For the earlier history relating to the Town and Manor of Hungerford see
- The Origins of the Town and Manor, covering the period from Domesday to the mid 1500s. This explains how the townspeople of Hungerford came to claim rights of the markets and fairs, herbage and pannage, and the rights of free fishing. 200 years of "John of Gaunt" rights began to break down in the mid 1500s.
- The Case of the Missing Charters, covering thet important chapter of Hungerford's history between 1565 and 1573.
Following "The Case of the Missing Charters" in 1573 and the subsequent surveys, and enquiries over the next 40 years, the relationship between the town of Hungerford and the Duchy of Lancaster was eventually settled with the Grant of James I (1612) and the Feoffment of 1617. This page covers that history.
The 1573 Commission found against the townspeople of Hungerford:
The Duchy of Lancaster Commission which sat in Hungerford in July and September 1573 eventually pronounced that:
- There was no proof any earlier charters (giving rights and privileges to the townspeople) had existed, so no one could be charged with stealing them.
- Even if documents had been taken, there was no proof that the town had suffered any loss as a result!
Queen Elizabeth I's letter to the people of Hungerford, 7 Sep 1574:
"Her Highness commanded me to signify unto her Chancellor and Council of the Court of the Duchy of Lancaster, that the said inhabitants should hereafter have use and enjoy without interruption all such liberties and profits and benefits as heretofore, time out of mind, and remembrance of man, they had used and enjoyed: yielding, paying and doing such rents, duties and services as had always been accustomed. Except they knew some special good cause and matter to the contrary, where if any such were her Highness' pleasure, was to be advertised by her said Chancellor." (Copy in BRO. See Photo Gallery).
- The Hocktide Court Book, 1583, starting with "The Libertie of the Towne of Hungerforde detailed Certayne ancient customs perpeptuallie remayning".
- Transcript of Queen Elizabeth's letter supporting Hungerford Rights, 6 Sep 1575.
The Duchy's main concern was to establish the status of the town:
- It was not a Borough, nor had it ever been one!
- It was not a "Corporation" fit to plead - if a charter of incorporation had been granted by John of Gaunt, there would have been clear evidence of it elsewhere (but Hungerfordians always said that the Duchy copy of the John of Gaunt charter had been lost when the Savoy Palace burned down in the Peasant's Revolt of 1381).
This was clearly all of great concern to the people of Hungerford. Once it was evident that Hungerford was not a corporation, then other liberties and privileges looked less secure. The residents of Hungerford, having enjoyed free fishing (and other rights) for generations, were not going to give up the benefits lightly.
A further 40 years of legal wrangle:
The result of this case was the signal for the officials of the Duchy to try to prove that the Town's claim to the Hocktide Court, the Market, the Fishery and the pasturage were encroachments upon the rights of the Crown.
Once it was evident that Hungerford was not a corporation, then other liberties and privileges looked less secure. The Duchy of Lancaster officials attempted to regain control of the fishery, or at least to get some payment for it," and prevent the apparent 'poaching'.
The residents of Hungerford, having enjoyed the profits of markets and fairs, and free fishing for generations, were not going to give up the benefit lightly. A 'battle royal' commenced! For the next 40 years or so, a succession of legal wrangles, inquiries, and surveys was carried out.
There was also an attack from another in that John Hall of Kintbury, who has been mentioned before as the "farmer of the Vicarage of Kintbury", claimed the Bailiwick of Hungerford, and, in the words of the townspeople in their appeal to the Earl of Pembroke, the Steward of the Manor of Hungerford, "intended to break and infringe their ancient riqhts and privileges".
Hungerford appeals to Queen Elizabeth I:
In 1574, one year after the Charters Case, the burgesses of Hungerford sent an appeal to Queen Elizabeth, who was staying at Wilton House with the Earl of Pembroke, who was High Steward of Hungerford.
She replied on 7th September 1574, confirming 'that the said inhabitants should hereafter have use and enjoy without interruption all such liberties and profits and benefits as heretofore time out of mind and remembrance of man they had used and enjoyed'.
It was skilful - she graciously ordered that the inhabitants should have their ancient rights, but carefully did not specify what they were!
The 1583 customs "perpetuallie remaining":
9 years later (1583) the townspeople placed on record their ancient customs. If one lesson had been learnt, it was that a clear statement would help prevent further encroachment on their liberties.
They wrote "The Libertie of the Towne of Hungerforde detailed Certayne ancient customs perpeptuallie remayning". This set out, in English, the election of the jury at the Hocktide court; the officers of constable, coroner, etc; and all the other ancient ceremonies connected with Hocktide. This document is still used at the Hocktide Court today.
