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This article is from "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford" by Norman Hidden, 2009.

The origin of the name Hungerford presents a number of difficult problems. We may avoid some difficulties if we are clear as to what we mean when we say ‘Hungerford’. Do we mean the town, the borough, the manor, or the parish? Because although these entities have over the years become greatly inter-related, their origins were by no means identical.

W.H. Summers in his History of Hungerford seems frequently to merge these various administrative units, sometimes with each other in the past and sometimes with those of his own day. He seems to think, for example, that the customs of the manor of Hidden and Eddington in the 12th century were the customs of the town and manor of Hungerford, which they were not [1].

One definite fact about the place we now know as ‘Hungerford’ is that its name does not appear in the Domesday Book compiled in 1086. The Domesday Book or land ownership survey carried out by the officials of King William the Conqueror earned its name from the exactness and thoroughness with which it had been carried out. ‘So narrowly did he cause the survey to be made,’ complained the writer of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ‘that there was not one single hide nor rood of land nor - it is shameful to tell but he thought it no shame to do - was there an ox, cow or swine that was not set down in the writ’. Yet this notoriously detailed document makes no mention of the name ‘Hungerford’. Such an omission can only be because in 1086 the unnamed piece of land we now call Hungerford supported no inhabitants producing any kind or form of wealth to the local lord in whose territory it lay.

The non-appearance of the place name ‘Hungerford’ in the Domesday Book is all the more surprising, not to say disconcerting, to today’s inhabitants of a pleasant and prosperous little town proud of its history, when they realise that, though Hungerford did not exist at the time of the Domesday Book, all its present day neighbouring vills or towns were already established communities then. Kintbury to the south and east, Inkpen to the south, Froxfield, Leverton, Chilton (later to be known as Chilton Foliat) to the west, and even those parts of the later town such as Eddington north of the river were also in existence as separate entities. Since all land in the Domesday Book was held either by the Crown or by tenants under the Crown in the form of manors, the question arises: in what manor did this unproductive, unsetttled piece of land lie and who might its lord have been?

The first known appearance of the name Hungerford occurs early in the next century. How did this name come about? Does its derivation give us any clue to the nature of the place or to its origin?

There are three suppositions of the derivation of the name ‘Hungerford’. The first supposition is presented by W.H. Summers, quoting from the Book of the Monastery of Hyde, written in Latin, which states that a marauding Danish chief Hyngwar c.870 met his end while crossing a morass which then became known as Hyngerford. The Latin word used (vadum) can mean both a morass or a ford. Summers does not mention this alternative. Quite rightly, however, he dismisses the tale, which is now recognised as little more than a piece of historical romance written at some date later than 1352.

A second derivation is implied by Dr. Margaret Gelling viz: the ford at the place where there is hunger [i.e. the land is infertile] [2]. This derivation seems to lean towards the earlier idea of the area being a morass or marshy swamp and thus to give an explanation of why the place was virtually uninhabited at the time of Domesday and for some twenty years or more thereafter.

A third possible derivation which has been less noticed is suggested by James B. Johnson who states that the oldest (14th -15th century) forms of Hungerford ‘all have ‘hungre’ but this can have nothing to do with the [modern] English ‘hunger’. It is Old English hongra or hangra, a hanging wood on a hill side [3]’. If this explanation is linguistically correct, it could refer to woods sloping down to the waterside near the ford, either from Eddington hill or possibly a portion of Savernake Forest, which extended to the site of what was later to become Hungerford town on the south and west.

Whichever derivation of the name is accepted, whether a ford into marsh land or a ford amid forest, the implication remains that the land to which the name was applied was uncultivated. In this it contrasts remarkably with land on the northern and drier slopes of the Kennet valley, e.g. Eddington [4].

With this background we may now return to the question in whose lordship did this land lie at the time of Domesday? There seems to be general agreement that it lay within, and at the extreme edge of what was then the royal manor of Kintbury [5]. An attempt was made by the local historian W.H.Summers to identify Hungerford with the manor of Ingleflod, Inglefol, or Ingleford, as it was variously spelled.

This tempting hypothesis was dismissed by Prof. H.Peake in his editing of Summers’ notes [6]. Peake interpolates into Summers’ work what he calls his own ‘true explanation of the origin of the manor of Hungerford’. Pointing to the heavy clay soil on the south side of the river Kennet, he writes ‘It seems probable that most of this area was from early days uncultivatable and uninhabited, and instead of being divided into townships with their village communities, was held as royal forest. The greater part belonged to the forest of Berkshire, but the western section, beyond a line drawn from Inkpen to Hungerford Park, was within the bounds of the forest of Savernake’. In such waste lands certain tenancies were granted by the king in serjeanty, and from these cleared waste lands various small manors developed. Serjeanty was land held in tenure on condition of some special service required of the tenant. Peake gives instances of these occurring within the royal manor of Kintbury ‘which consisted of Kintbury south of the river, together with the township of Hungerford and Sandon Fee,’ but excluding some lands which had been granted to the nuns of Amesbury and the various estates held in serjeanty. Peake instances clearing of wood or waste land as special services. His reference to the township of Hungerford is, of course, an anachronism. He should have written ‘the site of the later township of Hungerford’.

