This article is from "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford" by Norman Hidden, 2009.
One of the earliest ways in which the Plantagenets dispensed justice throughout their kingdom was by the monarch himself travelling about the country with his court (Curia Regis), both taking local counsel and settling important legal cases in the region visited.
Records of these royal itineraries have been carefully compiled  and it is possible, from the reign of Henry I onwards, to ascertain most of the routes journeyed. They included royal visits to Wiltshire, particularly to Marlborough and Salisbury, as well as to other places in the region which lay en route or within reach. As early as 1100 Henry I made overnight stops at Salisbury and Marlborough. In 1106 a ‘return’ journey from the west proceeded from Alveston in Gloucestershire via Marlborough, udgershall, and Salisbury, and thence to the royal residence at Windsor*.
Overnight stoppage at a particular place could be dictated by a number of factors. These included whether any business had to be conducted there, and whether suitable accommodation existed in the locality where the monarch might lodge and be entertained. The first choice of royal stopping places was obviously one of the king’s own residences; hence the frequent mention of Ludgershall, Marlborough and Clarendon Park near Salisbury. A second choice might be an ecclesiastical house (e.g. Sandleford Priory near Newbury) or the substantial residence of a local landowner. Failing this, there were the local resources offered by a township with its inns, taverns and other miscellaneous accommodation. A major factor, however, was the distance which the monarch and his accompanying household might be able to accomplish in a day’s ride, taking into consideration both the time of the year and the hours of daylight. Where the king had finished his business and was returning homewards on the last stage of his journey, he could ride well ahead of his commissariat; and with his time unconsumed by any further business en route, he might cover a good fifty miles or more, as Richard I did from Marlborough in 1189. Having stayed the night of 29 August there, he arrived back at his residence at Windsor the next evening. The frequent number of instances of a day’s journey from one stopping place at Marlborough to another at Newbury (or vice versa) shows not only the importance of these two towns, but also that the distance between them, somewhat less than twenty miles, on a more or less flat road was reasonable for a one - day journey with all the royal baggage involved.
In 1222 Henry III set out from Woodstock on 28 December, stayed two nights at Oxford, spent New Year’s Eve at Hungerford, and arrived the following day at Marlborough. His decision to stop at Hungerford rather than travel another eight miles or so seems likely to have been determined solely by the logistics of the situation. He had ridden from Oxford that morning, which was a good thirty miles away, with a steep ascent over the Downs, and may have felt, in the short daylight of mid-winter, that it would be unwise to push on to Marlborough either through the forest of Savernake or along the narrow road via Ramsbury, north of the river Kennet, that same evening.
He could not have found Hungerford a convenient stopping place, for there is no record of his stopping there on any subsequent occasion, even when travelling homewards from Marlborough via Newbury (e.g. in 1223, 1225 and 1226), nor on those occasions when he travelled from Marlborough to Reading (e.g. 1234, 1235 and 1236) and stayed the night at Sandleford Priory*. Nevertheless, the stop at Hungerford is the first mention in any reign of this town’s location along the royal routes and is good evidence that by this date the town had come into substantial being.
In a later journey in 1241 Henry III, returning homewards, passed through Hungerford again. That he may have experienced an involuntary and probably infuriating hold-up there, would seem to be suggested by a mandate he dictated on his arrival at Sandelford, expressing his dissatisfaction with the state of the bridge over the river Kennet, and slapping a fine of 5 marks on the township (villatam) for the inadequacy of its bridge . The phrase used (‘pro defecto pontis’) presumably refers to the bridge’s ill-repair, but may mean the absence of a bridge at all, entrance to the town itself having traditionally been across a ford in the river. The issue is confused, since the ford was across what was then known as ‘the Bedwyn stream’ and is now known as the river Dun, a tributary of the Kennet, at a point near its confluence with the major river. The Kennet would be very much more likely to have needed a bridge to cross by, and there is evidence of one at Eddington at this date which crossed to Charnham Street. The responsibility for its upkeep lay with the lord of the manor of Hidden-cum-Eddington  and not with the town of Hungerford, for neither Hidden-cum-Eddington in Berkshire nor Charnham Street in Wiltshire were incorporated in the town and for centuries fiercely maintained their independence .