In 1591, a report stated that The Kennet was a "fayre river which ...by some restraynte would yeild Her Majesty some proffyt where nowe it yeldeth none, in that the inhabitants pretent title therunto by usage".
The Duchy officials left Hungerford alone until 1598, when the Queen granted a lease of the Town to Mathias Bacon, Deputy Clerk to the Duchy Council, without fine, since there was doubt as to whether he would get "peaceful possession". Needless to say, that fear was realised and Bacon subsequently assigned his lease to a body of people representing the Town. In fairness to the officials it must be said that their main object seemed to be to collect the dues from the town, market, fishery etc. and not to deprive the people of their privileges.
The 1611 Commission on the Fishery:
Eventually, in 1611, the Duchy set up yet another commission to inquire into the history of the 'Hungerford Brook, famous above all rivers thereabouts for good trout, which fishery had been impaired by lewd and ill-disposed persons fishing unlawfully'.
Of the many concluding statements, the following were perhaps the crux:
- The fishing extended from Elder Stubb to Irish Stile;
- The King (by now James I) was Lord Royal of all water except the mill pounds;
- The townsmen of Hungerford had had the right of fishing in the waters, three days a week, time out of mind.
There was a most interesting and informative echo of the Charters case in 1611, when a Special commission sat in Hungerford to decide certain facts about the River Kennet. A witness , one William Cannon, deposed that Mr Chocke of Avington had "shutt and dammed a pool called Batt's Lake at Avington after he had gotton by sinister means the towne's ancient charter into his hands, to whom the deponent being then a servant in the house did see it delivered by the hands of William Butler and John Lovelake, the which charter the sayd deponent saw the sayd Mr Chocke receive of them and give them for it £3 6s 8d in money, and then when he had gotten the Charter into his own hands by bribing with money, the sayd Butler and Lovelake, knowing the bounds of the river, he presently shut up the lake" .
Cannon would have been a lad of about fifteen years when the Charter of John of Gaunt was produced in the Hocktide Court and about 22 years when the case was finally heard. His evidence, had it borne up, would have been vital to the people of Hungerford and would have influenced the whole course of events.
The Grant of the Manor of Hungerford under James I, 1612:
It had been a bruising 39 years, and it signalled an end to the 'John of Gaunt' era of hearsay rights. In the future, Hungerford was going to have its rights secured on a legal and recognized basis.
As they were not a corporation, the townspeople decided to proceed by means of feoffees, or trustees.
Eventually, in March 1612, James I duly granted the burgage or Manor of Hungerford to two London men (probably solicitors or Duchy agents, John Eldred and William Whitmore. This included:
- all the perquisites and profits of court
- all that piscary or fishery of all rivers within the manor of Hungerford
- all manner of tolls of fairs and markets, and
- all manorial rights.
Complete lists of the tenements are contained in the Surveys, and these form the basis of the commoners properties to this day.
In May 1612, 'in consideration of a certain sum of money', Eldred and Whitmore conveyed precisely the same package to four Hungerford men - John Lucas, Robert Field, Thomas Carpenter, and Ralph Mackerell.
The Feoffment, Jun 1617:
Several more transfers over the next few years before the legal situation was considered satisfactory.
Eventually, on 16 June 1617, the Borough of Hungerford was conveyed to Ralph Mackerell (Constable), and 13 other local men 'in trust for the inhabitants'.
They became the first feoffees or trustees of the Town and Manor of Hungerford.
The trust documents laid down guide lines to ensure the smooth running of the Borough for the good and mutual benefit of its inhabitants.
The lord of the manor became a corporate body – and Hungerford became a self-governing body with associated privileges and powers.
400 years later, these articles are still followed today.
The next chapter in the history of the Town and Manor is under "The 1908 Charity Scheme".
Mr E.L. "Jim" Davis wrote a chapter about this in his unpublished book on The Hungerford Common Port Down:
"There is no doubt that the decision in the "Charters" case that Hungerford was not a Borough rankled with the inhabitants and that there was a strong feeling that some measure of self-government had to be obtained. What degree of understanding or connivance existed it is, of course, impossible to tell, but in the 9th year of his reign 1612 on March 2nd King James the First, under The Great Seal and the seals of the Duchy and Palatinate of Lancaster, granted the Manor of Hungerford with all and singular, its rights, etc, and also the rents of assize of the said Borough to John Eldred and William Whitmore of London, by fealty only in free and common socage and not in capite nor by knight service, in lieu of all other rents, services, exactions and demands whatsoever.
