minute Book of the Town and Manor, 1821-1972.
They were made by Mr E.L. "Jim" Davis, as part of his preparation for his unpublished book on the History of the Common Port Down. Although largely focussed on items relating to the Common, there are many additional fascinating references. The extracts deal with the day-by-day incidents of life on the Common. It is perhaps remarkable that from time to time the Feoffees dealt with the problems including the punishment of transgressors, while at other times they referred the affair to the Hocktide Jury. One fact that clearly emerges is that in the days when every small tradesman kept a horse or pony and many of them had a small piece of meadow or paddock, the right of grazing of the Port Down was of considerable value, and the right was something to be jealously guarded.
Added at the bottom of this section is a further chapter from Jim Davis's book - which he entitles "System of the Management of the Post Down" - but covering the period 1905 - 1978.
1821 - June 11: Ordered that the Clerk should advertise a "great sheep fair" to be held on the Port Down. One thousand bills to be sent to all leading sheep farmers and dealers, the fair to be held on 14th October.
1821 - August: Not quite about the Common, but of interest! John Chen (Tithing Man) complained that when in Charnham Street William Sims caught hold of his arm and stick and caused him to be knocked down by a passing chaise - said he had no business there - Charnham Street was then in Wilts.
1825 - April: Proposed that a quarter of an acre at the Inkpen Gate and the Kintbury Gate should be enclosed for the erection of dwellings - not proceeded with.
1830 October: The measures to be taken respecting the sale of cattle now impounded on the Common Pound as Agistments entered in the name of George Hidden were considered, and the evidence of Mr William Marchment, the notice of sale to Mr Hidden and a letter from Mr Joseph Cundell of Bagshot produced, and it fully appearing to the meeting that such cattle were not bona fide purchased and paid for by the said George Hidden, but were taken in agistment. Resolved that the same be sold in pursuance of the Notice to him to that effect.
1835 - October: The meeting discussed appointing a night watchman for the winter months. The inhabitants were to be asked to support one man (by subscription) working from 9.00pm to 5.00am.
1841 - March: The Engineer of the Kennet and Avon Canal enquired if he might take gravel from the Common for the tow paths. He was told he could dig it at his own expense and pay the Trustees 6d per ton!
1842 - May: The Constable and the Hocktide Jury met to view encroachments on the west side of the Port Down from the Canal Hedge to Cow Lane. They ordered three landmarks (Stones marked F.B.H.) to be placed to mark the Port Down.
1847 - December: Mr Willes of Hungerford Park asked to be allowed to make a road from his park gates to the Kintbury road, near the new Railway Bridge. Resolved that he be allowed to use such road on payment of 2s 6d per year and on the understanding that no gravel or stone be put down.
1848 - March: Resolved that in the opinion of the meeting a request to the Feoffees to sell part of the town lands for the new Poor House cannot be complied with as it adjoins the Port Down and may be required.
1849 - January: Discussion as to safety of Gravel Pit at the Inkpen Gate and the general management of the gravel pits.
1842 - September: New gates put at both Kintbury and Inkpen ends.
1849 - March: Resolved to hold sheep and lamb fairs. Point was made that the Common overseers must use all endeavours to prevent sheep being driven all over the Common.
1849 - July: Ordered that the Pond at the Down Gate be deepened as soon as means permitted.
1851 - June 16: Meetings of the Constable, the Feoffees and the Hocktide Jury at 10am and 6pm. The Port Down having been viewed in the interval.
Resolved at the second meeting - That the land between the Railway and the land belonging to Captain Dunn be sold to Mr Wooldridge on the following terms. That he remove the gravel and pay six pence a yard for same - that the level and make good the land and replace the soil thereon and sow grass seed and fence off the land from Captain Dunn's land and that he be allowed three years to do this. The gravel to be moved by Canal and not otherwise, the timber to be given up to the Feoffees and that he pay for the gravel annually at Hocktide. The boundaries to be agreed and clearly marked.
That - the weeds and thistles be cut and destroyed – that the furze that had been grubbed over be cut over and cleared and the sides of the gravel pits be made good.
That Mr Homer be at liberty to put out his palings belonging to his house adjoining the Common Port Down to the distance of 4' 1" from his house on paying the Constable a quit rent of six pence at Hocktide.
1858 - June: The Feoffees considered a report that Mr Willes of Hungerford Park had turned cattle out on the Common and it was resolved that he be asked by what right he did so.
1858 - July: Meeting of the Constable, Feoffees and Bailiffs. Resolved – that on next "driving" of the Common, the Overseers of the Common be authorised to impound the cattle of Mr Willes unless by that time they are properly entered in the overseers Book.
Note – this item does not appear again, so presumably the cattle were taken off or properly entered. We shall hear more later of the "Rights" of the Willes of Hungerford Park.
1871 - May: The Hocktide Jury viewed encroachments. Mr Cundell had offended by making a bank and ditch in front of his house facing the Common, and Mr Dunn by putting up his fence out too far. Mr Cundell undertook to alter his bank and it was found that Mr Dunn had not offended.
1875 - August: The Constable was authorised to put a new gate at the top of Cow Lane (Park Street).
1875 - August: A special meeting of the Hocktide Jury was called to consider whether the fine imposed on Thomas Hart, one of the Overseers of the Port Down, for the agistment of a pony after it had been sold by him, should be mitigated or remitted. Evidence was heard that the pony was kept on the Common for a day or two after it had been sold and had therefore been impounded by the Hayward. The Jury decided that the fine of two Pounds (£2) imposed was too severe and ordered that it be reduced to ten shillings and the sum of thirty shillings returned to Mr Hart.
