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Hungerford was an ecclesiastical parish, a manor and, by claim at least, a borough in the 16th century. How could it be all three at once? In this chapter we attempt to provide some answer to this question by looking at local government, beginning with the parish.

Map 5 shows the boundaries of the parish and its manors. First of all, the 16th century parish was slightly smaller than that of today. Leverton, which is now part of the civil parish of Hungerford, was part of Chilton Foliat. However, the main difference is in the county boundary. This split the parish in two, with North Standen, South Standen and Charnham Street in Wiltshire until 1895 when they joined the rest of the parish in Berkshire as a result of county boundary changes (VCH Bekrs, Vol 4, p.183). For this reason, references can be found to Hungerford, Wiltshire' even in the late 19th century. However, it is very difficult to explain why the parish was divided between two counties. The answer seems to lie somewhere in the mists of time, when Hungerford was more a federation of manors, each with affiliation to a different ecclesiastical body, but this is a difficult and largely unresearched area of the parish history.

It is certainly true that parishes generally were taking on more responsibilities for local government during the 16th century, but at the same time there was much overlap with other kinds of authority. In Hungerford, the strong tradition of self-government through the manor continued rather than declined. The Constable, who was appointed by the Liberty of Hungerford at the Hocktide Court, was in effect the principal executive authority in the town, but it is more difficult to say what authority he had throughout the whole parish.

When the Constables' accounts survive, which is not until the late 17th century, his wide range of duties is more obvious - arranging quarter for soldiers, giving small sums to the travelling poor, as well as all the upkeep of the commons and fishery. These duties may well have been similar in the late 16th century. We do have the names of some of the Constables: John Lovelocke, a merchant; Thomas and Philip Seymour, both of a yeomen family at Inholmes in Lambourn Woodlands; and John Curr, another yeoman from Helme.

What may be not so well known is that the Vestry meeting, which was the annual Parish meeting, appears to have taken place on the same day as the Hocktide Court - Hock Tuesday, the Tuesday after Easter. The Vestry Minutes survive from 1580, although they are not very detailed (see extract on page 49). The main purpose was to receive the accounts of the outgoing Churchwardens, appoint new ones (who did not always serve, preferring to pay a fine to escape the duties) and deal with any other business. Since the Vestry meeting was on the same day as the Hocktide Court, and the same people were present at both, we might imagine they would wish to shorten the proceedings as much as possible.

It is not easy to summarise the workings of local government in the 16th century, but a few points can be made. There was almost certainly more work all round. Through the parish, Elizabethan governments channelled legislation which remained in force until the early 19th century, for example concerning the care of the poor and the upkeep of the roads. For a town such as Hungerford, on the main route from London to Bristol, this would inevitably mean more responsibilities because of greater wear and tear on the roads as well as more poor people passing through. Again, there are few local records to give precise information about how the problems were dealt with. Inevitably, it would have been the Constable, aided by the tithing men, who would have had to deal with these vexatious problems, and no doubt at the end of their term of office, it was with relief that they handed over their duties to someone else.

Although the manors of Hungerford and Sanden Fee have tended to dominate accounts of the town's history, it should not be forgotten that Hungerford parish contained other manors whose history has not been covered in as much detail. One example of what can be achieved by detailed research is Norman Midden's history of Hidden. In fact, the Victoria County History describes nine different manors (Hungerford, Sanden, Helme, Ponzardesland, Hungerford Engleford, Eddington/Hidden, Charlton or Charnham Street, North Standen and South Standen/Standen Hussey). No reference to Ponzardesland was found after the 1 Sth century, and some manors had been amalgamated, but most were still separate estates, with their own lord of the manor and land.

To discover where the different manors were located, and whether any traces of their boundaries remain, makes an interesting project. The Victoria County History gives more emphasis to who the lord of the manor was, rather than where each manor was and what lands it held. But there are ways round this difficulty. The Tithe Map and Award (i.e. list of landowners) of the mid 19th century provides the vital source, from which we can work backwards (BRO Tithe Map and Award for Hungerford). At that time, many landowners were still officially lord of the manor (and of course this title still exists in many cases) and the Tithe Map is sufficiently detailed to show exactly where their lands were located. The Victoria County History gives us the history of each manor as far back as it can be traced; sometimes even before the Domesday Book. In some cases, manors become lost or amalgamated, but there is great potential for further reseach here. There are some wonderful opportunities to look at the landscape, to see what is actually traceable on the ground.

One example of this is whether there are remaining boundaries, perhaps thick hedgerows or ditches, which could be extremely old. Neighbouring Inkpen and Denford are mentioned in the will of a Saxon knight (VCH Berks, Vol 4, p 200 and 212) and it is highly probable that Hungerford's manors are at least as ancient. Preliminary surveys suggest that ditches and hedgerows are clearly visible to an observant walker between, for example, North and South Standen. These were both separate estates mentioned in the Domesday Book so it is highly probable that the boundary we see today is late Saxon - at the latest perhaps; it could be even more ancient. Fieldwork also helps in locating the manor of Helme; there appears to be a footpath to Elm Copse in the south of the parish and what appears to be the site of an old house. There is certainly a lot of potential for more research of this kind and it is hoped that further work can be undertaken.

