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. The first Town Hall and/or Market House might have been existence as
early as 1267, the reputed date of the original Market Charter and the institution of the Assize of Bread and Ale. It is almost certain that it existed by 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", as well as mentioning that the caretaker of the hall in 1572 was Thomas Hamlyn.
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]."
This evidence is repeated in 1607 when the Hocktide Jury presented - "The Townsmen of Hungerford have at their own cost and
charges built and erected one house call the Town Hall
wherein the Queen's Majesty's Courts and Law Days for the said Manor are usually kept, with a shop under the said Hall and also two prisons thereunto for the punishment of malefactors. There is also adjoining the said Town Hall one
for Corn with a loft over the same for which there is paid a yearly quit rent to the King of 2d. and not far distant from the same there has been built by Erasmus Webb and by him given to the Town and Market House for
butter, cheese and other like commodities" (Berks RO H/M6). Follow this for more on the buttermarket.
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 shop over the Town Hall seems to have been let to the Bellman and this was the custom for many years. The prison cells were
used from time to time for billeting soldiers, the cells being sometimes known as the "Blind House".
In the vicinity of the town Hall stood the Pillory, Stocks and the Ducking Stool.
Presumably the latter instrument was taken to the pond which was further up the High Street.
The Constable's accounts for 1658/60 contain the item "Paid the painter for the
King's Arms and colouring the Town Hall £1.13.0, the occasion being the restoration of the Monarchy.
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. Follow this for more on the Town Clocks.
The first occasion on record of the Town Hall being let for a public performance was in
1718 when a "Fire Eater" paid 10/- to give a performance and in 1750 it was let for a "Puppet Show".
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, following a period when the blind house was in heavy use following the "Swing" Riots of 1830, 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.
By the 1860s Hungerford felt in need of a larger Corn Exchange and a new Town Hall. Times
had changed and Berkshire now had a County Police Force. Hungerford had a police station with cells in Hungerford, so this feature of the preceding halls could be omitted. The population of the Berkshire portion of the Hungerford Parish had dropped, partly because of the loss of the coaching trade, and partly because the railway seemed to take people away from rather than in to Hungerford.
An enlarged Corn Exchange was fast becoming a necessity and the subject of much
speculation and planning, whilst the old building was, naturally enough after 100 years, in constant need of considerable repairs.
In February 1861, Mr Hall, the Magistrate's Clerk, offered to provide half the cost of a
new Town Hall, in place of repairing the old one, but his offer was not accepted. However, in June 1862, Mr. Hall gave to the town a grand new clock.
To accommodate the new clock, Messrs. Wooldridge were instructed to build a suitable new
clock tower, and the feoffees borrowed £150 at 5% interest to pay for the work. In October 1866 Mr Wooldridge was paid £107.5s.0d. on account and in June 1867 he was paid £177.17s.4¾d for
the complete job. In the same year the insurance cover on the building was raised from £600 to £1000 with an additional cover of £250 for the clock and bells.
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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 in 1868 as suitable for a new Town Hall
and Corn Exchange 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
Whatever its purpose, the Church House was in the ownership of the Hungerford Church Wardens and in the occupation, under lease,
of a Mr Jelfs. The Clerk was instructed to enquire into the possibility of an exchange of properties and also the sum required by Mr Jelfs for the surrender of the lease. This proved to
be £100 and for the site an exchange was arrived at whereby the feoffees acquired 1 rod 8 poles in the High Street for 5 acres 0 rods and 33 and one third poles on the Port Down. This was
permitted under an order of February 3rd 1870 of the Enclosures Commissioners.
From this point all systems worked - it was agreed that the money for the building be
raised by donation and on note of hand by the feoffees at 4% .
In May 1870, Mr Money, Architect of Newbury, submitted plans which were approved but with
an amended specification to bring costs down to £2,700, and in June and agreement was arrived at with Mr Killick, the owner of the north side, to obtain rear and side access. Mr Killick
received the unwanted piece of land at the western end of the acquired plot.
The Hungerford builders, Mr Wooldridge and Mr Hoskins were both asked to put in tenders
for the work and that of Mr Hoskins was accepted. Planning authorities were not then in existence, absolute reliance being placed upon a qualified architect and a builder of good
reputation who employed skilled craftsmen.
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.
In July 1871 the building was sufficiently advanced to talk about the clock and bell
tower being moved from the old Town Hall. Mr Hall who had given the clock, was approached about the addition of two more faces. We assume now he agreed to the request of the feoffees.
The Corn Exchange opened for business on Wednesday 11 October 1871. The first Trustees
Meeting was held in the Town Hall on the 26th of the same month.
Unhappily, Mr Hutchins the Constable, who had presided over all the building
arrangements, died on 9th October. Mr Earle was appointed in his place and the planned opening dinner to mark the occasion was postponed. 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 insurance of the Town Hall was placed at £1,800 and that of the Corn Exchange at
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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