1877 - November: The Feoffees view the New Common with a view to deciding the type of fencing.
1878 - October: The question of a building to house the hurdles used at the Sheep Fairs was discussed and it was decided to erect a suitable building on land adjacent to the Port Down, the property of the Feoffees and in the occupation of Mr Alexander.
1879 - May: The Constable and Feoffees, together with the Hocktide and the Sanden fee Juries, met to consider the case of Thomas Kimber who, it was alleged, had broken into the Town Pound and taken out his horse, which had been impounded. The Jury fines him £1 and 5s 11d costs which he promptly paid.
1883 - May: The Hocktide Jury considered the case of Mr Albert Edward Hoare, son of Mr William Hoare, whose cattle had been impounded by the Overseers of the Common. It was said that Mr Albert Hoare (the son of a Commoner), lived at Aldbourne and could not therefore exercise the right of common attached to his father's dwelling. The Jury decided that Albert Hoare was not a bona fide inhabitant and fined him 10s for each of three cows, plus charges for poundage and expenses.
1892 - November: It was reported to the Constable and Trustees that the Football Club had placed sockets for their goal posts on the Port Down. It was agreed to give permission for this on payment of 5/- per annum, the posts to be moved at the end of each season.
1893 - February: A meeting of the Feoffees and the Hocktide Jury was informed that it was proposed to hold the Wiltshire Show on the Port Down, in the May following. The Jury were invited to approve the chosen site and the fixture.
1893 - March: Resolved that proceedings in the Magistrates Court should be instituted against Walter Addiscott for damaging the Down Gate Pond by emptying night soil into it.
1896 - May: It was reported to the Trustees that a gateway had been made from a cottage in the Down Pits. It was ordered that the gateway be restored to its former pedestrian size or a quit rent of 2s 6d per annum paid.
The District Surveyor was refused permission to place stones for repairing the roads in the Down Pits, but subsequently the permission was given.
1897 - May: The Constable asked the Feoffees if they would subscribe to a Fund for planting an avenue of trees on the Common to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, as also for giving a tea to the old people and the children. The sum of Five Guineas was voted from Town Funds. Later the Organiser of the Fund received permission to plant the proposed avenue on the Kintbury Road.
1897 - July: Mr Phelps brought before the Trustees the case of Mr Barnard who had had two cows impounded. It had been found that a mistake had been made in the entry and Mr Barnard was allowed to take his cows from the Pound without fine.
1897 - September: The Town Clerk informed the meeting that the Great Western Railway desired to open an outlet from the Cattle yard at the station onto the Port Down. It was agreed that this could only be allowed if the Railway purchased a strip of Common from the Railway Station to the Road and fenced each side, or that the outlet be only used on Sheep fair days and was kept locked at all other times.
1898 - April: The Constable reported that Mr Morice's Keeper had searched the Gorse on the Common for pheasant eggs. An agreement dated August 5th 1842 between the Feoffees and Mr Willes was read and it was resolved that the Constable should see Mr Willes and draw his attention to the terms of the agreement and find out from him the practice of his keepers in the past.
1898 - November: At a meeting of the Constable and Feoffees it was unanimously agreed that the pond on the Port Down at the top of Park Street should be filled in.
1898 - December: A number of Commoners having objected to the filling in of the pond at the Down Gate it was resolved to leave the matter in abeyance until the following Hocktide.
At the same meeting a letter was read from Col. Willes of Hungerford Park in which he claimed rights of Common on the Port Down. The Clerk told the meeting that he believed that the claim was made in respect of the houses which formerly stood on the site of the Canal Bridge and Wharf which rights had been sold to Col. Willes by the Canal Company.
This matter came up at several meetings of the Trustees and in April 1899, Col. Willes having in the meantime insisted on the validity of his claim, the Trustees decided that, whilst the legality of the sale of rights was very doubtful, in view of the fact that the Willes family had apparently exercised their supposed "Rights" for many years, they had acquired these rights by prescription!
Before the Hocktide Court that year (1899) the Feoffees made a recommendation to the Jury as to the definition of a "Bona Fide Occupier".
In December 1899 the Great Western Railway served notices upon each of the Trustees enclosing plans of pieces of land that they proposed to acquire by exchange. The Trustees were not happy with the land offered, but then heard from the Railway authorities that the necessary land had been obtained frorn the Inglewood estate.
The Trustees had before them the case Mr Clifford who it was alleged by the Overseer of the Port Down had had two heifers on the Port Down for several weeks without them being registered or payment made. It was said that Mr Kimber, the Hayward, had spoken to Mr Clifford several times and had then been instructed by Mr Ford, the Overseer, to tell Clifford that, unless payment and registration were made by 12 noon on a certain Monday cattle would be impounded. No payment had been made and the cattle were duly impounded. The following day Mr Clifford's son had proffered the fees, but the overseers had refused to take the money. Mr Kinber, the Hayward, told the Trustees that he had spoken to Mr Clifford several times about the cattle, but had not delivered the final ultimatum. The Trustees decided that Mr Clifford should pay 5/- for each animal, provided that the money was paid within 14 days. Mr Clifford had then written a letter in which he said tha no deceit had been intended and that everything had now been put in order. The Trustees decided to drop the matter.
1900 - May: It was proposed to allow a cricket pitch on the Down and a small Committee was appointed to look into a suitable site. The following year, the Hocktide Jury having approved the idea and the site, it was suggested that a waiting room at Savernake Station no longer in use should be bought and used as a pavilion on payment of a nominal rent.
