You are in [Publications] [Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford] [John Tukhill: First Constable of Hungerford]

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

The office of Constable of Hungerford is of great antiquity, first record of its existence occurring in 1458. The title is not to be confused either with that of petty constable or that of High Constable. Both the latter were concerned primarily with law enforcement. The petty constable was an unpaid parish constable - see Shakespeare’s parody of the same in the person of Dogberry in Much Ado about Nothing. He was also known sometimes as tithingman, and this may have been so in Hungerford parish in order to avoid confusion between his title and that of the more illustrious office of Constable. The High Constable was the officer of the Hundred who was responsible for law and order within the Hundred and had the direction of petty constables and tithingmen within that area. The medieval Constable of Hungerford, however, was connected with neither of these offices; he was the town’s highest dignitary. In this he resembles to some extent the Mayor of a modern town council; but his powers were far wider, being described in 1598 as one who ‘during his authority doth and ought likewise to bear and supply within the jurisdiction of the town the offices of a Coroner, Escheator, Feodary, and Clerk of the Market and may deal in everything there incident unto the same several offices, and hath all other officers there subject to him and may command every or any of them to be assistant unto him in or about the execution of any cause or matter and who likewise hath the receipts of all common fines and other rents and duties whatsoever [1]’.

On April 16 1458 a grant of land was made to John Phillips, priest of the chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the parish of St. Lawrence, Hungerford, by John Wernewell and his wife Alice [2]. It would seem that Wernewell was acting as a feoffee and that the grant was in some way connected with the installation of Phillips as chaplain of the chantry. What is significant, however, is that the witnesses to the grant were all persons of consequence in the town, viz. John Tukhill, Constable, Richard Lange, bailiff, William Bocher, William Horshill, and Thomas Mayhew. This is the first recorded mention of the office of Constable of Hungerford. A month or so later on the 18 May 1458 a further grant of land to the chantry was witnessed by John Tukhill, Constable, John Heywood, reeve, Richard Lange, bailiff, and other prominent burgesses [3].

These two documents should be compared with another, made a year or so earlier, viz 24 March 1457. In this the witnesses include John Tukhill, Richard Lange, and other burgesses, but whereas Lange is described as bailiff of Hungerford, which gives the document some official standing, Tukhill is not described as Constable4. Although not conclusive, the omission seems to suggest that the office of Constable did not exist in 1457. Whatever the exact date may have been, however, there is no doubt that about this time a strong feeling existed that the power of the burgesses should be strengthened. Evidence of this is implicit in the foundation, or refoundation, of the chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary already referred to, which was ‘to be called the chantry of the burgesses of Hungerford [5]’. The burgesses who signed the deeds were men of local
substance, all engaged in trade or commerce. To found their own chantry shows a desire to make their mark by the creation of one of the town’s centres of influence and social welfare. A search for the details of John Tukhill’s life shows him to be a man of sufficient local importance and strength of character to obtain for himself, with the assent of his fellow merchants, the role of Constable with all the important powers it carried.

His family name is spelt variously throughout the period of three generations in Hungerford, roughly from the late 1430’s to the last decade of the century, viz. Tukhill, Tokhill, Tuggill, Toghull, Tokhyll, Tughill, Togull, Tokehill, Towgill, with other minor variants. No connection has been established with the London-based family of Tykhill and the name is never spelt thus in any references to the Berkshire/Wiltshire family. There is a reference to John Tukhill as early as 1438 when his occupation is described as weaver and he is given a pardon for not appearing to answer a summons for debt [6].

The next reference is to John Togyll ‘prepositus’ who presented the manor of Hungerford’s accounts to the Duchy of Lancaster for the year 1443-4 and again in 1444-5 [7]. The Latin title ‘prepositus’ is often translated ‘reeve ’, sometimes ‘provost’, and basically described a figure of authority to represent the manorial tenants in dealings with their manorial lord. Tukhill’s standing led to his being appointed a local Commissioner for the Crown subsidy of 1446 [8]. His name appears in various documents throughout the 1450’s and 1460’s. In a grant dated 1469 his business occupation is now described as ‘mercer [9]’.

Other members of the Tukhill family also appear during these years. Thomas Towgill was bailiff of Hungerford during the year 1460- 1461. Since a rental of c.1470 refers to some lands in Hungerford ‘lately’ belonging to Thomas Tukhill, we may assume his death by this date [10]. Two other Tukhills also appear prominently during John’s lifetime; these are Robert the elder and Robert the younger.

