Little is yet known about the local Ancient Order of Foresters - the "Court John o'Gaunt".
The parish magazine of September 1875 records:
On Monday August 2, (Bank Holiday) the members of Court John O'Gaunt of the Ancient Order of Foresters held a most successful demonstration and fete, the latter being held in Hungerford Park, which G.S. Willes, Esq., most kindly placed at their disposal.
Early in the morning, the strains of the Lambourne brass band resounded cheerfully as "bold Robin Hood and his merry men all" mustered in front of their Court-house, the John O'Gaunt, and headed by a handsome banner and gay with costumes and regalia, a long procession wended its way to the Parish Church to attend divine service.
The Vicar preached a sermon from the text, "Bear ye one another's burdens".
After service, the Park was entered, not only by the Foresters and their friends, but by a large number of visitors from the neighbourhood.
The first proceeding of the day was a cricket match, which occupied the greater part of the day, eleven Foresters and eleven of the Town meeting for a friendly contest. After an interesting game, the latter were victorious.
There was an interval for dinner, for which Host Annetts catered in a large marquee.
During the afternoon, Athletic Sports were the principal centre of interest, and fairly good "fields" started for the various events.
- The Forester's Ball, 4 Feb 1913 [A Parsons].
- The One Mile Flat Handicap race, Second Prize, and the Whit-Monday Hungerford Foresters Fête and Sports, 25th May 1931 (kindly donated by Bill Matthews, Sep 2021). The certificate was won by Bill's father Edward Francis Matthews from Compton.
- Hungerford Foresters' Sports - "Group of Officials and Committee taken at the Fete on Whit-Monday, which will probably be the last held under the Foresters' Organisation." (1935)
Mr EL "Jim" Davis wrote about the Foresters' Sports in his unpublished notes on the Common Port Down:
"A regular fixture for many years was the Whit Monday Sports Meeting held under the auspices of the Court of John O'Gaunt of the Royal and Ancient Order of Foresters. I have been unable to fix a date when these sports started, but it seems that the last one was held about 1937, when the Royal and Ancient Order ceased to have a Court in Hungerford.
Certainly these sports were held for many years and were a regular Whit Monday fixture for people living many miles around. The Great Western Railway ran special trains and the normal "gate" was between 5,000-7000 people, very good indeed before the days of the motor car being in every day use.
I first heard of these Sports when living in Marlborough just before the War. Tom Bernard, the butcher had been a regular and successful competitor, as had also George Hunt, later Clerk to the Marlborough and Ramsbury District Council when he lived in Hungerford. I am told that my old friend and one time Constable, the late Dick Bartholomew was a highly successful competitor in the sprint events. I understand that although the Sports were "outside the rules" i.e. not under the auspices of the Three A's, the prizes for the athletic events were in kind.
I am indebted to Mr Frank Hoare and his sister Mrs. Cox for a good deal of my information regarding the Sports, Mr Hoare is the son of Ted Hoare , who was for many years bailiff to the Town and Manor and was described by one Constable as being the only man who knew the boundaries.
Frank Hoare was at one time the youngest member of the Sports Committee at the time when "Daddy" Jessett, the Baker of Charnham Street, was Secretary. The Committee meetings were held in what is now the dining room of the John O'Gaunt Inn.
The sports were held on that part of the Common now transformed into the War Memorial Recreation Ground. The programme included foot races for all ages, cycle racing, whippet and pony racing. Needless to say the pony racing was of the, "Flapping" variety, but none the less enjoyable for that. Mr Hoare tells me that Mr Alfred Mills of the well known firm of family butchers had a pony named "Gaiety", a regular winner.
The highlight of the day was a sort of obstacle cum cross country event. The Runners left the sports ground, across the Common through the Railway Arch to the Lower Common, through the Canal, up one side and down the other of a Haystack the property of "Gingerbread" Phelps, across Phelps Meadow (Mill Mead) through the river Dun, through the Kennet, up the meadows to the Bath Road and return to the Sports through the Street.
The Constable of the day presented the prizes. There was a large fair (Edwards) and Amos Black of Inkpen brought his horse motivated galloping horses. There was a concert party and dancing on the grass. The proceeds of the day went to the Hungerford and Newbury Hospital.
In the evening the Forester's Ball was held in the Corn Exchange from 8.00 p.m. to 2.00 a.m. the Trustees allowing the use of the room without fee. Music was supplied by a fifteen piece band from Maidenhead and a good time was had by all, not the least by the older ladies, who viewed all the jollity from the balcony.
A great day in the Hungerford Calendar, the many enjoying the labours of the few and the local Hospitals benefitting as an additional bonus."