The same Jury also considered whether the agreement between the late Mr Georges Willes by which the Feoffees let the right of sporting over the Manor should be cancelled and a new agreement be entered into with Mr Walmesley, who now exercised the right. It was agreed that this should be done.
1901 - April: The Trustees had before them an application from Mr Walmesley "to move the gate at the eastern end of the Port Down across the Kintbury Road and for him to enclose a small piece of land there as he proposed making improvements there", consent was given to this.
At the same meeting, it was decided to close the gravel pits in current use and level them off.
1901 - June: The Great Western railway made a further application to have an outlet from the Station Yard direct to the Port Down for the passage of sheep and cattle. It was resolved in view of the previous decision that the request be refused.
1901 - June 18: The Constable called a special meeting of the Feoffees to consider the conduct of Mr Stephen Clifford, who, when the Port Down was being "Driven" on the 17th instant had declined to pay the fee charged on the cattle belonging to him and had also used the most insulting language to the Officers of the Town, and further, that the ropes used for keeping the cattle together had been cut by Mr Clifford's son.
It was resolved to hold a meeting of the Commoners to decide whether the practice of "Driving" the Common should be discontinued. The meeting was held the following week and it was proposed and seconded that the age old custom be abolished. An amendment moved that the meeting recommend to the Hocktide Jury they consider the question of "Driving" the Common and this amendment was carried by a large majority.
Mr Clifford was asked for and gave an apology for the insulting language he had used to the Town Officers.
1902 - April 23: The Feoffess considered a petition from the Hungerford Branch of The British Women's Temperance Association and the Independent Order of Rechabites und the Free Church Bands of Hope with reference to the Coronation Committee's decision to allow the sale of alcoholic liquor during the festivities on the Common on June 26, and expressing the hope that the Feoffees would refuse to sanction any increased facilities for the supply of alcoholic liquor, or, at least, impose restrictions as to secure the maintenance of order and sobriety. No action was decided on the letter.
1902 - October: The possibility of having golf links on the Common was discussed and the Constable was asked to seek the views of the Commoners.
1903 - February: The persons representing a possible Golf Club offered £5 per annum for a lease of three years for permission to lay out a Golf Course referred to the Hocktide Jury and a vote taken by a show of hands resulted in 19 for and none against the Golf Club, and in April 1903 a lease for three years was granted.
Later the Golf Club asked permission to put a small shed adjoining the gatekeeper's hut at the top of Park Street. Granted on payment of a quit rent of 2s 6d per annum.
1903 - July: The quoits club asked permission to make two clay beds on the Lower Common. Permission was granted on payment of a quit rent of 1s 0d per annum.
The same meeting heard that Mr Walmesley wished to improve the road from Hungerford Park to the Cross Roads by making outlets to drain off the water. The permission was given together with permission to plant an avenue of trees, provided that the trees be deemed to be the property of the Trustees after planting.
1903 - July: Permission was sought for troops under the command of Sir John French to encamp for the night if necessary and was granted.
1903 - Aug: Mr F G Fruen was before the Feoffees to reply to a charge that he had turned out a cow that did not belong to him. He admitted the charge and was fined a mitigated fine of Two Guineas.
Mr Ford, an Overseer of the Port Down, reported that he had taken a young calf from the Common and kept it at home for a few days as it was too young to put in the Pound. The calf was found to belong to Mr Barnard and he was asked to pay two shillings costs incurred while the calf was with the Overseer.
1903 - October: The Golf Club complained that race-horses were being trained on the Common by Mr De Wend Fenton of Hungerford Park, who denied doing so, but said he was not aware of any rule stopping him from riding across the Common.
The Golf Club now wished to enclose the greens, offering £15 per annum for a term of seven years. The matter was left to the Hocktide Jury.
1904 - February: Mr G. Ford, on behalf of the Overseers of The Port Down, explained to the Trustees that there were various irregularities in the accounts of the Hayward, from which it appeared that the Hayward had collected money from the Cowstick and had not accounted for it. A letter from the Hayward, Henry Harris was read, tendering his resignation in one month. The Feoffees suspended Harris forthwith and ordered that the Overseers make temporary arrangements to cover the duties. Mr Ford was awarded £1 for bringing the matter to light.
1904 - April: The Hocktide Jury requested a supply of mains water to a trough on the Port Down. The Constable undertook to make the necessary enquiries and produced at a later meeting an estimate from Mr Wooldridge in the sum of £13 13s 6d for the trough, £11 10s 0d for pitching round the trough laying pipes at 1s 6d per yard run and £1 10s 0d for cocks, valves etc. The charge for water to be £4 4s 0d per quarter. The Commoners met to discuss this and it was proposed and seconded that no further supply of water be brought to the Common. This motion was carried by eight votes to five.
Following this the Golf Club offered to supply a trough and supply of water for cattle and horses, but the Constable was instructed to reply that they were unable to avail themselves of the offer.
About this time the Post Office sought permission to place telegraph poles on the Common and quite a struggle ensued. The Trustees appeared determined that no pole should be placed on the turf and suggested a number of roundabout methods in lieu. Finally the matter was settled with the usual quit rents, but it was some months before this was reached.
1905 - June 5: Mr Macklin wrote to the Trustees, saying that he wished to resign as an Overseer of the Port Down. It was agreed that the Constable should write to Mr Macklin pointing out that he had been elected for the ensuing year.
