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 Robin Tubb, summoning the Commoners to Court in 2009.
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.
For the full Hocktide Photo Gallery, click Hocktide Photo Gallery.
- Constable Greg Furr, with Tutti-Men, Bellman Robin Tubb, Orangeman and Tutti-Wenches, 9am 3rd May 2011.
- Mrs Jean Tubb, c1981. Jean assembled the Tutti Poles for very many years. (They are now assembled by Mrs Fiona Hobson).
- The late Bellman, Robin Tubb, 2009.
- Constable and Hocktide party with the Tutti-wenches, 2009.
- Hocktide Court, 2009.
- Tutti-men and Orangeman, 2009.
- The Role of the Tithingmen, 2013.
- A collage of pictures of Constable's Sunday Parade April 2013 [Tony Bartlett].
- Bellman Robin Tubb summoning the Commoners, 8am 21st April 2009.
Origins of Hocktide:
The origins of Hocktide are early medieval – and probably arise from "tourns" or sheriff's (shire-reave's) courts (see below). 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 origins of the court in Hungerford are unclear, but it is interesting to compare them with the ancient 'tourns' which were established over much of the country by the thirteenth century. The following quotation from Sir Arthur Bryant's The Mediaeval Foundation (Collins, 1966), describes a tourn:
"Twice a year, at Easter and Michaelmas, the sheriff visited every hundred in the shire to hold a tourn or criminal court. Everyone who held freehold land in the hundred except the greater magnates had to attend or be fined for absence. In the tourn or 'law hundred', peasants of villein blood as well as freemen played a part. For by Anglo-Saxon law every layman without land that could be forfeited for felony had to belong to a tithing — a group of neighbours responsible for one another's good conduct. Before the sheriffs annual view of frankpledge as it was called, the bailiff checked the tithing lists of every village in his hundred, crossing out the names of those who had died, and swearing in any lad who had reached the age of twelve, and so become in the eyes of the law a responsible citizen. Then he and every other villager paid his tithing-penny, which constituted, with the various court fees and assized rents, the profits of the hundred jurisdiction.
At the sheriffs tourn every village or township was represented by its reeve and four men who answered for any omission in its public duty and for such offences as ploughing up the king's highway or executing a thief caught red-handed without first securing the official witness of a royal bailiff or coroner. They were responsible too for the townships payment of fines imposed on it for breaches of the regulations for baking of bread and brewing of ale. They had to report to twelve freeholders called the jury of presentment all crimes that had been committed within the township. The tourn dealt also with nuisances like washing clothes in wells and polluting the drinking water. More serious offences were presented by the jury to the royal justices for trial on their next visit to the shire."
The similarities between the Hocktide Court and the ancient tourn are quite striking, and it is probable that the ceremonies which still take place today in Hungerford have their origins in these ancient courts of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
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 since the extensive refurbishment in 2013 resulted in no private dining area being available, it is now held in the Magistrates Room or the Town Hall room in Hungerford Town Hall.
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, tolls and fines had to be paid. Those funds would be "banked", and any outstanding bills were paid from the Common Coffer. The Portrieve wrote up the “Constable’s Account Book” and when the work was finished the Constable bought supper for the officers. It is thought that this meeting was usually in the John O' Gaunt Inn.
During the Second World War and the years following the Macaroni Supper fell off the Constable’s diary of events as Mr Bellis took on the annual audit so the book keeping was then changed. At the same time of course both food and money was pretty scarce. Dr Humphrey Hope reinstituted the Macaroni Supper in 1966 as he felt that it may be lost for ever.
There is no knowledege of why Macaroni was chosen. Dr Hope considered it "cheap and filling"!
The Macaroni Supper is now used to discuss possible appointments to office at the new court. There is no book keeping and discussion is of names to be put before the Court as Commoners who are qualified for higher office, as well as the making of the “Ye olde Hocktide Plantagenet Punch” concentrate.
Robert James adds: "The Macaroni Supper is attended by the Officers of the Hocktide Court and they assemble to consider the eligibility of Commoners for duty for the ensuing year. These names are a recommendation to the Jury of the Hocktide Court.
The Constable choses the menu that varies each year: Macaroni with various sauces, followed by a sweet, washed down with Ale.
Then port is served and two toasts are deeply drunk. The Constable makes the toasts, first "The Queen Duke of Lancaster", then the Constable requests all to remain standing for the second toast "To the Immortal Memory of John O' Gaunt"."
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 his 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, as a sort of tip or fee for keeping the peace over the previous year.
The Commoners Court:
At 9 o'clock prompt, the court convenes in the Town Hall, whilst the two Tutti-men, nowadays often dressed in morning suits and top hats, and carrying their traditional Tutti-poles, 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).
