The Accounts also provide a
record of the dates on which the leases were granted (usually to last for a term of lives). The earliest of the leases thus granted or regranted in 1431
would seem to have been Richard Bocher's in 1395. Later accounts show that the holdings might continue within a family for several generations. In such cases the name of the original
holder remains in the series of accounts. Thus as late as 1509/10
some of the 1431 rental names still appear, even though circa 1470 their stalls were said to be 'in decay'. Where there are stall-holding changes, these are to new holders of different surnames, and such changes indicate a 'tenable' stall rather than one 'in decay'. Most stalls still paid a uniform annual rent of 4d, but exceptions to this were the three stalls near the market cross let to 'diverse men' (a total rent of 16d) and the stalls of the tanners (3s 6d).
A town rental drawn up circa 1470
(TNA DL 43/1/4) contains two lists, one of 'tenable' stalls, another of stalls 'in decay'. By this date the number of tenable stalls has been reduced to seven and the number of stalls in decay has increased to eleven. Whatever the state of the market in 1431, clearly it had been in decline since that date.
The next town rental in 1552 (TNA DL 42/108 f 91) continues to list seven
stalls, two held by Nicholas Baker, two by the farmer of the lands of a newly dissolved priory, one by a chantry and two by John Aley.
In the 1573 town rental there are no references to stalls, nor are there in any subsequent survey. This does not mean that the market had ceased but probably reflects the
stalemate in town and manorial administrative relations which followed the loss of the town 'charters'.
The traders' occupations:
Ministers' Accounts do not usually record the occupations of the stall holders, though we have reference to the (anonymous) tanners and to John Baron the
'bocher' (or butcher), whose stall had previously been held by John Bocher.
Indeed the surnames of the 1431 stall holders may give us a fair indication of some of the trades flourishing - fisher, butcher, draper, weaver (Webbe), tanner are
One of the most interesting entries is that which relates to 'le travers' - a word which would seem to mean 'the workshop'. It is first found in a manorial
court roll for 1480 (DL 29/683/11061) where it is recorded that Thomas Bukland alias Smith paid 2d. quit rent for a 'travers' 8 foot by 3 foot in the High Street for shoeing horses (ad equos
ferrandum). The site was 'facing the lord's hospice' and had been granted to Thomas in 1466. In 1552 this was one of Nicholas Baker's two stalls.
Hungerford's market did not cease to exist after the Middle Ages, but its nature changed in that instead of being the most important single economic activity, the
drive behind all the others, it became more of a supplement to other activities - instances for example of tanning, fulling, dyeing, brewing, fishing, sheep-farming frequently occur - most of which
could sustain themselves even without the market's added benefits. In the early seventeenth century, once the town achieved settlement of its long-disputed borough status the market enjoyed a
Today there is nothing that remains of the old market - the Cross House in the middle of the street has been demolished, the stalls temporary or permanent have gone, no
sparks fly from the shoesmith's 'travers'. Only the configuration of the street itself may remind us of these past centuries. The 'cross', made into a little jink in the road by
the not-quite-perfect intersection of the High Street and the east-west road, remains.
The 1573 town hall:
In 1573 a new Elizabethan Town Hall was built at the local townsmen's expense: "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].".
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.
There is also near adjoining unto the said Town Hall one market house for corn, with a loft over the same, from which there is paid yearly quit-rent to
the King 2d.; and not far distant from the same there hath been builded the market house for butter, cheese and other commodities."
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.
'There is also near adjoining unto the town hall one market house for corn, with a loft over the same, from which there is paid yearly quit-rent to the king of 2d'. There
seems little doubt that this is the old Cross House, let to Philip Seimor in 1591. Whether the upper chamber of this served also as the old Court House which the new town hall had replaced, is not
clear. There was a shop 'under the same Hall, and also two prisons thereunto adjoining for the punishment of malefactors. Not far distant from the same town hall there hath been builded the market
house for butter, cheese and other commodities.'
The market and fairs in the 18th and 19th centuries:
In the early seventeenth century, once the town achieved settlement of its long-disputed borough status, the market enjoyed a notable resurgence.
The Constables' Accounts of 1789 state: "The first Great Markett on ye Second Wednesday in May was on ye 9th day of ye same month in ye year 1739 - Thos Woodroffe,
Mr Thos Robinson ye first man that sold any cattle in ye Markett which was two heifers for a man of Kintbury."
