You are in [Places] [The Croft]
The Croft is a quiet green, lying away from the hustle and bustle of the High Street. It probably originated as the village green of the original vill of Hungerford.
- The Croft Residents' Diamond Jubilee Party, 2 Jun 2012
- The Croft, 1794 (Francis map)
- The Croft, 1819 (Enclosure map)
- The Croft, 1882 (OS map)
- The Croft, c1890. David Ford, a descendant of the Jessett family of Hungerford wrote on 21 Oct 1990: "The small boy in the foreground with the milk pail is Louis "Dick" Jessett. Dick was born at the Angel Inn in Church Street in 1881. His father, Frank Jessett ran The Angel, but also had some sort of grocery business - he certainly kept cows."
- The Croft, c1890
- The Croft, c1895
- "The Mall", 1898, showing old Grammar School on right. [Chester Vaughan Series]
- "The Mall", c1890 showing old Grammar School on right.
- "The Avenue", c1910
- The Croft, c1910, looking past gates to Church House towards St Lawrence Church
- The tall trees in "Church Croft Avenue", c1910 [Parsons]
- The tall trees in Church Croft Avenue, c1910
- The Croft, c1911 [P O Collier "B72"]
- The Croft, date unknown - any ideas?!
- The Croft, looking east towards Avenue House.(Date unknown, ?c1912)
- Looking towards St Lawrence Church, c1912 [Parsons]
- Planting the Sweet Chestnuts in The Croft, 1913 [Parsons]
- Planting the Sweet Chestnuts in The Croft, 1913 [Parsons]
- The Croft and Hungerford from Strongrove, 1923 [A. Parsons]
- The Croft c1920 (Moya Dixon collection)
- The Croft, ?1930s
- The Croft, looking east along The Avenue. A tinted image, c1950.
- The Croft, c1960
- The Croft, c1960
- Avenue House, Nov 2015
The origins of The Croft:
It is likely that this was the village green of the original village of Hungerford, before the "new" medieval town was laid out slightly to the east sometime between 1180 and 1250. This explains why the parish church is adjacent to The Croft, but well away from the High Street.
The Croft was originally known as Town Croft and later as Church Croft.
Ownership of The Croft:
Around 1553 the land was owned by John Undewes and his wife. They gave the land, about one acre, "for the people of Hungerford to sport herein" at the nominal rent of a red rose yearly, if demanded. Such a rent is not demanded, and The Croft is now part of the Town and Manor land. WH Summers states (in The Story of Hungerford, pg 81) that the Church Croft was also known as "Play Close".
In the Duchy of Lancaster surveys of 1606 and 1609 the Croft was referred to as "one acre of ground as their freehold called 'Town Croft' by gift of John Undewes and his wife."
In the 1617 James I feoffment The Croft formed part of the lands passed into the trusteeship of the feoffees.
This arrangement continued for about 350 years until March 1969, when the Town & Manor was under pressure to improve the looks of The Croft by replanting trees, regular cutting of the grassed area, and controlling the vehicles encroaching on the grass. The Trustees granted the Parish Council a 21-year lease of The Croft for 10 shillings per year. The council were able to maintain the area from public funds. Unlike the Common Port Down and Freeman Marsh, the Trustees of the Town & Manor are not readily able to generate income from The Croft to pay for its general maintenance and upkeep.
In 1990 the management reverted to the Town and Manor of Hungerford. See Lease of The Croft to Hungerford Parish Council, May 1969.
The alley way to the High Street (now known as Church Lane) was first known as Church Passage, and later as Little Church Lane.
There are several notes in the Constable's Accounts of money paid to the Bellman for sweeping Church Lane on Saturday evenings so it was clean for the townspeople to go to Church on Sundays.
In 1837 a turnstile was erected at west end of Little Church Lane, but it proved unsatisfactory, and was replaced by the two cast iron posts in 1863.
Under the Commons Registration Act of 1965 the land was registered as a Village Green as it has not Rights of Common. This gave added legal protection to the property for future generations.
In the parliamentary survey of the Town and Manor in 1904 The Croft is described as a small green for show booths for the annual fairs and The Mall adjoining bearing ornamental trees. Annual receipts totalled £10. 10s a year.
The railway embankment and bridges:
The Berkshire and Hampshire railway was built on a high embankment through The Croft and opened in November 1862. Initially there was a single track, but it was converted to a double track in July 1898, requiring the Croft Road and Parsonage Lane bridges (amongst others in the town) to be made wider. The additional brickwork is clearly seen. The Croft Road bridge was renewed in 2012.
The Avenue and The Mall:
The line of trees along the northern part of The Croft has variously been known as "The Avenue" and "The Mall".
It has been said (?reference?) that the Town & Manor defrayed the cost of a major law case in 1803 by felling and selling the giant elm trees in The Croft.
There is possibly some confusion here, as The Reading Mercury of 7 Mar 1840 reported that "The avenue of elms leading from the town to the church, was on Tuesday last submitted to the hammer; the trees averaged upwards of £4 each. The destruction of this avenue is a source of regret to many of the inhabitants who have been accustomed to walk beneath its pleasant shade. It is however, the intention of the corporation to plant another avenue in its place."
It is understood that further elms (or were they limes?) were planted, which lasted into the early 1900s, by which time they too had become very tall indeed.
In 1913 the elms (or limes?) were replaced by an avenue of young sweet chestnuts, which are still the main trees in The Croft in 2012. The money for the 78 trees required was raised by public donation.
The photograph (below right) shows the planting ceremony - on the left, in the bowler hat, is Mr. Henry d'Oyley Wolvey Astley, the local solicitor and Clerk to the Town and Manor. Despite the slow shutter speed blurring the ferocious activity of digger, we know that the new trees were planted by the Constable, Mr. John Adnams.
His wife, Mrs Ginny Adnams is said to have been unhappy about the choice of sweet chestnuts, feeling that they were unlucky and unsuitable. She purchased her own tree, a copper beach, and planted it in front of St. Lawrence's Church gate in 1913. It was a beautiful tree, but died from fungal infection in 1978-79, and was replaced by a London plane. Unfortunately, a large bow split from this tree in Nov 2013, and the tree was felled in Dec 2013. The Town & Manor replaced it with a Ginkgo tree in 2015. The Ginkgo was first identified in Japan by a German physician and was introduced into Britain in the 1750s.
The chestnut trees in The Croft have often caused problems with the residents. An interesting letter of 14 Oct 1936 was sent by the residents to the Constable Mr E Munford.
Other buildings in The Croft:
Croft Cottage, 1 The Croft:
See Croft Cottage.
Croft Hall (previously Church House) was built in 1900 and is managed as a charity by appointed trustees.
The Hungerford Club was founded in 1910 and originally met in Church House before moving to their own premises in 1926.
21-29 The Croft:
21-29 The Croft: Harold Clements, who lived in The Caravan, The Marsh was interviewed on 9 Sep 1978: He remembered that
- 21 The Croft was built c1910-12 by Mr Freeman, head carpenter at Wooldridge's builders on The Wharf, occupied later by his two daughters.
- 23-25 The Croft were built c1912-13 by Mr J H Wooldridge.
- 27-29 The Croft were also built by Wooldridge's (on Glebe land owned by Mr Wooldridge). They were built c1922-23, having been delayed by the war, and are not as large as 23-25. No 27 was Wooldridge's own house, slightly "better" than 23. It had wash basins in every bedroom.
The bowling green was previously "Black Meadow", and belonged to Bobby Haines of Hidden Farm. Next to it was another meadow belonging to Mr Alexander (grocer in High Street).
Parsonage Farm was also known as Church Farm, which also owned the land where his caravan was. Ossy Richens owned it then. When the avenue of elm trees were felled in 1913, the timber was used for the long and short bridges over the canal and river.
The Nurse's House:
The house in Parsonage Lane facing the old Vicarage was (according to Jack Williams, 2016) provided by Mrs Neate as a home for the District Nurse.
Avenue House was built by John Blackwell, engineer of the Kennet and Avon Canal, in 1823-25 for himself and his family. His memorial is in St Lawrence Church.
In the 1960s it was the home of Basil and Joan McCready.
At an unknown date, it is said (by Jack Williams) to have been occupied by the Roman Catholic priest.
The Croft Nursery School:
The Croft Nursery School: Opened originally in 1942, and was renewed in 2005.
The Doctor's Surgery:
The doctors' Surgery was built originally in 1959, and extended in 1993. The archaeological dig revealed Saxon activity.
The Dental Surgery:
The dental surgery in Church Lane was built in 1964 by George Dunbar, who was dentist there until his retirement in Aug 2001, when Simon Smallwood took over the practice.
The diagonal track across The Croft was closed (and allowed to grass over) c1960-65.
In May 1969 the Trustees of the Town & Manor of Hungerford leased The Croft to the Hungerford Parish Council for 21 years at 10s per year, requiring them to maintain and preserve the area, and ensure it was open to the public free of charge. See the 1969 Lease of The Croft.
Management of The Croft was taken back by the Town and Manor when the lease expired in 1980.
A very interesting feature of The Croft is the "tumble stile" leading into the St Lawrence's churchyard.
- The Croft Field, a paper by Dr Hugh Pihlens, Jun 2014.