At some date unknown but after 1086 the manor of Kintbury was granted by the king to Robert de Beaumont, Count of Meulan, and remained in the de Beaumont family for several generations.

Summers-Peake, the Victoria County History, and the Dictionary of National Biography have differing versions concerning the descent of this family. What is known for certain, however, is that there exists a charter which refers to ‘a manor near Hungerford, Edenetona by name’ and which may be assigned to a date between 1103 and 1118.

Robert states that he is granting the manor to the church of the Holy Trinity at Beaumont in his native Normandy ‘out of the lands and honors he had acquired in England [7]’. This phrase suggests that he had received the demesne (held by the king in 1086) by royal grant.

What is important is that this reference is the earliest known appearance of the name Hungerford. Robert de Beaumont’s charter, issued possibly as early as 1103 and certainly before his death in 1118, shows that Hungerford is still a place name, not yet having developed into a town. By the time of his death, however, he clearly had acquired from the king additional grants, another charter dated 1119 referring to a debt of £2 owed by Robert to the churches of St. Mary of Bec in Bernay and St. Nicaise in Meulan (both in Normandy) in respect of Robert’s manor of Hungerford [8].

These early charters, together with others which occur later in the history of Hungerford and Eddington, show the close connection the de Beaumont family maintained with its place of origin in Normandy. The manors of Hungerford and Bec had a common lord, both manors being in the possession of Duke Robert senior. After his death in 1118 his estates were divided between his twin sons Waleran and Robert. Waleran who was the elder was given inheritance of the French lands and Robert, the younger twin, that of the English lands, which included Hungerford.

The fact having been established that a manor of Hungerford came into the possession of the de Beaumont family at some date after 1086 but before 1118, the question that remains is what area the new manor covered and what relation its area might have to later administrative units bearing the name of Hungerford. The obvious supposition is that the land of the new manor was created out of the south and western edge of the older manor of Kintbury. At about the same time it seems that the de Beaumonts acquired also the well established manor of Hidden-cum-Eddington on the northern side of the river Kennet. The conjunction of the two manors thus might serve a useful purpose in providing a source of responsibility for the maintenance of the ford and probably construction of its accompanying bridge (which certainly existed by c.1220) [9]. The focus of royal administrative concern was to maintain or encourage the development of significant trade routes; and the ford at Eddington was important to trade and officials wishing to travel from, say, Oxford to Salisbury. The new lordship of the ford, which now existed on both sides of the river, may well have been one of the decisive steps which led to the development of the town of Hungerford in the 12th century.

With the new lordship also came the development of organised religion, the building of churches, and through the clergy the existence, particularly where groups of them gathered in monasteries, of an educated and educating force. Norman families which prospered from the conquest of England were capable of showing a high degree of religious devotion, to which they may have been prompted both by concern for the salvation of their souls in the next world and for the welfare and upbringing of their descendants and dependants in this. The de Beaumont family prospered particularly well and were correspondingly notable benefactors of religious houses with which they might have some connection. In Normandy they were substantial benefactors of the Benedictine Abbey of Bec at Bernay. This abbey became famed for its learning under prior Lanfranc and his successor Anselm. Both men were so highly esteemed that they were headhunted by the Norman kings of England (William I and William II) to be in turn their special appointees to the Archbishopric of Canterbury. Through the Beaumonts the early history of Hungerford became closely associated with this famous abbey.

Several important aspects of the early history of Hungerford now begin to appear. In addition to the role of the Abbey of Bec these include the development of the manor of Hungerford Engleford, the absorption of Hidden-cum-Eddington into the parish of Hungerford, and the growth of the town particularly in the neighbourhood of the church.

The existence of a manor, which was in essence a rural estate, does not necessarily mean the existence of a town. The word ‘vill’, it should be explained, does not necessarily mean either town or village, but rather a settlement; it could be a group of houses huddled round some central feature. Nearly always such a group of houses became located around a church. The existence of a church almost certainly implies a settlement, small at first, in its immediate vicinity. The existence of the vill of Hungerford may be thus safely implied from the existence of a church there, and from the church a parish which takes its name.

References in the Cartulary of the Oxford College of St. Frideswide indicate the existence of a church in Hungerford by 1147, and in 1148 we even learn the name of its vicar - Radulfus or, in English, Ralph. No less than three charters are devoted to the relationship of the priory of St. Frideswide at Hidden and the church of Hungerford, and from their context it would seem that the church and parish of Hungerford at this time had been in existence for some years [10].