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. In practice, when the name of an absent commoner is called, the Bellman and Assistant Bailiff slams down a penny and shouts "Here Sir!".
Follow this for more on Properties attracting Common Rights.
Follow this for more about Common Rights.
The Steward of the Manor then reads the 'Ancient Customs', handed down since 1583. "Certain Ancient Customs perpetuallie remaining...
Ffirst for the mayntenance and better contynuance of the ancient franchises of the same Towne, there ys and tyme out of mynde alwayes hath bene kept and holden on the Tuysday called Hockenday evry yere one Courte called Hocktide Courte in the Comon Hall there at the howre of eight of the Clock in the fforenone of the same day."
The Constable next submits the various 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 John of Gaunt Inn, Town Hall, Common, Freeman's Marsh, Sanden Fee, Eddington Marsh and Harvey's Meadow are read and approved before being submitted to the Charity Commissioners. The annual turnover of the Town and Manor is currently (early 2010s) around £300,000. (The capital value of the Town and Manor estate in 2012 was £6 million).
Then follows the Election of Officers, starting with the Constable. For more on this, see Trustees and Officers.
See also: Office-holders, freesuitors, and the Rules of the Court (2009).
When the election of officers is completed, various notices and presentments regarding the administration of the fishery, the Town Hall, and the Common are read, and discussion of these and other matters takes place. When all grievances are aired, and each has had his say, the Commoners Court is closed.
The Tutti-men tour the town:
Meanwhile, the Tutti-men have set out on their journey which will last them all day.
They carry the famous Tutti-Poles, which are two-metre tall staves, decorated beautifully in a traditional way with spring flowers and ribbons. For many years this was carried out lovingly by Mrs Jean Tubb, mother of the late Town Crier Robin Tubb. Nowadays the Tutti-poles are beautifully decorated by Fiona Hobson.
Fiona Hobson with the Tutti-Poles, 23rd April 2023
It is probably these decorated poles that give Tutti-day its name, tutti being a West Country name for a nose-gay, or bunch of sweet-smelling flowers. No doubt the Tutti-men were glad of their tutti's when visiting some of the less sweet-smelling parts of the town in Mediaeval times!
In the past the Tutti-men collected the 'head-penny' from each and every householder (with commoners rights), by way of a tip for keeping the peace during the past year. This custom lapsed many years ago. Nevertheless, every commoners house is visited during the day, and inevitably the visitors are offered hospitality at each one. In the past, the Tutti-men often threw these pennies to for the benfit of the paupers and beggars of the town, but that soon resulted in a crowd of children eagerly snatching them as they followed the Tutti-men through the day.
Traditionally the Tutti-men were able to ask for a kiss from the lady of the house in addition to the head-penny. This custom has not lapsed(!), and the Tutti-men have been known to use many devices including ladders to achieve their aim!
The Orangeman supplies an orange for presentation to each lady kissed. With over 100 commoners houses to visit, and it is no wonder that the Tutti-men sometimes look rather the worse for wear. However, the Orangeman ensures that all goes well and that the whole hazardous course is completed by the end of the day!
For many decades the Tutti-men and Orangeman have been accompanied by Tutti-girls or Tutti-wenches - girls from the John o'Gaunt School, who add some colour and excitement to the group. But in April 2023 the Tutti-girls included two boys. Harry Lardner and Aidan Flanagan had special waistcoats and ties made for them, and joined fellow John O’Gaunt students Samantha Maidment, Holly Hammond and Lexi Thorp among the colourful Tutti Poles of flowers and oranges, and their tithing baskets.
The Hocktide Luncheon:
At mid-day the Commoners' Luncheon is held for all commoners, their invited guests and some ticket holders in the Corn Exchange. It was held in the Three Swans Hotel until 1974, but the move to a bigger room has meant that many more Hungerford residents are now able to enjoy the event. During the meal the Ale-Tasters are called upon to judge the quality of the ale being served, using for the purpose the large pewter tankards which are the symbol of their office. Also served at the lunch is 'ye ancient Plantaganet punch' whose recipe was traditionally handed down to successive landlords of the Three Swans.
Robert James adds (Jun 2017): "The Hocktide Luncheon menu is determined by the Constable of the day with a starter , roast beef (sometimes lamb), a sweet, a cheese board,then coffee or tea. Ale is served and the toasts are drunk in Ye olde Hot Plantagenet Punch.
The recipe of the punch is secret but it is a spirit punch of black rum, brandy, sherry and shrub with other secret ingredients and diluted with boiling water. When served the Hot Punch is a most drinkable beverage. It has been known that some have found it difficult to stand to find their way home after the luncheon."
