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Pest Houses arose arose in most towns and villages from the need to isolate people suffering from communicable illnesses such as plague, tuberculosis, cholera, or smallpox. Many were established in the 17th century, and it is likely that the Pest House in Hungerford dates from that time. The following notes are based on "Pest House and Plague in 17th Century Hungerford", by Norman Hidden.
- Marshgate Cottage, Mar 2009
- Marshgate Cottage, c1950
The Pest House in Hungerford:
In 1637, Justices of the Peace in Newbury reported that "about the beginning of November one died of the plague in Hungerford, whereupon order was taken for a house to be erected in the fields, also for his family to be removed, for watchmen, and for a tax to be made for their relief and that of the rest of the poor (being very many), and all of them to be kept within the town from going abroad for six weeks".
An even earlier reference to a pest house in Hungerford arises from an alleged breach of promise suit which was taken to the Dean of Sarum's court in 1604/5. In the course of the Complaint it was stated that a man in Hungerford named William Heath lost his wife when his house was infected by the plague. He and his three children thereupon "were removed to a pest house appointed for that purpose" and nursed by a widow who "was assigned to have the custody and keeping of him and his children." The parish register confirms the existence of plague in 1603. During the twelve months from September 1603 to September 1604 the number of burial entries in the parish register marked 'plague' amounted to 46 out of a total of 67. In a normal year, such as those immediately preceding and following the plague, the number of burial entries averaged 24.
William Heath's wife Elizabeth died of the plague 4th June 1604 and his son William on 18th June. William Heath senior, thanks no doubt to his isolation in the pest house, survived and so did his other children. Nevertheless, although the incident reveals that the local authorities were able to take steps to 'appoint' a pest house and to 'assign' infected persons to it, it is not clear that the house was a permanent institution rather than one that may have been used temporarily in emergency. Unless this were so it is difficult to understand the instruction of the justices in 1637, requiring a special new building to be erected 'in the fields'.
Hungerford parish register shows that in 1609-10 the town suffered once again heavy mortality due to the plague. There were twelve burials in the month of September 1609, and thirty-four burials during the full year, of which fourteen are definitely stated to be plague, and probably a number of the remaining twenty were also plague victims but unrecorded as such. After this year the word 'plague' is no longer entered into the burials register. This does not mean that there were no further outbreaks, merely that they are unreported. In 1625, for instance, the total number of deaths (68 entries, about twice the 'normal' average) was a high one and may well indicate the prevalence of plague that year.
That outbreaks of plague continued to occur is testified by the return, already mentioned, made on 18 February 1637 (Cal. State Papers) by the J.P.s for the Newbury Division to the Justice of Assizes, saying "..an order was taken for a house to be erected in the fields, also for his family to be removed...etc".
A study of Hungerford parish register burials in 1636, however, reveals no particular reference which would in any way indicate a plague death either in November or in any other month of that year.
In 1643/4 there is the mark P against some burials and it is possible that this indicates plague victims:
December 16th: Ann d/o Thomas Garmye
January 7th: Elizabeth d/o Joan Townsend, widow
January 26th: William s/o John Blundy
March 10th: Ann w/o James Clifford
March 13th: Maudelyne d/o William Martyne
April 17th: Abigail w/o Thomas Webbe
Some of the earlier entries of plague refer to local residents of Charnham Street and sometimes to travellers staying at one or other of the inns there. Lying astride the London-Bristol road and being a convenient staging post, Charnham Street received a large influx of those travelling between these two large centres of population. In many cases they may have brought the plague with them. These were often the wealthier travellers. It is therefore strange that neither the year of the Great Plague of London in 1665 nor the following year of 1666 was notable in Hungerford for any unusual increase in burials or other signs of plague.
The Pest House marked in the 1819 Enclosure Award map still exists, a timber-framed cottage thought to be of 17th century origin, set in the meadow at the edge of Freeman's Marsh. It has been much extended during the 1980s and is now known as Marshgate Cottage. In its garden a spring of pure, sparkling water bubbles to the surface, as it must have done through the centuries, supplying the needs of those early inmates.
The 1847 Tithe Award shows Anne Tarrant owning the Pest House, void of occupants, with 21 pershes.
In 1848 the Tithe Award map shows another Pest House, located at Sanham Green. The implication must be that the older pest house had by then ceased to be used as such.
According to local sources, the building in Freeman's Marsh was used in the 19th century as a tavern called "The Barge Inn" where it presumably catered not only to the needs of bargemen on the canal, but also to a new estate of labourers' houses which had begun to develop in the fields there. In the 19th century the Hungerford parish registers regularly list alongside the baptisms the parents' occupations and place of residence; and from 1833 onwards until 1869 the location Freeman's Marsh frequently appears.
In 1890 the property, then known as 3-5 Marsh cottages was conveyed by George Hidden and George Taylor to Miss Martin, who became Mrs Taylor; and she conveyed it in 1920 to Joshua Macklin. Since then it has passed through several hands.
Further notes and correspondence between Norman Hidden and Mike Walker, owner of Marshgate Cottage, 1985:
1890 George Hidden and George Taylor conveyed the property to Miss Martin (later became Mrs Taylor).
c1920 Mrs Taylor conveyed it to Joshua Macklin. Macklin died 1933, and appointed his sons Frederick and Caleb to be his executors.
In Aug 1941 Fred and Caleb Macklin were granted probate, and sold the property for £50 to J T Black, who sold it in Feb 1945 to Sidney Black for £80. In May 1947 it was sold for £280 to Mrs Edith Jane Foott of Maidstone.
The numbering is a little unclear. It appears that the cottages were 3,4 and 5. (Isbury Cottage was 1 and 2). When Sidney Black bought the cottage, it was numbered 3 The Marsh. When he sold it, it was numbered 4 The Marsh.
In May 1949 Mrs Foott passed the property by deed of gift to her daughter Mrs Gladys Edith Moore. No. 3 had by then been demolished. Correspondence shows that as early as May 1936 and Nov 1938, Nos 3 and 5 had been regarded by Hungerford RDC as unfit for habitation.
In Oct 1967 Mrs Moore conveyed the property, now known as Marsh Gate Cottage, No 4 The Marsh) to herself and her son(?) William Foott Richmond. The Walkers bought Marsh Gate Cottage from them in May 1976.
Around 1978-79 the row of seven dwellings south of the road were demolished, and seven new houses built. The first three to be built were numbered 5,6 and 7 The Marsh. The later four were confusingly numbered 1-4 The Marsh! To avoid confusion, the Walkers officially designated their cottage as Marsh gate Cottage.
There is a tradition that the cottage was once an inn called the Barge Inn, but there is no known documentary evidence of this.
(With thanks to Mike Walker).
The property was greatly extended by Mike and Elspeth Walker in the 1970s and became Marsh Gate Cottage Hotel.
c2006 it was bought by Chris Ticehurst and converted to five self-contained "Marshgate Apartments".