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.
What's it all about?
Hocktide is a two-week long festival following Easter. The most well-known day is Tutti-Day
(also known as Hock Tuesday or Hockney Day), and the chief event of Tutti-Day is the holding of the Hocktide Court.
There are a number of other functions and events that take place through the fortnight, including Ale-Tasting and the Commoners' Luncheon.
Origins of Hocktide:
The origins of Hocktide are early medieval – and probably arise from "tourns" or sheriff's (shire-reave's) courts. The shire-reave visited every town regularly, holding court often every three to four weeks, managing finance, property and misdemeanours.
This biggest court of the year was always held around Lady Day (25th March), when
the end of year accounts were presented. Lady Day marks the spring equinox (half-way mid summer -> mid-winter). In the Christian calendar it commemorates the Feasts of the
Annunciation; it preceded the birth of Christ by nine months. For the farming community, it was the first quarter-day (the others are Midsummer Day, Michaelmas Day and Christmas), the
time for the payment of rent and other manorial dues. Between 1190 and 1751 Lady Day was New Year's Day. Only when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in the UK in September 1752 in
place of the Julian calendar did New Year's Day revert to the Roman new year of 1st January. In the UK, the fiscal ("tax") year is still 5/6 April. (For more on Lady Day and
other important days in the year, see Rural Calendar)
(One (discredited) theory relates Hocktide 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.)
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.
So - the chief function of Tutti-Day is the holding of the Hocktide Court, but there are
a number of additional events held during the two weeks of Hocktide.
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 Selection of Hocktide Jury:
The first event of Hocktide is the Selection of the Hocktide Jury. It takes place on the
Tuesday following Easter Monday, and is held in the Magistrates' Room. Proceedings are led by the Steward, and presided over by Constable.
All commoners' names are put into the Bellman's hat – and the names are drawn
singly by the attending Commoners. There is a minimum of 12 and maximum of 24 required for the Court. Summons are sent out, and those chosen to attend the court are warned that if
they are absent, it is "at their peril!"
The second event of Hocktide is the Macaroni Supper, held on the Friday of Easter week.
It used to be held at the John of Gaunt Inn but nowadays is at the Three Swans Hotel.
A traditional meal of Macaroni cheese and watercress, with ale, is enjoyed, attended by
the Constable and other serving officers of the Hocktide Court.
The Macaroni Supper used to mark the end of the quit rent year, by which time the various
town rents and tolls had to be paid. It is now used to discuss possible appointments to office at the new court.
The Ale Tasting:
The third event of Hocktide is Ale Tasting. The "Assize of Bread and Ale" had 13th
century origins, when the quality of bread and ale was monitored locally in every town and village. It lapsed circa 1900, but was reinstated in the mid 1960s.
It takes place on the Monday evening before Tutti-Day in the Corn Exchange. The Constable, the Ale-tasters, all commoners and some invited guests attend, 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 o'clock.
At 8 o'clock, 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 and Liberty of Sanden Fee, are requested to attend your Court
House at 9 o'clock this morning on pain of being fined. God Save The Queen, Duke of Lancaster!"
He then walks the length of the High Street and Bridge Street repeating his call. Summers tells us that around 1900 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 Portuguese 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 (using a special traditional procedure).