After the meal, and the speeches by the Constable and his guest speaker, all newcomers to the Tutti-lunch, who are called 'colts', are shod, by having shoeing nails driven into their shoes (and occasionally, it is whispered, their feet!), by the local blacksmith, a post held enthusiastically for many years by Mr Peter Rackham. The hammering only stops when the colt shouts 'punch' and pays a contribution to his meal.
Copper coins, which at one time were heated first, were thrown to the children of the town in the past, but since the move to the Corn Exchange the danger of traffic has prevented this custom whose origin is quite unknown, from continuing. Recently, some coppers are thrown by the Tutti-men during their trip around the town.
The Lord Howard de Walden Trophy for the best shop window display:
In 1995, Lord Howard de Walden gave a trophy for the best shop window display on Tutti Day. The joint winners in the first year were Barnaby's and The Hungerford Arcade. The trophy is awarded annually.
In the evening, as people gather in the Three Swans to welcome hoe the exhausted Tutti-Men, it is traditional to be served anchovies on toast. The origin of this tradition is unclear. Robert James says (2016) that when he was first involved with Hocktide (before he was Constable in 1978) it was always part of events after the luncheon - hot toast and anchovies from a tin. "The lunch was pretty simple “meat potatoes greens and gravy, apple pie and custard”, beer and punch. It was always in the Three Swans at the end of lunch that we all went out into the yard to meet the children and throw hot pennies to them. If there was punch left they took with them from the dining room the punch bowl to finish off the punch."
He adds "They had I believe two magnificent china punch bowls and at the early part of the WW2 they got broken, so my Grandfather said, and it was then that Portal gave the inscribed silver Paul Storr bowl to the Court. Could be now with a value of £30-40,000!"
The Court Leet:
On the Friday following Tutti-Day, the Court Leet is held, when the new office holders are sworn in, and badges of office are passed over from the past office holders.
The Hocktide Banquet and Ball:
In past years, the final event of the week was the Hocktide Ball, held in the 1980s in the John of Gaunt School, although previously a banquet was held in the Corn Exchange to round off the proceedings. The last Hocktide Ball was held in 1982, and in 1983 a disco was held in its place.
The Constable's Parade and Service:
On the following Sunday, the second after Easter, the newly elected Constable leads his office-holders and other town officials and representatives of various organisations to St. Lawrence's Church for the 'Constable's Service', the Bailiffs staff being carried by the Bellman as they walk in procession.
The customs are carried out today, very much as they would have been many centuries ago. Hungerford's Commoners Court is now unique in the country, the last remaining court with such administrative jurisdiction over its affairs. Let us hope that the traditions will continue to be carefully re-enacted to inspire future generations with thoughts of centuries of rural English history.
Disruption in 2020 because of Coronavirus Covid-19:
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Ale-tasting, the Hocktide Luncheon and the Constable's Parade were cancelled.
The Hocktide Court and Court Leet in April 2021 was held with restriced numbers and social distancing.
- "Kissing Day at Hungerford" - a short film [2 min 40s] showing some of the events on Tutti-Day 1 Apr 1913. The film was made by "Topical Film Co Ltd" who were film manufacturers trading early in the 20th Century. They were later bought out by (or changed name to) Brent Laboratories. The London Trades Directory of 1915 shows their registered office was at 76 Wardour Street, London. The film was among a collection of items kindly given to the HHA by Garry Tubb in 2016. The HHA arranged for it to be digitised, and sound has been added to the silent film by Hugh Pihlens.
- "Hocktide in Hungerford - The Story of the Ancient Traditions", [41 mins] an excellent video made in 1991 about Hocktide and Tutti-Day, narrated by Johnny Morris. (By kind permission of ECPVideo of Newbury)
- NWN Centenary - "When the Tuttimen refused to tour (1902), and "Plane crash May 1917". (from Stewart Hofgartner)
- Hocktide Luncheon Programme, 8 Apr 1986 [HHA Archive S95]
- Hocktide Luncheon programme, 8 Apr 1986. (from Stewart Hofgartner)
- Letter re risk of Shoeing Ceremony after Hocktide Lunch, 3 Apr 1989. (from Stewart Hofgartner)
- Hocktide Luncheon programme, 24 Apr 1990. (from Stewart Hofgartner)
- Hocktide Luncheon programme, 12 Apr 1994. (from Stewart Hofgartner)
- Hocktide Luncheon programme, 25 Apr 1995. (from Stewart Hofgartner)
- Invitation to Ale Tasting, 20 Apr 2009. (from Stewart Hofgartner)
- Hocktide: HHA Archive A08
- Constable's Sunday Order of Service, 15 Apr 2018 [HHA Archive A8]