Was Henry III’s irritation in connection with the bridge, or lack of it, due to his knowledge that the lord of both Hidden and Hungerford was none other than his former friend but now adversary Simon de Montfort?
Later royal itineraries to Wiltshire resulted in overnight stops at Hungerford without complaint. Thus Edward I stopped in the town on no less than three occasions; in 1286, 1289 and in 1302*. His son Edward II stopped there in 1308. As his journey was merely from Newbury to Marlborough, which he would have done comfortably in a day, it would seem that some business was awaiting him at Hungerford. His next visit was in 1320 en route to Marlborough, another short day’s journey. Disappointingly, none of these visits by Edward I or Edward II has been chronicled by the Victoria County History for Berkshire, which is able to record only that Edward III passed through the town in 1331 and again early the next year .
Edward I’s journeys in this area are particularly interesting because whereas the itineraries of his father Henry III had been mainly along the old-established route from London to the west on which Hungerford, and more particularly Charnham Street, lay, Edward I made use of Hungerford also as a stopping off place on journeys to or from the south. Thus in 1286 he came from Amesbury to Upavon and thence to Hungerford.* Some specific business clearly brought him there, for he then turned west to Marlborough (which he could have reached direct from Upavon), staying there three nights before returning eastward to Reading. Similarly, in 1289 he journeyed from Reading to Hungerford, and thence by a direct north-south route to Amesbury and Clarendon Park near Salisbury.* It would thus seem that a southern route to Salisbury via Hungerford had come into regular use by the latter part of the 13th century. It is noticeable that in the previous century royal itineraries had shown a more complicated north-south route, such as via Marlborough and Ludgershall, to Salisbury, a route which was considerably more circuitous. In 1189 Richard I had returned to Windsor from Winchester via Salisbury and Marlborough, and in 1203 King John came back home from Portsmouth via Burbage, Marlborough and Newbury.* Evidently, the recognised north-south route was via Marlborough at this date. Of course Marlborough was an important centre; it had royal connections and doubtless there was always business to be done there, but had there been an alternative suitable route, it is unlikely that travel-worn monarchs would not have made use of it whenever possible, especially on their homeward journey when they would be unfettered by the need to conduct local business.
It will be noted that the routeing of royal itineraries through Hungerford in a north-south direction occurs at a date by which the town had been replanned, the little village higgled around the parish church having been superseded by a long wide street (present day Bridge Street and High Street) quarter of a mile to the east with spacious burgage sites on either side. This road pointed straight to Salisbury and in later years was often referred to as ‘Salisbury Street’. At the junction where it crossed an older road leading from Kintbury and going westwards past the church, the town held its market. Historians have been unable to date this development precisely, cautiously offering an outside time range of between 1170 and 1296 . The evidence of the town’s appearance (or nonappearance) on the royal routes fits well into this. Henry III’s stop overnight in 1222 confirms that the town was in existence then, and Edward I’s use of the north-south route in 1286 suggests that a new road system had developed which could provide an impetus for a successful market prior to the earliest documentary evidence of such a market in 1296 .
King Edward’s journey from Downton (or possibly Dinton) and Salisbury to Hungerford in late January 1286, via Amesbury and Upavon, is revealing in other ways too. The wardrobe waggon train took four days to make this winter journey, of about 40 miles, struggling over steep hills. The King and his household went on ahead, reaching Amesbury and Upavon on 20 January and Hungerford the next day. Here the royal household divided, the King, the Queen and their immediate attendants going on to stay at Marlborough with the Queen Mother (22-24 January). The rest of the household remained at Hungerford during the King’s visit to Marlborough, and were joined there by the wardrobe wagon. The King then returned to London via Denford and Crookham on the 25th. The location of Crookham suggests that the route taken homewards was along the old Kintbury road, south of the river Kennet. In a further journey in 1289 Edward I travelled from Newbury to Marlborough via Hampstead Marshall and Hungerford.