W.H. Summers mistakenly jumped to the conclusion that they were father and son. This was definitely not so; Robert the younger was the son of John Tukhill. Whereas Thomas Tukhill seems likely to have been a brother of John, it is not certain whether Robert the elder (prepositus in 1474) was a brother or indeed some other relation. Robert the elder was certainly dead by 1483 and Robert the younger was still alive in 1491.

The documentary references to John Tukhill and the Tukhill family not only reveal John’s importance in the local community; they reveal also something of the importance of Hungerford within the national framework. We know, for instance, that when Sir Robert Hungerford was taken prisoner by the French in Guienne in 1453 his mother Lady Hungerford ‘borrowed by chevisaunce grete merchandises of various well of of myne owne quit ye said lord harmless [11]’. The sum £7960 to be borrowed was astronomical for those days, and Sir Robert was not finally ransomed despite all his mother’s efforts until 1459. Among the merchants from whom she had raised this huge sum she lists John Tukhill. How far Tukhill may have been an agent for Lady Hungerford or how far he may simply have been engaged in a business deal we do not know. It would be very helpful to know because the Hungerfords were fanatical Lancastrian supporters and as we shall see it is likely that the town of  Hungerford was much affected by the Lancastrian -Yorkist struggles, its local government being much divided. At any rate in 1465 after the attainder of her son Lord Robert Hungerford in the previous year Lady Hungerford sold her late husband’s manor of Hopgrass to John Tukhill. From Tukhill the manor seems to have passed to John Isbury, for it is known to have been in the latter”s possession in 1502 and perhaps as early as 1494 [12].

These two known transactions with the once powerful and wealthy Hungerford family give some idea of John Tukhill’s standing as a merchant. It is not surprising therefore to find in other documents relating to his business affairs that from his base in Hungerford he and his family had connections with fellow-merchants in London, Bristol, and Oxford. Thus in one Chancery suit he, together with William Baker gent of London, sues two London merchants for fulfillment of an obligation given as security for a loan of £5013. In another case at Bristol he sues concerning a security he held on behalf of Robert Tukhill the younger [14].

The majority of references to John Tukhill, however, are to be found in documents dealing with property or other matters in Hungerford or area. He appears prominently among local documents listed in the Berkshire Record Office as ‘Borough Documents’, not only as Constable and in witness to deeds of particular significance to the
town but also as both grantor and grantee, in such cases presumably as a feoffee on behalf of the burgesses. In 1465 he is described, along with Thomas Toghull, Robert Toghull, and John Wernewell, as a steward of the chantry of Our Lady which he had helped to found some eight years earlier15. That three of the four named stewards are Tukhills may argue a strong family involvement in this particular project. A rental of Hungerford which may be dated c.1470 describes itself as compiled in the presence of the steward of the Duchy of Lancaster by divers jurors of the town; but of the jurors only John Tukhill, presumably as the head juror, is named.

This survey reveals him as holding various tenements or burgages, no less than eleven burgages in the town of Hungerford as well as three holdings of land in neighbouring Sandon Fee. These form quite the most substantial total of holdings by any of the burgesses thus listed [16].

One of the most interesting documents that relates to John Tukhill is undoubtedly a Complaint in the Court of Chancery17, of which a transcription follows. The direction of the Complaint to the Bishop of Exeter as Lord Chancellor defines the date as between 1460 and 1465, that is to say during the period of the Wars of the Roses which led to the dethronement of Henry VI and the accession of Edward IV in March 1461, a time of great political uncertainty. ‘To the right reverend father in god Bishop of Exeter Chancellor of England: Complainants John Tukhill, Constable of the town of Hungerford, Thomas Hosskin bailiff of the farm of the same town, John Dighton tithingman, John Hossekin, JohnWhiteley, and Nicholas Hayward and many others [complain] that William Bocher, William Drewe, John Ludlow, Robert Tuggill, Richard Jenyn, Thomas Barbour, did with many other of their affinity maliciously disposed and rebels to our liege lord the king to the number of 80 persons and more in the month of September last past enter into the said town of Hungerford and there robbed and spoiled divers persons which that owed faith and goodwill to our liege lord and also brake open the common chest of the same town and spoiled and bare away such goods as they found therein and put the King’s officers your complainants forcibly from their offices nor suffered them to occupie nor execute the King’s laws in their offices as beforetime but put in such as were of their affinity and some against their wills which dare none other do for dread of the said rebels but occupie or else stand in jeopardy of their lives. And so yet the said rebels continue their riots so that neither justice nor law may be executed there nor good rule kept to the great hurt of the well disposed men of the same town and also of the countre thereabouts which would resort to their market there and dare not for the said rebels. In consideration whereof please it your gracious lordship to grant that there may be a commission directed under the King’s great seal, viz Sir Robert Shotesbrook, Sir John Cheyney knights, Thomas Rogers, John Rogers, Thomas Wynslow esquires, Oliver of Langworth and John(?) gentlemen to attach the said rebels and all other of their affinity such as keep open robbery and riot in the countre thereabouts so that they may be brought hither to answer to the King’s lawes upon robbery they have done to the King’s true liegemen there which shall be openly proved afore them and the ......... showed. This at reverence (?) of almighty God and for the weal of all the countre thereabout so that the King’s true liegemen may do their occupations and keep their markets as they have been accustomed in time past and your said complainants with their neighbours and all other well disposed persons there shall and more especially pray for your honourable estate in felicity long to endure.’