1906 - February: The Constable and Trustees heard Mr Ford, Overseer of the Port Down, who complained that Mr Batten had had a horse and had declined to pay the fee of five shillings. It was left to the Constable to deal with Mr Batten.
1906 - April: The lease of the Golf Club was renewed for a further seven years.
1906 - April 24: Hocktide Court: The Overseers of the Port Down were appointed for the ensuing year, and the books for the entry of cattle were given into the custody of Mr Louis Clifford.
1908 - October: The Trustees discussed the old Agreement between the Town and the owners of Hungerford Park, by which the owner of the Park, George Willes, Esq. paid £2 10s 0d annually for the right to shoot game over the Manor, subject to the rights of the Commoners. It was decided to leave the matter in abeyance.
1909 - July: The Trustees were asked to allow camping facilities on the Port Down for a Cavalry Brigade on 26 - 27th August, a Regiment of Cavalry for 3-4 September and half a Cavalry Division for 4-6th September, six days to be allowed before each date for preparation and six days after for clearing up. The permission sought included the digging of trenches (latrines) and water facilities. The Constable and the Overseers of the Port Down were authorised to make the necessary arrangements.
In June the Constable had read to the Trustees a petition to be sent to the Lord Chancellor praying that a Commission of the Peace be granted to the Constable of Hungerford during his tenure of office. The matter does not crop up again and we must presume that the petition was turned down.
1910 - February: The Trustees considered the charges to be made for sporting events on the Common and it was decided to charge 10/- for a football match and 20/- for the Fire Brigade Sports, but later a Committee was set up to make recommendations as to similar charges.
Hungerford Park requested permission at this time to cut gutters by the side of the road leading to West Lodge and to remove a triangle of turf at the Crossroads. This was agreed as was also a sign marked "To Hungerford Park", but permission to add "Private Road" was refused.
1912 - July: Dr Major asked the Trustees what authority the Canal Company had held to fill in the pond at the Bottom Meadow. The minute reads "It was stated that it had been decided that it would be an advantage to have the pond filled up".
In the early days of the 1914-18 war there is no record of any special happening on the Common, but in August 1916 it was agreed to lease about 10 acres to the War Office for use as an Army Service Corps camp at a monthly rental of £3 5s 0d. At the same meeting it was reported that the Cricket Pavilion was in a bad state of repair and it was thought that it might be possible to get the work done from the troops encamped there.
1916 - October: Dr Major raised the question of the rules of the Port Down allowing strangers to turn out cattle; he considered this to be detrimental to the interests of the Commoners, but it was pointed out to him that the rules were made by the Commoners at The Hocktide Court.
In 1917 and 1918 The Hocktide Lunch and the Audit Supper were discontinued owing to shortage of food. A proposal that the new Common be ploughed up for food production was considered and left in abeyance.
1929: The Trustees had before them an application from the Golf Club to resume activities. The Trustees thought an annual rent of Seven Guineas would be appropriate and at the same time approved way leaves for the Wessex Electricity Company across the Common. The Golf Club offered Five Guineas per annum and asked permission to make three bunkers. The Trustees accepted the offer but deferred permission to make the bunkers until it was seen how the Club progressed.
At this time Sir Alan Cobham enquired as to the possibility of establishing an airport in the vicinity and the Common was suggested as a possible landing ground. However, it was turned down by Sir Alan's inspecting staff.
1929 - December: The Cricket pavilion was blown over and estimates were obtained for repairing it and for replacement. However, it was repaired at a cost of £13.
1930 - January: It was reported that the gatekeeper at the Down Gate, a lady, was ill and it was very doubtful if she would resume duty. The Constable said he had two applicants for the job.
1931 - May: The Berks County Surveyor wrote to say that there had been a number of accidents through motor cars colliding with the Common Gates and recommending that reflecting signs be fixed. He said the cost would be £24 and asked the Trustees to pay half. The Trustees regretted that they had no funds for this and suggested that the Automobile Association might help. This matter was raised a number of times, but the Surveyor was adamant that the provision of the signs was conditional upon half of the money coming from the Trustees.
1932: It was suggested that the Trustees take over and run the Golf Club. This they declined to do and that seems to have been the end of Golf on Port Down.
1932 - July: The Reading Greyhound Stadium applied for permission to hold a greyhound meeting on the August Bank Holiday. This was granted on payment of Seven Guineas.
Early in 1933 permission was given to erect a shelter for the gatekeeper at the Inkpen Gate , provided that the cost was not borne by the Town.
1939 - October: The Commons and Lands Committee (the first time this title appears) raised the question of enforcing the provisions of The Prevention of Damage by Rabbits Act 1939. The Committee asked if the Act gave them power to ferret the Common since this was forbidden by the Hocktide Court. It was decided to dig in the burrows and leave the question of ferreting in abeyance.
At the same time the War Agricultural Committee asked if the Trustees were prepared to plough up a part of the Common, the Trustees were of the opinion that it would serve the War effort better by providing grazing, but a small committee was formed to deal with the War Agricultural Committee.
1940 - June: The Constable told the Trustees that at the urgent request of the County Surveyor he had let the Hurdle House for the Storage of Sign Posts. In the December of that year it was decided to plough up the New Common and tenders were invited. The tender of Mr J. R. Brown was accepted at £2 per acre per annum with the proviso that at the termination of the tenancy, the tenants liability for reseeding should not exceed £42.15.0., any excess to be borne by the Trustees.
A Coal Dump was set up on the Common at this time but whether for the Army or as a general reserve is not clear. A rental of £2 per annum was paid for it.
