Where are we?
Brief History
Town Walks
Site Map
About us
Contact us

Website produced and maintained for the Hungerford Historical Association
by Hugh Pihlens.
This website uses 3rd party analytical cookies only.

"The website is fascinating - I've been looking at things for hours!" JS, UK, 2013

"Congratulations on an absolutely amazing site – please keep up the good work."
AT, UK, 2011

"I must congratulate you for having such an impressive and comprehensive set-up. It really is."
JS, France, 2010

"I congratulate you on the site, in particular the coaching section. Your section is far and away the most comprehensive and interesting site I have found to date. It is excellent." BJ, UK, 2009

"I've greatly enjoyed spending time visiting your virtual museum! Thank you! I found the museum to be most comprehensive and very well done, as well as very interesting."
KM, USA, 2009

Freeman's Marsh
[Home] [Artefacts] [Events] [People] [Places] [Themes] [Timeline] [Archives] [Search]

You are in [Themes] [Town and Manor] [Common and Freeman's Marsh] [Freeman's Marsh]


Freeman's Marsh is an area of common land to the west of Hungerford. It fulfils the same purpose for the Sanden Fee Commoners as the Common Port Down does for its Commoners of the Town.

The boundaries have varied over the centuries, but in the present-day it comprises about 90 acres (41 hectares) of  permanent pasture, marsh and bog.  At times land was added, and at other times land was lost to the canal and the railway.

The origin of the name "Freeman's Marsh" is not clear. The first mention by this name was in a survey by the Duchy of Lancaster of c1552, which described it as "a common marsh called Freeman's Marsh belonging as well to the town of Hungerford as to the fee of Sanden, containing by estimate 6 acres". By 1568 (the 11th year of the  reign of Queen Elizabeth I) it was reported that "there being 20  acres or thereabouts".

There was a case in the Duchy of Lancaster Court  in the 11th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1568/9) brought by the inhabitants of Hungerford against one Brian Gunter when  again there was mention that it was 20 acres of grazing for geldings and nags belonging to Commoners of both Hungerford and Sanden Fee.

In the James I feoffment of 1617, the tithing of the Liberty of Sanden Fee was not mentioned, nor was the land known as Freeman's Marsh. The feoffment spoke of the Borough and Manor of Hungerford, and it is thought that the Sanden Fee tithing was by then part of Hungerford Manor.

See also: Names of The Marsh.

By 1803 (in the case of Webb v Salisbury in the King's Bench) the Marsh had  increased in size to 45 acres 2 rods and 18 poles including the area occupied by the Kennet & Avon canal - 23 acres was taken by the canal  and 22 acres of feeding land and 33 poles of "water and bogge".

The Enclosure Award in 1819  added 21 acres, 2 rods, 24 poles of arable land in Westbrook Field "for the grazing of nags". This area is shown on the 1819 Enclosure map as "North Westbrooks", and is the area to the south of the canal. On  1st March 1637 Edmund Sexton, a tanner, from Hungerford assigned in  consideration of 5. 0. 0d a half acre of arable land in the Common Fields of Hungerford called West Brooks to Jeremy Eyrton, fell monger of  Hungerford which had previously, on 4th October 1622 been leased to  William Atkins of Hungerford, fell monger, for two thousand years, at a  rent of one penny per annum. Atkins assigned the lease to William Wayte, a tanner, who died. Sexton married Alice his widow and thus came into  the possession of the lease.

In 1974 the Trustees of the Town and Manor purchased 7 acres of pasture from the neighbouring estate of North Standen, owned then by Lord Rootes. This was a land-locked area of pasture in the south west corner of the Marsh. A bargain was struck for the abandonment of the land south of the railway known as Pennyquicks and the stream in it, and  extinguishment of the Commoners Rights. "Rootes Meadow" was added to the  Marsh.

The area is grazed by 30-35 store cattle  each year, and although it is technically without Commoners Rights, the grazing by all  cattle is overseen by the Trustees.

It is well know for its rich diversity of flora and fauna, and much enjoyed by local walkers and bird-watchers. It is crossed by the river Dun, as well as the Kennet and Avon canal (built here c1800) and the railway (extended west from Hungerford in 1862). At the eastern end the Shalbourne Brook joins the  River Dun flowing eastwards towards the town through the adjacent meadow known in recent times as Hungerford Marsh.

