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The London to Bristol (and later Bath) Road was one of the most important routes in the country. Partly as a result of Hungerford lying on the Bath Road, there have been a number of famous visitors to the town over the years.
Royal visitors passing through the town are by tradition presented with a Lancastrian red rose, recognising our heritage connected with the House of Lancaster. The monarch still retains the title "Duke of Lancaster".
Prince William of Orange:
The most important Royal visitor was Prince William of Orange, who met the Commissioners of King James II at the Bear Inn in 1688. For a full account of the most historic event, click here.
Other Royal visitors include:
King John: In 1203 King John came back home from Portsmouth via Burbage, Marlborough, Hungerford and Newbury.
Henry III: In 1222 Henry III spent New Year's Eve in Hungerford, and visited again in 1241 when he fined the town five marks for allowing the bridge over the Kennet to fall into disrepair.
Edward I: In 1286 and 1302 Edward I first stayed overnight in Hungerford.
Edward II: In 1320 Edward II passed through Hungerford.
Edward III: Stayed for two days in November 1331 and issued several documents from the town.
Elizabeth I: The parish records include an entry of the burial in 1601 of one of her coachmen. No further details are known.
Charles I: After the Second Battle of Newbury, Charles I arrived in Hungerford on 17th November 1644 and is said to have stayed at The Bear. The presence of a large Royalist army at Hungerford was sufficient to cause the Parliamentarian forces to withdraw without fighting from both Basing and Donnington Castle. The king and his army left Hungerford on 19th November to return to their headquarters in Oxford.
Charles II: By the late 1600s the spa town of Bath was increasing in popularity and Hungerford became an important stop on the road from London to Bath.
It is often recorded that after the Restoration, the church bells were rung when Royalty passed through the town.
In August 1663, Charles II and Queen Catherine passed through Hungerford on their way to Bath. On 26th September 1665, the king returned through Hungerford, four men having been instructed by the Constable 'to dig ye high waies' in preparation for the King's arrival, each man being paid 3d for his services.
Duke of York, later James II: Charles II's brother, the Duke of York passed through Hungerford and stayed at Littlecote in 1663.
Queen Catherine (wife of Charles II): rode through the town in 1677 on her way to Bath.
Mary of Modena, consort of James II: passed through Hungerford twice in 1687, on her way to and back from Bath.
William of Orange: Most importantly, the meeting between William of Orange and the Commissioners of James II took place at The Bear. See 1688 William of Orange meets at The Bear.
George V: In October 1912 King George V visited Sir John Ward at Chilton Lodge. The proposed visit captured the enthusiasm of the whole town, which set about the task of preparing and decorating the town with enormous energy. Follow this link for more on King George V's Visit.
Much more recently, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth passed through the town on 12 Mar 1948.
The tradition is that ever since the time of John of Gaunt, whenever the monarch has passed through Hungerford, he or she has been presented with a Lancastrian red rose.
When people in Hungerford heard on 12th March that the King and Queen were visiting Marlborough College that day, a telegram was sent at noon stating that "it would give the inhabitants of Hungerford great pleasure if His Majesty would stop for two minutes on his return journey to receive the traditional red rose – Constable of Hungerford." A reply came at 12.54 from the Equerry, stating that they would be pleased to stop. Urgent plans were made to obtain a red rose – which eventually arrived from London by train! Word spread rapidly around the town, and by the time the Royal car came into sight at 5.20pm, the whole of Charnham Street around The Bear Hotel was packed with adults and children. It is said there was a crowd of 800 people.
- King George VI and Queen Elizabeth receiving the Lancastrian Rose, 12th March 1948.
- The King and Queen talking with the Constable Roy Alexander.
The news report stated:
CONSTABLE PRESENTS SOVEREIGN WITH LANCASTRIAN ROSE
As the King and Queen were driving back to Windsor after their visit to Marlborough College on Friday, they made a brief halt at Hungerford to enable the Constable (Mr. Roy Alexander) to present His Majesty on behalf of the townspeople with a Lancastrian red rose.