The persons named on either side in this complaint are among the most substantial burgesses in Hungerford; their names are familiar from many records of the time. Even families are split, for on one side is John Tukhill and on the other Robert Tuggill. In addition, there were a crowd of supporters - up to the number of 80 ‘rioters’ is alleged. In breaking open the town chest it is possible that they may have been removing documents conferring legality upon the town’s officers - that is, the Constable, the bailiff, and the tithingman - and by removal of such documents trying to give support to those officials whom they put in ‘of their own affinity’. It is significant that the complaint makes one of its basic charges that the rebels have interfered with the trade of the town carried out through its market.

Nothing could better illustrate the economic factor which lay at the heart of Hungerford’s growth and development during the later Middle Ages. The appeal by John Tukhill and his fellows shows a concern for trade and an understanding that trade and a prosperous municipal life could continue only if the royal authority (whichever king might reign) remained firm. The question arises as to which party were the ‘king’s true liegemen’ and which were ‘rebels.’

Unfortunately, the Complaint is undated; nor are there any further documents in the case known to be extant. A study of the plaintiffs’ nominations for membership of the proposed commission, however, may offer some guidance as to the political sympathies of the plaintiffs: Sir Robert Shottesbrook was M.P. for Berkshire in 1433 and again in 1439-40. Although a Lancastrian supporter earlier, he conformed under the new Yorkist dynasty and is thought to have died in 1471; Sir John Cheyne of Woodhay, Berkshire, was a Lancastrian supporter who married Shottesbrook’s daughter, Eleanor, was pardoned ‘for being out with Cade’ in the 1450 revolt (also in 1453, 1455, and 1458) and again with other former Lancastrian officials in February 1462, dying in 1467; Thomas Rogers of Lambourne and Benham Valence who was M.P. for Berkshire in 1453-4 and 1460-61, was a firm Yorkist, son and heir of John Rogers the elder by Elizabeth another daughter of Sir Robert Shottesbrook. The John Rogers nominated by John Tukhill and his co-plaintiffs may or may not have been John Rogers the elder, a strong Yorkist, dead by 27 November 1460 when his son and heir Thomas was pardoned entry without license on his father’s lands. Thomas Winslow of Ramsbury was M.P. for Wilts 1455-6 and appointed Duchy of Lancaster Steward of Berks and Wilts in December 1461. He was certainly dead before March 1463 and probably before December 1462. Oliver Langworth was another Duchy of Lancaster appointee [18].

The date of the death of Thomas Winslow, taken in conjunction with the address of the complaint to George Neville Bishop of Exeter who was Chancellor of England from 25 July 1460 to 1465 determines the suit as belonging to a date between 25 July 1460 when Neville was appointed Chancellor and at the very latest 27 December 1462.

The composition of the proposed commission reflects a broad range of Yorkist support from out and out Yorkists like the two Rogers to former moderate Lancastrians prepared to accept the new dynasty like Shottesbrook, Winslow and Cheyney. These men were prepared to accept Edward IV and to hope for a new political stability in the kingdom; and it may be surmised that somewhat similar views at local level were held by those Hungerford townsmen and officials who had nominated them.

Less is known of the Yorkist/Lancastrian sympathies of the townsfolk named in the petition. John Tukhill, as we have seen, had had business connections with the Lancastrian Lord Hungerford family and was to continue to do so; nevertheless he was appointed tax collector for the town of Hungerford by King Edward IV in 146319. Thomas Hoskin, bailiff, we know to have been described in 1463 as the receiver of rents for Lord Wenlock, a Yorkist supporter at that period [20]. John Ludlow may possibly have been the son of William Ludlow. These two, father and son had been granted jointly the parkership of Ludgershall in 1444 but they lost this and other offices in 1461. John Ludlow’s sister Margaret married Thomas Tropenell, Lord Hungerford’s agent and a strong Lancastrian. Robert Tukhill was in trouble with the Yorkist government in 1467 but was pardoned a month later. Reference in the petition to the events of the ‘month of September last past ‘ helps to place these events as having taken place in 1460, if we assume the petition itself to have been drawn up at some date in 1461, and thus concurs with the advance southwards in that year of Queen Margaret and the
Lancastrian forces, culminating in their success at the battle of Wakefield in December 1460.