There can be no doubt that to do so he would have used the route to Hungerford via Kintbury. A map centuries later8 refers to the road from Hungerford via Kintbury as ‘the old and great Market road’, suggesting a function that had become eclipsed in the 18th century by the Bath road north of the river, which in its turn is today overshadowed by the M4 motorway.
In considering the information provided by the royal itineraries which concerns routes and roads, the human factor should be born in mind. Royal visits must have caused great excitement in a small market town, with their glamour, bustle and activity; they must have caused also a good deal of disruption, some anxiety and probably not a little fear. On all these journeys, demands were made on local inhabitants by a small advance guard of royal officials purchasing or requisitioning food and lodgings for the arriving party and fodder and stabling for their horses. Some idea of the sweat and effort which went into making the royal governance work successfully may be seen in the accounts of the royal Wardrobe and Household9. Thus, payment is made to porter Hicke for one cart drawn by five horses, which took four days to carry the wardrobe equipment from Downton in Wiltshire to Hungerford, a journey of under forty miles. This represents an average speed over the hills of less than ten miles a day. The whole journey from Exeter to Hungerford may have been some 130 miles and porter Hicke was paid for eleven days on the road. Local purchases on this journey in 1285-6 included 10lbs of grain at 4d. a pound, and 1d. for a sack to contain the purchase; 16lbs of vetch at 1d. a pound; 5lbs of liquorice at 4d. a pound; 1 inkwell and a supply of ink for the scribe (total cost 4d.); 2d. for some spice; and another 2d. for some white powder required by porter Hicke. No one would have been busier than the royal clerk of the court for he would be visiting, in advance of the king, towns within a radius of ten miles, issuing summons to local officials, empanelling juries, obtaining information about breach of the assizes and the sale of sub-quality goods .
The records of royal itineraries on these court journeys are valuable accounts of the administration of justice coram rege, and also throw occasional fascinating illuminations on the social history of the time. In addition, as this article tries to show, they may provide an extra means of dating the rise or fall in importance of small towns which lay along their route, as well as being an indicator of the possible changes in east-west and north-south routes leading into Wiltshire and the south west.
Unless otherwise indicated, specific references to royal itinerary details (marked *) have been derived from the appropriate volume listed below.
1 Itinerary of Henry I (ed.) W Farrer (Oxford 1920); Court, Household and Itinerary of Henry II (ed.) R.W. Eyton (London 1878); Itinerary of King John (ed.) T.D. Hardy (London 1835); ‘Itineraries of Henry III’, Theodore Craib (typescript, P.R.O.: 1923); Itinerary of Edward I (ed) E.W. Safford (List & Index Soceity, vols.103, 132 and 135 (1925)); Itinerary of Edward II and his Household (ed.) Elizabeth M. Hallam (List & Index Society, vol.211 (1984)).
2 Calendar of Close Rolls 1237-1241, p.375
3 S.F. Wigram (ed.), The Cartulary of St. Frideswide ‘s (Oxford 1895), ii, p.337
4 , for example, P.R.O.: ASSI 2/1, f. 188
5 V.C.H. Berks, vol.iv, p.185
6 Greville C. Astill, Historic Towns in Berkshire (Berks. Arch.Ctee. Publication no. 2 (Reading 1978), p.29
7 V.C.H. Berks, iv, p.187
8 Berks. R.O.: D/EB P1: sketch map by Wm. Watts c.1750
9 B.F. and C.R. Byerley (eds.) Records of the Wardrobe and Household; 1285-6 (HMSO 1977), p.15
10 Ibid., p.xxv