The Forestry Commission proposed to organise a saw yard on the Common, but this did not materialise.
The War Agricultural Committee continued to press for more land to be ploughed up and more land was let to Mr Brown. The stumbling block to letting seems to have been the reseeding clause.
Gates were being damaged by Army vehicles and the sum of £59.0.0. was received from the District Claims Officer in compensation.
A windfall at this time was £21.15.6 from the sale of an unclaimed heifer.
In December 1943 the Canadian Claims Commission paid £15.5.0 for damage done during an exercise .
1944: Permission was received from the War Agricultural Committee to return the Kintbury side of the Common to grass, it having proved unsuitable for arable land. In April 1944 the Coal Dump was closed down and application made to the W.D. Land Agents for payment for cleaning and reseeding the site, but it was said that the site might be required for other use.
In 1943 the Great Western Railway had intimated that they wished to acquire some 26 poles of the Common, near the Cow Bridge. The consent of the Charity Commissioners and the Hocktide Jury was obtained and the Trustees received 30 poles of land previously the property of Mr Palethorpe, near the Inkpen Gate in exchange. This deal was not finalised until September 1946.
1945 - February: Mr Brown the tenant of the part of the Common ploughed up reported that he had had to put on three tons of lime per acre in place of the two tons ordered as the soil had proved to be very acid.
1947 - December: The Constable told the Trustees that he had in hand the sum of £16.1.6 proceeds of the sale of a heifer that had been on the Common the previous season. He also said that he had had a formal application from Mr W. J. Tucker for his amount. It would seem that Mr Tucker had unsuccessfully fought a County Court Action regarding the disputed ownership of a heifer taken off the Common and sold, the Court having decided that the heifer in question was the property of Mr Alfred Mills, and that it had been wrongly taken from the Common by Mr Tucker. The Trustees agreed to the sum in hand being given to Mr Tucker, provided that he agreed to reimburse the Trustees in the event of the heifer being claimed by another person.
1949 - December: Mrs. Robinson, the well-known Licensee of the Royal Exchange Inn, wrote to the Constable complaining that people taking cattle off the Common were loading them on land immediately in front of the Inn and asking that the practice be stopped. The Clerk was instructed to reply that the Trustees had no jurisdiction over the land in question and that the matter was entirely one for Mrs. Robinson.
The Parish Council were given permission to put seats on the Common in February 1950, these to be fenced off to prevent damage by cattle at the Trustees expense.
Considerable areas of gorse were removed from the Common at this time mostly in the Inkpen gate part.
The account for the cattle troughs was queried and was not settled until September 1950, when £109.15.6 was paid to Messrs. Oakes.
1953: The sum of £64.12.0. was expended on repairs to gates and the attention of the Hungerford Park Estate was called to the bad state of the fence from West Lodge to the Kintbury road.
1954: The Commons Committee reported that the County Council had not yet started work on the cattle grids and that at the Kintbury gate an accident had occurred through the gate being blown shut as a motor cyclist was passing through. The Clerk was instructed to write to the County Surveyor.
The Committee also reported that four head of cattle had been left on the Common the previous season and that Mr Macklin had put them in his own meadow and fed them during the recently extremely severe weather. It was decided to write to all graziers and if the cattle remained unclaimed to advertise in the local papers before selling the cattle.
The cattle were subsequently sold for £212. 5. 6. and since a heifer of Mr Macklin's had been taken in error it was decided to award him £60 to compensate him for the loss of his animal and for keeping the cattle through the bad weather, subject to the usual indemnity.
1960: The Trustees gave the Carnival Committee permission to fence off the New Common during August Bank Holiday week for the carnival.
1960 - August: It was reported that Lady Harrison Hughes had placed lamp posts and staddle stones on the Common at Denford Gate and a way leave of 1/- per annum was suggested.
1961 - March: Some trees were ordered from Elm Speen Nurseries, but planting was deferred until the Autumn.
1962 - May: The Carnival Committee announced that they wished to build a Swimming Pool in the War Memorial Ground.
1967 - November: The Cricket Club wrote to say that they proposed building a Club House and asked if the Trustees were prepared to consent to an underlease being granted by the Parish Council. This was agreed in principle.
1968 - March: The Hungerford Rural District Council enquired if the Trustees would be prepared to grant a lease of 99 years of that part of the War Memorial Ground used as a car park. It was agreed that a lease of 21 years be granted, this being the longest lease the Trustees were empowered to grant under the provisions of the 1908 Scheme without making special application to the Charity Commissioners.
In December 1968 it was reported to the Trustees that a great deal of damage was being done to the Common by builder's vehicles going to the site of the new Cricket Pavilion. The rainfall at the time was very heavy and the builders seemed to have delayed the start of their operations until the ground was thoroughly wet. A series of meetings took place between the Cricket Club and the Commons Committee, at the end of which it was decided to harrow the tracks and ruts in the spring and it transpired that no permanent damage had been done.
The underlease previously discussed was completed between the Parish Council and the Cricket Club at a rental of 10/- per annum.
1970 - April 1970: Mrs. Jean Tubb attended a Trustee meeting and presented the Constable with the original "Cow Stick" which had disappeared for many years. It had been given to Mrs. Tubb by a Hungerford resident who wished to remain anonymous. It was welcomed back and was straightway adopted as the official emblem of the Commons Secretary.
1970 - September: An offer from a well known resident to supply and plant two trees on the Common to mark the birth of grandchildren, the ownership of the trees to be vested in the Trustees.