The disruption which the national struggle between Lancaster and York caused to municipal life may well be imagined; and there must obviously have been particular chaos in 1460/61. There is a possible reflection of this in the annual Accounts for that year submitted on behalf of the townsmen to the Duchy of Lancaster [21]. In years for which we have record these annual accounts (‘compoti’) were presented by a bailiff until 1442/3, when they were presented by a ‘prepositus’. This presentation by the prepositus continues without interruption except for the year 1460/61 when the compotus is presented again by the bailiff, Thomas Toghill (a man listed among neither party in the petition, be it noted). Thereafter from 1461/2 onwards the account is presented again by the prepositus. It is possible that the disturbances of 1460-61 may have been responsible for this change of procedure.

The long list of annual ‘compoti’ from 1431-1488 (with some gaps) reveals that several of the ‘rebels’ settled their differences with their fellow townsmen sufficiently to hold municipal office later: Robert Tughill was prepositus 1473/4, William Bocher in 1475/6, Richard Jenyns bailiff in 1475 and prepositus in 1482/3. On the other hand none of the plaintiffs appear as prepositus in these same compotus rolls, though it should be noted that rolls are missing for the years 1461/62 until 1466/7 inclusive, as well as for 1468/9. Once the political issue was settled, it seems that the past differences did not continue to affect local life unduly, as perhaps may be shown by a grant of February 1462 (in which both grantors and grantees may be assumed to be municipal feoffees) to John Tukhill (named first) and among others, William Bocher, Thomas Tughill and Henry Barbar.

Witnesses included Sir Robert Shottesbrooke, Sir John Cheyney, George Darell and John Ludlow [22].

We do not know when John Tukhill died and have been unable to trace a will for him. He was alive in 1484/5. Robert the elder had died by 1483; and Robert the younger, although he had property in Charnham Street, may have settled in Oxford where he had influential social and business connections through his marriage to Agnes Clerk. The Tukhill family seems to have had some connection with the West country. Bridgewater archives record a Henry Toghull of Taunton in 1464 and Wells city charters a Thomas Tuggill in 1564. In 1505 a Thomas Toghy of Hungerford left a will [23] and there is some evidence [24] based on descent of certain lands (“Farley’s lands”) which might indicate that Toghy is yet another variant spelling of the earlier Toghyll.

John Tukhill lived through dangerous and difficult times. Faced with unique problems as the first Constable of Hungerford, he presents a picture of a hard-headed medieval merchant who tried to marry the various conflicting interests of his day -- through trade the creation of individual wealth and of social prosperity, through the chantry the fostering of religion and education, and amid the conflicting demands of loyalty to his class and to his feudal lord, to reach a decision whose side to take of the rival claimants to the throne which would best serve his business, his conscience and his town.


1 Berks. R.O.: H/AH1
2 Berks. R.O.: H/RTa28
3 Berks. R.O.: H/RTa 29
4 P.R.O.: C146/1552
5 Calendar Patent Rolls Hen VI 1452-61
6 Calendar Patent Rolls Hen VI 1436 -41
7 P.R.O.: DL29/685/11087 and 11089
8 Calendar Fine Rolls Hen.VI 1445-52
9 Calendar Close Rolls Ed.IV 1461-1471
10 P.R.O.: DL43/1/4
11 R.C.Hoare: Modern Wiltshire Vol.1 pt.2 Heytesbury Hundred
12 V.C.H. Berks. Vol iv p.194
13 P.R.O.: C1/59/176
14 P.R.O.: C1/60/10 [Jn. Togull v Robt Togull]
15 Berks. R.O.: H/RTa 25
16 P.R.O.: DL43/1/4
17 P.R.O.: C1/28/421
18 J.C.Wedgwood History of Parliament 1439-1509
19 Calendar Fine Rolls Ed.IV 1461-71
20 P.R.O.: DL3/48
21 P.R.O.: DL29/686/111333
22 Berks. R.O.: H/RTa41
23 P.R.O.: PROB11/14 f.37
24 P.R.O.: DL42/108 f.91

See also:

- Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford