The present-day Town
Hall & Corn Exchange is a prominent Victorian building standing in the market place. But Hungerford has had at least four town halls:
1 - the Courte House: 14th century -
2 - Town Hall and Market House: 1573 - 1786
3 - Georgian Town Hall: 1786 - 1871
4 - Victorian Corn Exchange & Town Hall: 1871 ->
The first "Mediaeval" Town Hall was known as the "Courte House", as it was there that the
Hocktide Court had its meetings. It may have dated back to the 14th century. There is a record to say that a court was held in 1361.
This may have been the same building as the Cross House. In a town rental c1470 there is an entry of 1d 'per domo Sti. Crucis in medio vill', or 'for the house of the Holy Cross in the town centre' (TNA DL 43/1/4). The usual plan for a market house in many towns across Britain was for the ground floor to be open to the street on three sides through arches, but closed at one end where a small room housed the various measures and implements of the market clerk. Frequently the building included an upper chamber which might be used for one or more of a variety of purposes, such as a court house or town hall, chaplain's school house, or simply leased for an income. The Cross House seems to have been one of the possessions of the Chantry of Holy Trinity, adding support to the possibility that the upper room was used as a
school, which we know existed, and which it was usual for a chaplain to run.
A survey by the Duchy of Lancaster of 1543/4 referred to the "Courte House" as being "ruinous and utterly dekeyed". There is no mention in the survey of a
"Cross House", and it seems likely that were indeed one and the same building.
Although the age of this first building is not known, an important structure like this may have lasted about 200 years, and it might therefore have been
erected during the mid 14th century, possibly even under the instruction of John of Gaunt.
It seems that the old combined house-cum-town hall was becoming dilapidated - the complaints of the 1544 and 1549 surveys were again repeated during the
"Charters Case" in 1573, which again referred to the "weakness of the building". Something had to be done!
The second "Elizabethan" Town Hall. In 1573 a new Town Hall was
In 1573 the old Cross House was leased to a shoemaker,
John White, as one of the ex-chantry buildings (that is, building from which the chantry drew the rental) which were sold off after the dissolution of the chantries. In the 1573 town
survey (a very authoritative and thorough investigation headed by the Surveyor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Edward Twynho) the Cross House is leased to John White at an increased quit rent
of 2d. The entry is immediately followed by a statement new to these surveys: "The town and whole parish of Hungerford have at their own cost builded an house with shop under called the
Town Hall, wherein the Queen's courts and law days are kept and there is also the prison kept [there]."
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A further survey in 1607 (Berks RO H/M6) shows that the town had now acquired a buttermarket, the gift of Erasmus Webb.
Only one of these buildings paid a quit rent - the old
market house, which paid 2d. In 1573 the Cross House had paid a quit rent of 2d, a sum the more notable because few premises escaped so lightly.
The various chantry properties were acquired first by Robert Chaloner, then by Henry Edes. The "Market House" had been acquired later by Sir
Richard Hawkins (c.1634- 1687) a London merchant. In 1675 the upper part of the building was leased to John Ball
(a local joiner) for 99 years, on condition he carried out extensive repairs and alterations to the building.
When Sir Richard Hawkins died in 1687 the town trustees purchased this market house from his executors and on 29 Nov 1688 the executors of Sir Richard Hawkins
released to the town feoffees the Market House and Millmead (Berks R.O: H/T33).
On 22 Feb 1688/9 there is a declaration of trust by the feoffees (Berks R.O: H/T33) of Millmead and the Market House, released to them by the executors of Sir
Richard Hawkins, alderman of the city of London, deceased together with Richard Hawkins his son and heir and Katherine his widow on 29 Nov 1688 for consideration of £12 10 shillings.
It seems therefore that the "Market House" was privately owned by Sir Richard Hawkins, a London Alderman. It was bought from his executors after his death in
1688, the same year that Prince William of Orange came to The Bear.
Around the Town Hall stood the usual pillory, stocks and whipping-post. A ducking-stool was kept there, and when required it was wheeled up the High Street for
use in the town pond which used to be on the east side of the High Street opposite the old National School building.
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The north gable of the Town Hall contained a "Clock House", and in 1687 a new clock was bought for £10, a large sum
indeed at that time. The clockwinder at the time was John Tubb. This Jacobean Town Hall was to last until the latter part of the eighteenth century, when in its turn it too was replaced
by a new building.
The third "Georgian" Town Hall
was built in 1786, and stood in the middle of the market-place, surmounted by its octagonal cupola.
It was similar to the 1607 building, and included a blind house (as a lock-up or prison cell), and a place for the fire engine. In 1832 the magistrates complained of the poor sanitary arrangements in the cells, so the "blind house" was extended by making use of the space previously set aside for the fire engine, which was housed elsewhere.
There is a nice painting of the Georgian town hall by G Shepherd, dated 1829.
In June 1862, Mr. Hall, the Magistrate's Clerk, gave to the town a grand new clock. To accommodate it, the 1786 Town Hall was altered by adding a special new
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It seems that this major structural change proved unsatisfactory, as within a few years the Feoffees decided to build a
new Town Hall, and to push the boat out by incorporating a grand new Corn Exchange.
The new Corn Exchange and Town Hall (the fourth "Victorian" Town Hall) took just over 12 months to
build, at a cost of £4,000. It was designed by the Newbury architect James H Money, and was built by the Hungerford firm of Hoskings.
The site chosen was adjacent to the market place - where
stood (as Summers states p81) "a building known as Church House, the exact uses of which do not appear, and behind which it seems to have stood the tithe barn". Norman Hidden explains
that "the 'exact uses' of the Church House do not appear for the simple reason that the house had no 'uses', at least as Summers would seem to envisage. The building was called Church
House because it had been given to the church by William Warnewell, clerk, about the year 1501, and from that time onwards the rent of its lease provided a portion of income for the
parish church. Apart from its ownership and the income from its rent, the house differed little if at all from any other rented burgage".
The foundation stone was laid on 7th September 1870 by Mr
George Cherry of Denford Park. After his death in 1887 a memorial portrait was presented by subscribers to the
County in the Grand Jury Room, Assize Court, Reading. A copy of the portrait was made, paid for by Miss Cherry, who presented it to the town. It is the work of Mr C Low. The frame bears the inscription "George Charles Cherry, Esquire. Presented to the Town of Hungerford by
RMC, 1889". It still hangs in the Hungerford Town Hall.
It was opened on Wednesday 11th October 1871. Because of the death of the town Mayor, Mr Hutchins only three days earlier, the grand public dinner and other
festivities planned for the opening ceremony were curtailed. Instead, a simple ceremony took place at 10 o'clock, when the Constable,. Mr Earle, the Vicar and the Feoffees toured the
building, a few speeches were given, and a short service of prayers.
The description of the 1871 Town Hall and Corn Exchange:
Magazine of November 1871 describes the new building: "Hungerford Town Hall and Corn Exchange is built of red brick and Bath stone for the front facade, and forms a very handsome
elevation in the Italian style. The arches to arcade, which are supported by stone columns and carved capitals, are filled in with ornamental bricks, which, with the frieze ornamented in
like manner, together with the well proportioned tower gives to the whole frontage a rich and pleasing architectural effect.
The building is entered through wrought iron gates
under the clock tower, and on the left of the spacious entrance hall is the justice room, affording ample accommodation for the business of the courts. On leaving the justice room we
enter the inner hall, out of which, by means of a handsome staircase of stone well lighted, the Town Hall is reached. By a short corridor (which gives accommodation on either side for
convenient ante-rooms) we have immediate access to the Corn Exchange, the walls of which are lined with white bricks, interspersed with red string course and bands. It has an open
timbered roof, stained and varnished; a skylight runs along the entire length of the room, giving good light and ventilation; a gallery is provided at the east end, approached from the
principla staircase, and will be found very useful as a ladies' gallery, or for an orchestra.
On arriving at the top of the principal staircase, and opening from a spacious
landing, we have on our right the Town Hall; on our left the gallery (overlooking the Corn Exchange) and ladies' retiring room. The Town Hall is a well proportioned room, and though
ornamentation has been strictly avoided the effect is good and imposing. The whole of the works have been carried out in a most satisfactory manner by Mr Hoskings, contractor, Hungerford,
from the design and under the superintendence of the architect, Mr James H Money, of Newbury. The handsome clock, presented to the town a few years since by mr Hall, has been replaced in
the new building, and two new-dials added. The weather vane to the clock tower has been presented by Mr Platt, of Hungerford. Mr Low, of Hungerford, who was the sub-contractor for the
plumbing, painting, and glazing, presented the stained glass window in Town Hall, bearing the town arms and those of John o'Gaunt. The carving was done by M. de Visse."
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The Parish magazine of February 1878 records that the
average price of corn for the seven years ending December 1877 is Wheat 6s 8½d; Barley 4s 10¼d; and Oats 3s 3½d.
In addition to its regular use in the early days as a corn and other markets (including wool fairs), the Corn Exchange has been used as the venue for a wide
variety of town and private functions.
There were regular dances and whist drives, and the Corn Exchange was used in the early to mid 20th century as the towns cinema (before The Regent cinema was opened in 1934). Films were shown on three nights each week, with a matinee on Saturday. The piano accompaniment was by Ivy Giles, and later by Miss Bell. Tickets were 3d. (See Eatwell and Cox interview).
There were also roller-skating sessions, and even for a show with live lions - The Lady of Lions!
At Hocktide 1940, the Constable, Mr Munford, reported that "The Corn Exchange as you know is entirely used by the Army, and although I have not at the moment
received any remuneration, I hope after an interview with a War Office Official recently, to come to an arrangement...". During the war it was used as a Britsh Restaurant. Follow this
link for more on events in the Corn Exchange during the Second World War.
Today the Corn Exchange and Town Hall are in very regular use for town and private functions. They are owned and managed
by the Town & Manor of Hungerford, and are thought to be the only Town Hall in the country not supported by the Council
The building had major restoration in the 1970s, largely paid for by the Steam Rallies on the Common.
The NWN reported on 18 Mar 1971: "Hungerford Town Hall is to have a facelift. Work is to start next week on essential repairs to the bricks at the base of the Clock Tower. The stonework
will be repaired and cleaned, the weathercock re-gilded and wood painted". These works cost £5,000 - £6,000.
Further works were carried out between 1986-89, when £630,000 was spent (at no expense to the public purse) on the roof structure, safety, heating, and
catering facilities. The Charity Commissioners allowed the Trustees to sell part of Charnham Street Meadows to help fund the exceptional cost. See "Land sale helps fund Town Hall repairs", NWN 21 Jan 1988.
In 1984 the Town and Manor purchased three paintings by local artist John "Tom"
Simson, depicting three important scenes from Hungerford's history. They hang in the Corn Exchange.
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has often been said that the Hungerford Town Hall was the only one in the country not paid for by the Council Tax (and Rates). However, a similar situation exists at Tetbury in
Gloucestershire, where the Market Hall is the responsibility of seven elected Feoffees.