Some concern was felt at this time at the fact that an elderly Hungerford man, one "Daddy" Knight had taken up residence on the Common in two caravans. The Trustees felt that without wishing to inflict any hardship upon an old man they had to get him off before he created a precedent. However, despite the efforts of Trustees and the R.D.C. he remained in residence until March 1976 when he passed away, and the caravans were disposed of by burning.
1972 - May: The noise from model aircraft being flown on the Port Down brought many complaints from nearby residents and as a result only two people were given permission to fly models and this permission was conditional upon there being no further complaints of noise or injury to cattle.
The System of Management of the Port Down:
From "time out of mind" the management of the Common had been as indicated in the Parliamentary report of the Hungerford Charities of 1905.
The Management was deputed to a Hayward, who collected a fee of five shillings for every animal put on the Common. The payment was known by the Commoners as "The Cow Stick", from the fact that a stick was left at the house of any commoner who had not paid until the debt was cleared. The payments amounted to about £39 and this was the wage of the Hayward, so that nothing passed to the Feoffees.
In 1904 the system changed. The grazing fees were paid to one of the overseers, who paid the Hayward, who also was paid a small sum for catching moles.
This system was followed more or less until 1936 when on the 14th of January the Hocktide Jury was summoned to an extraordinary meeting to consider means of improving the management of the Port Down. It was resolved to set up a Commons Committee on the lines of the Fishery Committee Accordingly in March the Trustees duly considered this matter and it was proposed and carried that the Committee should consist of the Overseers of the Common as appointed by the Hocktide Jury and three Trustees together with the Constable.
The following month the Committee reported upon an inspection of the Port Down which had revealed that a man had erected a building and had actually lived there for two and a half years. Some doubt was expressed as to the legal position since the building was on land rented to the R.D.C. as a "tip" and the solution was to hand the matter over to the R.D.C. with instructions to get rid of the squatter.
The Secretary of the Commons Committee was Mr Wallace King. At this time there was still a number of Commoners grazing their own beasts and it was common practice for a commoner to sell his rights to a neighbouring farmer. This was a transaction between the two parties and the commoner was responsible for payment.
In 1925 the Trustees considered a recommendation from the Overseers of the Port Down that alterations should be made to the Rules of the Common:
That the entrance fee be raised to 15s per head instead of 10s.
That the receipts and expenses of the Cornmon be kept in a separate account in order to show the exact position yearly.
That the Common Rights be let at 25s each as a minimum (exclusive of entrance fee).
That within a week of Hocktide the whole of the Commoners be circularised with a view to finding out the number of rights that can be let; that right holders should place the rights in the hands of the Overseer to let, and that they be empowered to advertise the Rights if need be, in which case the Overseers would put a value of 25s on each right let.
They would like to point out to the Commoners that the entrance fees are due at the time the cattle are turned out on the Common and that the rules do not state that the Overseers should personally collect the fees.
These recommendations were duly passed to the Hocktide Jury.
From 1935 onwards the Berks County Council were in touch with the Trustees about the 'provisions of proper cattle gates on the Port Down. The attitude of the Trustees at that time was they had no objection to new gates provided that they did not have to pay for them. There had been complaints from the Police about cattle straying from the Common and this had undoubtedly hastened the formation of the Commons Committee previously referred to. In 1937 the Trustees deemed it prudent to inform the Berks County Council that, whilst they were not prepared to spend money on gates they were prepared to give land and to agree to the movement of the existing gates to facilitate the erection of proper gates.
In February 1938 the Trustees considered a letter from the County Surveyor which stated that plans for the gates were lodged with the Ministry of Transport, but that he thought there was no likelihood of gates being provided unless some money was forthcoming, either from the Trustees or the R.D.C. The Clerk was instructed to reply that the Town and Manor would get no benefit from the improved gates, only the travelling public.
Later that year cattle grids were discussed and the sum of £500.00 was mentioned as being required, but in November 1938 the County Surveyor wrote to say that the Treasury Solicitor had advised that cattle grids on a public road must be regarded as an unlawful obstruction, nothing further could be done.
The saga of the gates and grids continued and in January 1941 the Constable read a letter from the County Surveyor in which the cost of Grids was estimated at £160 and the road work £260 and the Surveyor offered to do the road work if the Trustees would pay for the grids. The Trustees proposed that this money should be raised by appeal to the public and some money was so raised, but complaints about straying cattle became so numerous that £160 was drawn from the Constable's account.
However, probably because of the difficulty in obtaining metal in war time, the grids wore not in place in 1943 and complaints about the straying cattle became so bad that the Trustees sought the services of a man to be on the Common all day.
A link with the old traditions and customs of the Port Down was broken in 1946 when the Trustees considered an offer from Mrs. Percy to buy the Town Pound. She offered £40 and all costs incidental to the sale. The consent of the Charity Commissioners was obtained and the sale went through, the proceeds being invested in Two and a half per cent Treasury Stock 1975.
Additional water troughs were provided in 1948, apparently very close to the Down Gate, because the people living there said they were too close to the houses, so the troughs were moved, to a point further south.
In 1949 the Commons Committee report was submitted by Mr Stephen Neate (March). He emphasised that work by way of gorse clearance, harrowing etc. was most urgently needed and the Trustees authorised expenditure of £150 to get the most urgent work done.
The Commons Committee was asked to recommend to the Hocktide Jury increased charges and at this time it was decided that all Commons Accounts should be vetted and passed by the Commons Committee before being submitted to the Trustees.