A new town hall was built in the market place in 1786. The 1796
Berkshire Directory that Hungerford "has a weekly market every Wednesday, for corn, pigs, and butcher's meat; and a statute fair on the 10th of August, and one for cattle the last Wednesday in April, when there is a decent shew. Here is a good market-house and shambles."
The present-day Town Hall and Corn Exchange building was opened in 1871.
In 1873 the Hungerford Wool fair
was held on 25th June "at the Corn Exchange, and was very well attended by buyers and dealers. The number of sheets pitched was 263, 24 more than last year. The prices realised were not so good as last year by about 10s; being for Mixed, 43s to 44s; Tegs, 46s to 48s; Ewes, 42s to 43s." At the Wool Fair on 1st July 1874, the number of Tods pitched was 2738, 136 more then the previous year. In 1876, only 1854 tods of wool were brought to the Corn Exchange. They were sold for 33s to 35s, despite being in good condition.
The Parish Magazine of September 1874 records an exceptional Sheep Fair
on the Downs on 17th August. In 1872 there had been 1300 sheep; in 1873, 3,500 sheep, but in 1874 there were 6,600 sheep - a remarkable increase. In 1875 there were about 5,000 sheep penned.
An entry in the September 1881 edition of the Parish Magazine states: "Our annual Sheep fair was held on the Downs on Wednesday August 17. The supply was unusually good,
and the number of sheep brought to the Fair being not much short of seven thousand. Most of the sheep were of excellent quality and fetched better prices than at previous fairs. Lambs sold at 30s to
40s per head; one lot at 48s. Sheep generally fetched 40s to 50s per head." [A Tod is an English unit of weight, chiefly for wool, commonly equal to 28 pounds (12.7 kilograms) but varying locally.]
The 1891 Kelly directory lists: "Two statute or hiring fairs are annually held in the Market Place, one on the Wednesday before and the other on the Wednesday after old
Michaelmas Day [10th or 11th October]; there are also fairs held the last Wednesday in April for cattle, the last week in June for wool and August 17th for sheep."
Michaelmas Day, on 29th September, is the Feast of St Michael the Archangel. It marks the end
of the farming year. Traditionally it was the time when houses and land changes hands, and farm workers and domestic servants were hired for the coming year. Goose fairs and sheep sales were held on
this day for hundreds of years, and in various parts of the country Michaelmas Day is still known as Goose Day.
In Marlborough two Mop Fairs (or Hiring Fairs) are still held either side of
11th October. Farm workers, labourers, servants and some craftsmen would work for their employer from October to October. At the end of the employment they would attend the Mop Fair
dressed in their Sunday best clothes and carrying an item signifying their trade. A servant with no particular skills would carry a mop head - hence the phrase Mop Fair.
would move amongst them discussing experience and terms, once agreement was reached the employer would give the employee a small token of money and the employee would remove the item
signifying their trade and wear bright ribbons to indicate they had been hired. They would then spend the token amongst the stalls set up at the fair which would be selling food and
drink and offering games to play.
Michaelmas Day is celebrated on 29th September but Mop Fairs were tied to the seasons and the harvest, not the calendar. When the Gregorian calendar was
adopted in 1752 and eleven days dropped from that year events associated with the end of the harvest moved eleven days later to 10th October. This date is known as "Old Michaelmas
Day" and since 1752 has been the date Mop Fairs take place.
Whilst most hiring fairs (or "mop" fairs) were held around Old Michaelmas Day, some were held in
anticipation of Candlemas Day (2nd February), when yearly contracts were entered into.
The 1911 and 1916 Cosburn's Directories state that the "Corn Exchange is open for business on Wednesdays from 12.30 till 3.30".
By 1920, Kelly Directory reports "The Market day is Wednesday, and a pitched market is established in the Corn Exchange." The two statute fairs are still held annually, as
are the wool fair in the last week of June and the 17th August sheep fair.
By 1939 (Blacket's Directory) says that the weekly Wednesday market is for "Eggs, etc.". The "Corn Exchange is open for business every Wednesday from 12 till 2pm. Clerk of
the market, S.F. Bushnell."
Nowadays the only remaining market is the weekly market held on Wednesdays and a seasonal Farmers' Market on Sundays. The Farmers' Market celebrated its 6th birthday in
May 2012 (see NWN Big 6 celebration for farmers' market, 31 May 2012).
- "Hungerford's Market in the Middle Ages", by Norman Hidden (reprinted in Berkshire Old and New, Vol 15, from which
large parts of this section derive).
- Parish Magazines
- Rural Calendar
- Town Halls
- Steam fairs on the Common, 1970-78
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