Hocktide in Hungerford
is one of the best known of all ancient English ceremonies still taking place in the twenty-first century. It is thought that it is only in Hungerford that this festival continues to be marked and celebrated.
Follow these links for a brief Tutti-Day Schedule,
or a video of the Bellman summoning the Commoners to Court.
See also: Hocktide Photo Gallery.
The chief function of Tutti-Day is the holding of the Hocktide Court, and the other events of the week such as the Ale-Tasting and the
Commoners' Lunch are largely modern embellishments.
Origins of Hocktide: The origins are unclear. One theory relates it to a medieval festival that may have celebrated the massacre of the Danes in England
or the death of Harthacanute in the 11th century. Traditionally the festivities consisted of a practice called binding: the men of the parish tying up the women and demanding a kiss for
their release. The next day the women would tie up the men and demand a payment before setting them free. The monies collected would then be donated to the parish funds.
An alternative, and far more plausible, theory relates them to the ancient tourns (see panel on right). In essence, the festival marks the end of the medieval
The origin of the name Hocktide
is unclear. It has been suggested that it derives from the Saxon "Heah-tit" or "high festival". No trace of the word is found in Old English, and hock-day, its earliest use in composition, appears first in the 12th century.
The presentation of end-of-year accounts, fines, records, elections and changes of office-holders are key to the underlying events of the
festival. Of course, in the present day, we now have a fixed national tax year (5/6th April), but it was originally related to the New Year, and this in turn originated
because of Easter being around this time. Hocktide fits comfortably with the work of the Commoners Court, and the closing of end-of-year accounts, and the celebration of the New Year.
Hocktide was celebrated on the second Monday and Tuesday after Easter Sunday. Hock-Tuesday was an important term day, rents being then payable, for with
Michaelmas it divided the rural year into its winter and summer halves. (See Rural Calendar)
Follow this link for an transcription of the Hocktide
Court Book of 1583, and a sample of the original document.
The key events of Hocktide:
Summers gives a detailed account of the proceedings and customs of Hocktide as they were enacted at the beginning of the twentieth century, and only minor changes have taken place since, but some detail is perhaps worth noting here.
The proceedings start with the Macaroni Supper held at the John of Gaunt Inn on the Friday of Easter week. The meal of Macaroni cheese and watercress is attended by the Constable and other serving officers of the Hocktide Court, who discuss possible appointments to office at the new court. In bygone days the Macaroni Supper marked the end of the quit rent year, by which time the various town rents and tolls had to be paid to the Constable.
A fairly recent innovation has been the introduction of an evening of Ale-Tasting
on the following Monday evening, the night before Tutti-Day itself. All commoners and some invited guests join the Constable and official Ale-Tasters in the Corn Exchange to share in the tasting(!) of the ale. A cold buffet is served, and the evening makes a splendid prelude to the important day to come.
The following day, the second Tuesday after Easter, is then the most celebrated day in the Hungerford calendar. Hockney Day, Hock Tuesday, or more usually nowadays Tutti-Day, is
when the Hocktide Court, or Commoners Court is held in the Town Hall. Previously it was held at '8 of the clock in the forenoon', but since about 1900 it has started at 9
At 8 o'clock, however, the Town Crier, in his role as Bellman and Assistant Bailiff, stands on the balcony of the Town Hall, sounds the Lucas Horn, and
summons all commoners to the court with the words: "Oyez! Oyez! All ye Commoners of the Town and Manor of Hungerford are requested to attend your Court House at 9 o'clock this
morning on pain of being fined. God Save The Queen!" He then walks the length of the High Street and Bridge Street repeating his call. Summers tells us that at the turn of the century it was customary for the Assistant Bailiff to be supplied at Hocktide with a new official dress, including a grey coat with scarlet facings, and brass buttons, and with a tall hat with gold bands. The dress is the same today, but our present Crier and Assistant Bailiff has to manage as best he can without the luxury of new dress clothes annually!
A further custom in the early 1900's was that those commoners who were unable to attend court came out into the street and paid the Assistant Bailiff the
'Commoners Penny', which seems to have taken the place of the shilling fine previously. This 'Commoners Penny' is quite separate from the 'head penny' which is
collected later in the day by the Tutti-men.
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The Commoners Court: At 9
o'clock prompt, the court convenes in the Town Hall, whilst the two Tutti-men start out on their journey around the old town, accompanied by the Orange-man, a sort of mentor and
guide, whose experience over many years is of considerable value to the Tutti-men during their strenuous day.
At the head of the meeting is the Constable, who takes his seat in a carved ebony chair often referred to as the 'John of Gaunt' chair, although it is
probably of Portugese origin, and dating from the Elizabethan period! The Lucas Horn is laid before him, and proceedings commence. (See Hocktide Court Agenda 2011).
The Hocktide Jury of at least 12 commoners is sworn in, and they select a foreman. The roll of commoners is called, and the fines are now paid by a friend so
that his right of pasture and fishing is not lost for the following year. The Steward of the Manor then reads the 'Ancient Customs', handed down for generations.
The Common Rights are usually for two or four cows (and maybe one horse also), depending originally on the number of animals the owner could support through
the winter months. The rights to fish in the Town and Manor water and to shoot on the Common and Freeman's Marsh, are not transferable, being held by the Commoner in person, who,
besides being the owner of the property with rights, must actually live within 5 miles of the Town Hall. It is customary in the present day for the grazing rights to be waived, however,
and the Trustees let the grazing to various local farmers. The sum thus raised is used to maintain the common pasture (fence repairs, tree-felling, planting, and fertilizing), and any
balance accrues to the general Town and Manor funds for maintaining the Town Hall. Two local farmers (the Harvey brothers) act as Haywards, and have given invaluable service for many
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Following the reading of the list of Commoners, the Constable next submits the accounts, an item which in previous years must have occupied some considerable
time. Quit-rents and tolls are no longer collected, of course, but the fishery accounts, and those of the Town Hall, Common, and John of Gaunt Inn are read and approved before being
submitted to the Charity Commissioners.
Then follows the Election of Officers, starting with the Constable. For this, the highest office in the Town and Manor, a candidate must have already served as
Tutti-man, Bailiff, and Port-Reeve. Often he is re-elected for a second or third year of office. It is interesting that until 1926 the Constable was also the official Coroner for the
area. The Port-Reeve (or Portrieve), whose duty in earlier years was to collect quit-rents, is next elected, but traditionally this position now goes to the Bailiff of the preceeding year.
The Bailiff used to collect the tolls due at the fairs and markets in the town, and as a symbol of authority he has a black, silver mounted
staff, bearing the date 1688. Next to be elected are the Water-Bailiffs, now eight in number, reflecting the increasing importance and complexity of caring for the towns stretch of river,
and the eight Overseers of the Common (Port Down), whose job is all the more responsible now that the Common is used not only for grazing, but for innumerable sports and activities.