In July 1954 the Derbyshire Yeomanry were in camp on the Common for one night and this was followed by a claim from a local farmer for £3 for damage to a field of Barley allegedly caused by cattle allowed to stray. The Clerk consulted the London, Liverpool and Globe Insurance Company about this and the Insurance people were of the opinion that the Trustees as managers of the Common were liab1e. The Single Accident indemnity was increased from £10,000 to £25,000 as a result of this.
In November of that year Mr E. W. Munford resigned as Overseers of the Port Down, an office he had held for twenty five years. An appreciation of the valuable service he had rendered was placed on record.
In February 1955 the Commons Committee placed the following recommendations before the Trustees:
That a separate banking account for the Common be opened in the name of the Constable and Treasurer of the Common.
That Mr J. E. Pallett be appointed Commons Secretary.
That someone should be found who would deal with the letting of Common Rights and the collection of fees.
That the Commons Committee should have authority to deal with seasonal maintenance without reference to the Trustees, but that all accounts should be approved by the Trustees before payment, except those for labour.
In April the Committee reported that they had been unable to find a person to act as at 3 above, and the Trustees resolved that, subject to the consent of the Hocktide Jury, that the Clerk's office should do this work on payment of Seven and a Half per cent commission on entry fees and ten per cent on sale of Common Rights. A later arrangement brought Sanden Fee into the same arrangement and this remains the system to the present day.
At the end of the grazing season in November the Clerk asked the Trustees for specific instructions as to the disposal of Common monies in his charge.
The Trustees resolved:
That where a Commoner held more than one right he should only be entitled to participate in the distribution of amounts received to the extent of one right.
That where a person held more than one Common Right and having sold one or more than one he should not be entitled to participate in the amounts received by the Clerk.
That after the Clerk had disposed of all the Common Rights that he had been specifically requested by the Commoners to dispose of the remainder should be disposed of at his discretion or by drawing lots.
In the December the Clerk produced a list of his distribution to date and the Trustees decided that a contribution of £30 should be made from the Common Fund to the Constable's account. This was the first instance of the Common making a contribution to the general fund, but in later years the Commons Account was the mainstay of the Constable's Account.
It was reported at this time that if the Common could be left completely vacant for three months there was a likelihood that it could be certified for the grazing of T.T. cattle, and in the following March the Hon. Secretary, Mr J. E. Pallett was able to announce that as from April 1st the Port Down would be available for the grazing of T.T. Attested cattle and that they had given notice to that effect. They also announced a new scale of fees as follows:-
For the Common Right (Two Head) £1 10s 0d
Entry Fee per head £2 5s 0d
A much needed cattle crush to facilitate loading and inspections was built during the winter of 1956/57 at a cost of £168 7s 4d.
In May 1963 Mr Alfred Macklin intimated that he could no longer carry out the duties of Hayward. He was thanked for his services which had extended over many years. It was suggested that Messrs. Gerald and Derek Harvey, local farmers who had always been very helpful, should be approached. This was done and the Harvey brothers were appointed at a joint annual payment of £25 and an allowance of £5 for the use of the telephone.
In May 1966 the Clerk explained the requirements of the Commons Registration Act 1965 to the Trustees and pointed out that the register for the registration of Common Rights would shortly be opened and that the Town and Manor Charity would have to produce plans and register their lands. The Clerk was authorised to instruct Messrs. A. W. Neate & Sons to prepare the necessary plans. These plans were duly prepared and were viewed by the Trustees in February 1968 and certain amendments suggested.
It was agreed that the plans to be deposited for Registration should be made available to the Commoners at Hocktide for inspection.
In September 1969 Mr John Newton sought permission to hold a Steam Engine Rally on the Common in 1970 in aid of the Restoration of the Town Hall. This was granted and several Rallies were held most successfully and fully deserve the space of a separate chapter later.
1969 found the Constable's account very short of money, owing to heavy repair bills for maintenance of the Town Hall and Corn Exchange. With the consent of the Commons: Committee the sum of £200 was transferred from the Commons to the Constable's account. A total of £408 was received from the Rural District Council as compensation for damage done during the extension of the Sewerage Works.
In January 1970 the Trustees had before them complaints from the graziers that cattle were missing when the Common was cleared the previous November. Some cattle had been removed in error and the Commons Committee laid down certain rules as to marking of cattle to ensure identification.
In October 1971 the Constable informed the Trustees that following a survey of the trees affected by Dutch Elm Disease it would be advisable to fell some forty trees and that he had obtained an estimate in the sum of Forty Pounds to fell and clear these trees. This estimate was accepted, and was the beginning of a long history of fellings and was certainly one of the cheapest estimates ever obtained.
In May 1969 spraying for buttercup infestation was done over a limited area with long lasting effect.
In 1972 a start was made on the clearance of scrub from both sides of the Inkpen Road. These bushes were used as a dumping place for all sorts of rubbish and incidentally, posed a danger to both cattle and traffic, in that cattle could emerge suddenly from the bushes on to the road. This clearance was not thought kindly of by all. The clearance revealed a planted avenue of trees complete with tree guards.
During 1973 more and more elm trees were affected by the deadly disease and replacement planting was commenced in the autumn. The Berks County Planning Department made certain suggestions in species for replanting and it was also suggested that the replanting might qualify for a 75% grant from the Countryside Commission.
In January 1974 the Clerk was asked to write to the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society for guidance in the matter of the flying of model aircraft on the Common, and some time later a reply was received suggesting that since, in theory, the only people with a right of access to the Common were the Commoners, they could, in theory at least, prevent anyone else from using the Common. This reply was not of any great practical assistance to the Trustees.