An old road crossed the marsh leading from the town along Church Street, then Marsh Lane, and onto the marsh at marsh gate. The way can still be seen, crossing the canal near marsh lock, and then the ford near Marsh Cottage soon merging with the route of the modern A4.

The River Dun forms parts of  the Hungerford Fishery, and the Commoners of Hungerford have the right  to fish the water, but the Commoners of Sanden Fee do not have the right to fish the Kennet. It is said that in mediaeval times the  Sanden Fee Commoners got into financial difficulties and were bailed out by the stronger Town Commoners and therefore were obliged to give up  some of their historical rights. This remains the situation today.

Overlooking Freeman's Marsh are Isbury Cottage and the old Pest House.

Freeman's Marsh is  one of the rare pieces of southern England  combining chalk streams and alkaline marsh land. In recent centuries little attempt was made to interfere with the  natural plain and water courses and there has never been any cultivation within the area. There has been management that is essential to control injurious weeds and river work to maintain the water courses, and the  benefit of doubtful management and husbandry has been the legacy of  unimproved marsh and pasture land.

The northern part of Freeman's Marsh was registered with English Nature as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1990, recognising the exceptional habitat for both wild flowers, birds and water voles. Much of Freeman's Marsh is technically herb-poor semi-improved permanent pasture, but the area is known for its healthy populations of water vole, brown trout and grayling. Otters are also resident in the area (2010). The SSSI area of Freeman's Marsh has examples of local rarities such as Bogbean, Flat Sedge as well as a wide variety of marshland wild flowers including orchids. 

Along with the Lower Common (east of Denford Bridge), it was entered into a 10-year Higher Level Stewardship Scheme contract with Natural England in May 2008. There is now an agreed long term management plan aimed at protecting the  natural environment and the area's biodiversity.

2010 was the third summer under the agreement. Much work has been done to restore the area's wildlife - with more works to be carried out in 2010-2011. Follow this link for further details of the 2009-11 wildlife restoration work.

Freeman's Marsh is a splendid site for seeing unusual birds, including green sandpiper, water rail, snipe, jack snipe, kingfisher, and, in mid December 2010, a glossy ibis and waxwings. In May 2011 there was a pair of Chinese Swan Geese happily joining a family of Canada Geese.


Freeman's Marsh, Aug 2008


Freeman's Marsh, Aug 2008


Polecat near Cobbler's Lock
30 Jun 2008


Mute Swans 1 Sep 2008


Yearling 14 Aug 2008


Kingfisher 20 May 2010


Southern Marsh Orchids, 8 Jun 2009


Adult grass snake on Freeman's Marsh 26 Jul 2008

dickies 134w

Glossy Ibis on Freeman's Marsh,
9 Dec 2010 (by Jerry Woodham)

dickies 123w

The Glossy Ibis (above) is not the first rare bird to be seen on Freeman's Marsh!
From the NWN 3 Nov 1904:
"Mr Leonard Cundall, of The Orchard, Hungerford, shot a peculiar bird which proved to be a Northern Diver. It inhabits arctic regions and migrates to Britain's northern coasts in the winter."


A pair of Chinese Swan Geese on Freeman's Marsh, 4 May 2011

Marsh-003w Wyndham 1904

Strongrove Cottages from Hungerford Marsh
[Wyndham Series "W8642"]


Strongrove Cottage (?1960s)

See also:
- Freeman's Marsh in the Tithing of Sanden Fee Hungerford, by Robert James, 2002
- Richard and Margery Frankum, The Birds & Plants of Freemen's (sic!) Marsh, Hungerford,
1970-74,  (Also Supplement covering 1975-79)
- Norman Hidden, Freeman's Marsh: A History of Dispute, in Aspects of the Early History of
- E.L. (Jim) Davis, The Story of an Ancient Fishery, 1978
- Freeman's Marsh in the Liberty of Sanden Fee, by Robert James. Hungerford & District Times, 24th Oct 1990
- Town & Manor website
- Further information on the SSSI at www.natureonthemap.org.uk
- Pest House
- Isbury Cottage
- "From Where I Stand" by Dr Hugh Pihlens - The Adviser, 24 Mar 1981

Updated: 26.1.2013

Back to Top