Not all manors were completely independent from their neighbours. One example is Hungerford Engleford, whose lands and houses were intermixed with those of Hungerford and Sanden Fee. This seems to have been connected to Inglewood in Kintbury and is mentioned as early as 1204 (VCH Berks, Vol 4, p 191). The manor house of Hungerford Engleford was called the Swanne and is thought to be located where the Gateway Supermarket now stands. This house was occupied by Thomas Seymour, the Constable mentioned above, while other lands of the manor were held by tenants of the manor of Hungerford itself. Was this as confusing to Elizabethan townspeople as it seems to modern eyes? Probably not; it was all ancient custom, and simply the way things were.

Photo Gallery:

16th century Parish and Manors
16th century Parish and Manors
16th century Pa...
16th century Parish and Manors 16th century Parish and Manors
1587 Vestry Minutes
1587 Vestry Minutes
1587 Vestry Min...
1587 Vestry Minutes 1587 Vestry Minutes

- The Parish and Manors of 16th Century Hungerford

- Extract from Vestry Minutes, 1587

The Parish Church and the Community:

The Church continued as the main focus of community life throughout the Elizabethan period. As elsewhere, local people walked long distances from outlying parts of the parish to attend the regular round of services, enjoy the company of their friends and catch up on the local news. Church records are a valuable source of information about Elizabethan Hungerford's community. Reading the parish registers, the historian can assume that both Edward and William Brouker, vicars of Hungerford for most of the Elizabethan period, also liked to hear the local gossip. They were clearly interested in the town and its people, which was rarely demonstrated by clergy of the time. The Vestry Minutes which were mentioned earlier provide another important source.

An extract (shown above) and transcription from the Hungerford Vestry Minutes, 1587, shows:

"Anno Dom[in]i I587 xviii die Aprilis Anno Vicesimo nono Elizabeth Regina (i.e. 29th year of reign): M[emorandum] that George Hedache and Thomas Curre Churchwardens of Hungerford have yelded upe their p[er]fecte and trewe accounte the Tusedaie in the Easter week being the xviiith daie of Aprill 1587 accordinge to the order sett downe and they delivered all accountes & reconinges made & discharged xvii vid."

It is the Vestry Minutes which provide some insight into the difficulties which existed in maintaining the fabric of the church. As we know, the structure became so unsafe in the early 19th century it had to be demolished and rebuilt, and things may have been little better in the preceding centuries. One effect of the Reformation had been to lessen the amount of charitable bequests to aid the upkeep of the church. Also, the abolition of chantries meant that the chantry chapels were neglected, especially if there was no resident gentry family to adopt them as a family chapel. Again, as has been noted, Hungerford was largely independent of gentry influence and control, possibly to the detriment of the fabric of the church. It is possible to gain some impression of the difficulties already evident in 1603; a very unsteady and uncertain hand in the Vestry Minutes (BRO H/AH/1) records that:

"oure seates and oure parish church are rewnouse (ruinous) and the flower (floor) in some pies (parts) and the walles want washinge". (BRO H/AH/1).

Lack of funds was a continual difficulty which the Vestry and Churchwardens would have to deal with for many years to come, but there were other problems too. Whether attemps were made to generate income from renting or selling pews is uncertain, but it is clear that there must have been a major disagreement which could not be resolved locally. The Dean of Salisbury, Dr. Bridges, had to intervene and the following entry is made, with his own signature in the Vestry Minutes:

"Memorandum that the third daie of August 1585 the right worshipful Doctor Bridges Dean of the Cathedral I church of Samm hath ordained and decreed that the Vicar of the Church of Hungerford the Constable of the Towne and the two Churchwardens shall from tyme to tyme take order for placinge and set tinge the parishioners there in such seates in the Church as to their discretion shall seem convenient and in like case shall have authority to present the names of all such as refuse to be placed accordingly."

This note has a postscript: "and this to be done with the advice and assent of Mr Thomas Goddard and Mr John Hungerford and is to continue untill some other order may be further taken 27 Aug 1594."

One can only imagine the heated arguments on Sunday mornings, with the Vicar unable to start the service. These kind of disputes were widespread, and some historians see them as evidence of social change, as those in authority - "the pillars of the community -sought to distance themselves from their neighbours. Perhaps this was so in Hungerford.

It may be significant that, from 1585 - the same year as the dispute is recorded - the Vicar began to use the phrase our honest neighbour in certain burial entries. It was used for substantial tradesmen, such as Thomas Dollman the innholder, or Thomas Seymour, the Constable. Was this a sign of growing Puritanism among the parish notables and a wish to distance themselves from the ordinary people? Maybe it was, but it is not easy to form an opinion of the religious stance of priest or people at this time. In many respects this is a major gap in our knowledge of Elizabethan Hungerford. If a larger selection of wills had survived, it might have been possible to comment on patterns of piety and charity, through the wording used and the provision made for bequests to the church and the poor.

(From Elizabethan Hungerford, Julie Shuttleworth et al, 1995)

Return to [Elizabethan Hungerford]

See also:

- Constables' Accounts