This tribute, paid by Hunqerford whenever a reigning sovereign passes through, is a custom observed for 600 years since John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, granted the inhabitants the free right of fishing in the Kennet. It is also recognition of the fact that Hungerford was formerly part of the Royal Duchy of Lancaster.
The last time the rose was given was on October 21 1912, when King George V drove from Hungerford station, where an official welcome was accorded him, through the streets to Chilton, and was entertained by the Hon. John and Mrs Ward.
On that occasion the town was decorated, houses and public buildings were brilliantly illuminated, for it was 7.15p.m. when the King arrived; the church belts were rung, and the then Constable (Mr. J.C. Adnams) handed the King the rose. Afterwards the Commoners sent up a dish of Kennet trout for the Royal dinner.
On Friday, the ceremony was more spontaneous. While the King and Queen were at Marlborough, a telegram was sent off at noon stating: "It would give the inhabitants of Hungelford great pleasure if His Majesty would stop for two minutes on the main road on his return journey to receive the traditional red rose - Constable of Hungerford."
A reply came at 12.54 from the Equerry: "Their Majesties will be pleased to grant your request."
The news quickly spread round the town, and when the school-children came out at four o'clock, most of them hurried to the Bath-road opposite the "Bear" hotel car park, and lined the footpath, which was roped by the police. Many townspeople joined them, and both sides of the street became lined by hundreds until at 5.20 p.m., when the Royal car came in sight, there was a waiting crowd of about 800.
In the meantime there was a frantic rush to obtain a rose, and one had to be sent from London by train. The Constable, wearing a red rosebud in the buttonhole of his navy suit, took up a position on the north side of the street, the Town Clerk (Mr. Angus Marshall) standing on his left, and on his right the immaculately uniformed Town Crier (Mr. Sidney Bushnell), complete with top hat, carrying his staff of office.
There was a buzz of excitement as the Royal car slowed up and stopped. Out stepped the King, immediately followed by the Queen. His Majesty looking remarkably fit, was wearing a grey tweed lounge suit and was hatless. The Queen was in a smoke blue dress and coat, with a turned-Up blue ostrich-feather hat, pale grey shoes and gloves. She also wore a silver foxfur and had three rows of gleaming pearls.
The Constable handing the rose to the King, said "It gives me great pleasure to present you with the traditional red rose on behalf of the loyal inhabitants of Hungerford."
Queen Elizabeth II:
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip drove through the town in April 1953 (or 1952?) on her way the the Badminton Horse Trials. If it was 1952, this was just two months after the accession. As was customary, she was presented with a red rose of Lancaster by the Constable, then Major Fairfax-Harvey.
Robert James remembers that her limousine stopped on the forecourt of Stradlings' Garage (now the BMW garage next to The Bear), and Major Harvey bowed with one foot on the running board of the car, and gave his little "speech" about the tradition. Robert (and Robin Tubb) were both standing nearby (aged 15-16 years) and overheard her say something along the lines of "I don't know if I should accept this as I'm a Yorkist!" [Now why she said that I really don't know as she is, of course, Duke of Lancaster in her own right. See "Loyal Toast - The Queen, Duke of Lancaster" - HLP]
We are trying to trace a photograph of the event.
John Evelyn: On 4 Jul 1654 he visited Hungerford on his return from London to Bath, and stayed at The Bear Inn. His only recorded comment on the occasion was 'a towne famous for its troutes'!
Samuel Pepys: On 10 Jun 1668, two years after the Great Fire of London, he visited the town and dined at The Bear Inn, whilst on a journey from Abingdon to Salisbury. He wrote: 'So come to Hungerford, where very good troutes, eels, and cray-fish. Dinner; a mean town. At dinner there 12s.'. He took a guide to show him the way to Salisbury, at least until the cathedral spire was in sight. The roads of the time were still in a dreadful condition, and when in the area later in the same month, Pepys lost way between Newbury and Reading!