Lists of the payers of rents of assize and their tenements were contained in the Surveys mentioned in the previous chapter. The Present "Commoners" are the occupiers of the messuages belonging to the tenants of 1612.
It is not known what connection if any the two gentlemen above had with Hungerford, but the fact remains that later the same year on May 27th Eldred and Whitmore conveyed the Manor complete "in consideration of a certain sum of money" to John Lucas, Robert Field, Thomas Carpenter and Ralph Mackerell of Hungerford and that, in March the following year these people conveyed the Manor to William Elgar of Elcot in Kintbury and one Anthony Field who, in turn the following day conveyed the Manor to a consortium of worthy people of Hungerford and a deed was drawn up with the intention of securing the Manor for the good of the inhabitants of Hungerford.
This settlement was not considered satisfactory and legal proceedings ensued and finally, on June 16th 1617, Sir Francis Knowles, Knight, Thomas Sheaffe, D.D., John Wirrall, Clerk, John Lucas and Robert Field, at the instance of the townsmen there and by virtue of an order or decree granted the last Easter term in His Majesty's High Court of Chancery upon the humble petition of the inhabitants of the said town and consideration of the sum of one penny, bargained and sold Ralphe Mackerell, Thomas Carpenter, Ralphe Harrold, Tristam Doman, John Smith, John West, William Wayle, Henry Atkins, Francis Geneway, John Burche, William Northcroft, Humfrey Whittenton and Thomas Garme, the Borough and Manor of Hungerford etc. (as in the letters patent) upon trust to observe and perform the articles following -
- "The Feoffment wherein to the Articles are annexed, also the declaration of Trust to be made for and concerning the Borough of Hungerford shall be kept in a Chest prepared to keep the evidences of this Borough".
- "That all the yearly rents, revenues, issues and profits of the Borough conveyed by the said feoffment of the Feoffees therein named shall be forever for the use benefit and behoof of the inhabitants of the borough, and from time to time to be ordered and disposed of by the Constable of the town for the time being and by 20 of the chief inhabitants of the town besides to be chosen as well forth of the Feoffees for the time being as other inhabitants, or so ordered and disposed as by the greater number of them the said Constable and the said twenty inhabitants, which 20 inhabitants shall be chosen by the Constable and six of the inhabitants as have borne the office of Constable"
- "That nothing was to be done without the consent of the Constable and persons above mentioned".
- "That the Feoffees might take their expenses out of the rents"
- "That accounts were to be yearly rendered on the Hock Tuesday in the Town Hall before the Constable and the other parties above mentioned."
- "That howsoever the estate and interest of the Borough is settled and vested in those Feoffees, because the Borough not be incorporated the inhabitants in general are not persons enabled by law to purchase, yet that they the said Feoffees, not as Lords but as Fellow members, shall submit to orders ordained by the Jury at the Courts."
- That a Feoffee leaving the Town should cease to be a Feoffee".
- "That when six of the Feoffees were dead or departed the town, six more of the inhabitants of the town were to be chosen by the Constable and persons mentioned in the "Second Article"."
This Feoffment created a Charitable Trust and the estate was administered under it until 1908 when the Charity Commissioners produced a Scheme 291 years later. This purports to be a history of the Port Down, but it may interest the reader to know what other property was acquired by the feoffment. It was
- The Port Down, then of about 115 acres,
- The inn known as the Duke of Lancaster's Arms, or The John O'Gaunt
- The Hungerford Fishery in the River Kennet
- The Spar or Withy Beds in the River Kennet
- That part of the River Dun lying within the Manor of Hungerford. Note - The Liberty of Sanden Fee was not mentioned in the Grant of feoffment.
- The Wednesday Market and Fairs on two days of the year.
- The Borough of Hungerford , including the Manor of Hungerford, comprising 106 ancient Rents of Assize in Hungerford and View of Frank Pledge and Court Leet.
Thus Hungerford, although denied Borough status, became a self-governing body, with all the privileges and powers of a small English Borough, except that its principal office, the Constable, was not, ex officeo, the Chairman of the Petty Sessional Court. The Constable, however, did hold the ancient office of Coroner until 1926, the last Constable to exercise the office being Mr R. A. Bartholomew, "Dick" Bartholomew's father. In 1844 it was suggested that the Municipal Corporation Act had taken the office from the Constable, but the suggestion was rejected with indignation.