During 1974 and 1975 the County Surveyor made offers of soil from various road widening schemes and this was used to fill in depressions and also where the Common had been eroded by verge parking.
In September 1975 the Trustees had to consider that some sixty to seventy trees had been affected by Dutch Elm Disease. A Contractor offered to spray and treat the roots of the affected trees and submitted estimates in the region of £1,000 for clearing the affected trees. The Trustees had to be content to deal with this problem in sections.
During the winter of 1975-76 the Constable, Mr H.A.G. Hassall arranged for soil removed from various building schemes to be tipped into the Old Gravel Pit on the west side of the Inkpen road and this, coupled with the resulting scrub and the enforced felling of many trees materially altered the appearance of the Common at this point to some advantage, as well as providing some additional grazing.
In March 1976 Mr John Pallett, the Commons Secretary reported that 231 applications had been received for grazing, or rather that, application had been received for grazing 231 head of cattle and that his Committee recommended that a charge of £10.25 per head be made.
The summer brought renewed complaints of the noise and danger of model aircraft, but the solution has still to be found, The season also brought severe problems owing to the continued drought. Some graziers had to take their cattle away and it became necessary to fence off part of the Bottom Meadow to stop cattle crossing the Kennet into the Denford Meadows in search of food.
In February 1977 Mrs. R. Kennedy, who had been a keen member of the Hungerford Landscape Committee since its inception and also a member of the Commons Committee, produced a list of grants available for tree planting from the Countryside Commission and it was agreed that application for a grant for the planting of replacement trees should be made through the good offices of Mr David Randall, County Landscape Architect.
The Constable announced that he proposed devoting the proceeds of the Hocktide Ball to the replanting of Common trees.
March 1977 Mr Pallett reported that 168 cattle had been accepted to graze on the Common at £13.00 a head.
Dutch Elm disease continued to ravage the trees and the felling of several trees was necessary as an emergency.
In August 1977 the Trustees learned that over a hundred young trees planted on the Common had been lost by drought and vandalism and also that a further 27 mature trees required to be felled. A quotation of £530.00 to fell these trees and clear the rubbish, the contractor to retain the good timber, but subsequently another contractor secured the work for £230 and also made an allowance to the Town and Manor for the good timber.
In January 1978 the Trustees heard that through the good offices of Mr Randall the Countryside Commission had offered a grant of £2,000 toward the provision of trees, planting and protection. It was estimated that after the grant and one from the Berks County Council, the cost to the Town and Manor of carrying out Mr Randall's suggested programme of replanting would be about £470.
In October 1978 Mr Pallett reported that all was not well with the grazing owing to the exceptionally late drought and that several graziers had seen fit to remove their animals. He thought that the matters he reported would be reflected in the arrangements for the following year.
The Trustees also entered into an arrangement for the maintenance of the newly planted trees at an annual fee of £400 plus V.A.T. This was quite an innovation but a very sensible one and one that was very much overdue.
At the end of 1978 Mr J. E. Pallett, whilst retaining his membership of the Commons Committee, both as a Trustee member and as an Overseer of the Port Down appointed by the Hocktide Court, resigned as Common Secretary. He had held that office of twenty-five years and had given unstintingly of his time and professional know-how for the benefit of the Common. For some years prior to my retirement I had grazed my own cattle on the Common, being one of the very few, if not the only Commoner to do so and I had become particularly aware of the excellent state of the Port Down and of the high esteem in which John Pallett was held by all the graziers, and the excellent relations he had always had with the Haywards, Messrs. Harvey. I was therefore particularly pleased when the Trustees agreed with my suggestion that we make a small presentation. This took the form of a painting of The Down Gate from the East by a local artist, Mrs. Kempster, a very appropriate offering.
He is succeeded in office by Dr. H. Astley-Hope, who is a Trustee of long standing and who has always had a most lively interest in all aspects of The Town and Manor.
One cannot leave the management of the Port Down without mention of the fact that on January 31st and February 1st 1978 Mr John Marshall, Clerk to the Chari ty presented to the Commissioners sitting in Newbury the case for the Official Custodian of Charities for the Registration of the Port Down in the name of the Town and Manor of Hungerford Charity together with the Registration of individual Common Rights attached to the Common Right messuages.
No objection was raised and the Registrations were confirmed. Mr Marshall's meticulous presentation of the case for the Town and Manor's registration brought his long and exacting task to a successful end. The Commissioners' approval of the manner in which the details of the case for registration had been assembled and presented was apparent.
In this chapter on "Management" I have not been able to cover the whole field, but I have endeavoured to bring out a few of the important items and the attendant problems.
There are a variety of problems ahead - recently the flying of model aircraft and the use of metal detectors have been very much to the forefront. It may well be that the number of people frequenting the Common will, in the next few years, render impossible the grazing of cattle in safety, and that the Trustees will be forced to seek a means of extinguishing Common Rights and seek the income necessary for maintenance from the letting of sites for Agricultural Shows etc. or possibly simply by the collection of parking fees.
It will be a sad day when this happens, but at least we can be assured that the proud Port Down will never be allowed to sink into the sad state that has overtaken so many Commons.
I am sure as a Commoner who has used his grazing rights and as a one time member of the Commons Committee and also as a Trustee throughout their period of office, it is appropriate for me to express an appreciation of the service rendered by the Haywards, Messrs. D. and G. Harvey, both to the Trustees and the graziers. We have been extremely fortunate in having people like this, expert and experienced herdsmen for whom nothing is too much trouble.