These early charters in the Cartulary of St. Frideswide are some of the most important documents, which throw light on the early development of the town of Hungerford. In 1147 a dispute which had been simmering for some years between the priory of St. Frideswide at Hidden in the vill of Eddington and the Abbey of Bec came to such a head that a settlement could be reached only by the mediation and advice of the Pope himself who, together with a commission of cardinals, Archbishops and bishops, witnessed an agreement between the two churches signed in Paris and dated 25th May 1147. This important document states that Robert and the canons of St. Frideswide’s: ‘have renounced forever the claims which they had in the church of Beaumont in favour of the monks of Bec, and have released it into the hands of Pope Eugene. In return, they have received into their permanent demesne from the said monks, by the hand of the Pope, the vill called Edineton, with the whole tithe of the demesne of the vill and two sheaves of the villein’s corn to be received from this land only; with all appurtenances in pastures, mills and meadows, in wood and field, except for the general parochial rights of the monks of Bec, and a third sheaf of the villeins’ tithe of the said vill, which properly belongs to the church of Hungerford, in which parish the vill is situated; on condition that in future they (i.e. the canons) will never be empowered to build a church or chapel in the said vill [11]’.

Here is positive evidence of the existence of the parish of Hungerford and a parish church. The agreement makes clear that the Earl of Leicester [Robert de Beaumont] who was the lord of both Eddington and Hungerford, wished to prevent the development in Eddington of a rival church to that at Hungerford. What also was at stake was whether the Abbey of Bec or the priory of St.Frideswide received the tithes of the manor of Hidden cum Eddington, the abbey’s English representative being the rector of the parish church of Hungerford.

Just as the charters of St. Frideswide’s in 1147 enable us to have  some implicit indication that a vill of Hungerford must have been in existence alongside the parish church, so thirty years later they reveal rather more explicitly a further stage in the vill’s development.

Since the Earl of Leicester was the lord of the manor both of Hungerford and of Hidden, it was an obvious convenience that his bailiff should attend a single court for both. In c.1170 the ‘burgesses’ of Hungerford presented the following certificate: ‘The burgesses of Hungerford to all etc. greetings. Know all men that by ancient custom the Earl of Leicester’s bailiffs have been used to hold the court of View of Frankpledge of the Prior of St. Frideswide once a year at about Martinmas at Hidden; but on the understanding that they should not receive or take board, or lodging allowance, or amercements and proceeds of the said court, but that all attachments or amercements and proceeds of the court should belong to the Prior and Convent. In witness whereof, by common consent those present have affixed their common seal [12]’.

The reference to the common seal of the burgesses of Hungerford has been made much of by local Hungerford historian, W.H.Summers, who declared that ‘here at last we come on the proof of the existence of an organised community in Hungerford two centuries before the time of John of Gaunt, and it deserves notice that they are called in to certify matters of ancient usage [13]’. The Charity Commissioners’ report of 1906 comments a little coolly on the claim, saying that ‘the instance is isolated and is the first and last mention of a common seal [14]’. What is interesting is that the inhabitants of Hungerford should have been willing to certify against the exaction of their own lord and that those trading south of the river Kennet were able to make common cause with the agrarian landholders of Hidden. There can be no doubt that ‘the inhabitants of Hungerford’ now clearly represent a township and are displaying notable self-confidence and sense of their rising importance.

Their implied rebuff to the Earl of Leicester’s bailiffs may have been the result of a growing sense of their burgeoning powers but may have been also aided by the political misfortune of their overlord.

This was Robert 3rd Earl of Leicester, nicknamed Blanchmains (‘whitehands’). Powerful though he was, he took the wrong side in a dispute between King Henry II and his son Prince Henry; in consequence his lands in Hungerford were confiscated. This is reflected in the Pipe Roll entries for 1174 and 1175 [15]. The Pipe Rolls were the accounts submitted to the royal Exchequer, incorporating the amounts paid and payable to the King by his tenants-in-chief e.g. lords of the manor or boroughs. These accounts for 1174 show that the ‘soke’ of the men of Hungerford was owing the king the sum of 26 shillings and eightpence as its annual farm rent. The word soke indicates a district under the private jurisdiction of a lord or other authority, in which the tenants were freemen. With the confiscation of Blanchmains’ estate the men of Hungerford now became, collectively, tenants of the king. In the following year 1175 the ‘men of Hungerford’ paid this amount due annually for the farm ‘which was in the king’s hands’. By 1177 the earl succeeded in having his lands restored; but he had ceased to be an influential force in the kingdom, and he spent his last year of life on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he died in 1190.

In the reign of King Richard I (1189-99) Feet of Fine records begin and in the year 1199 two separate transactions are recorded each of one ½ messuage in Hungerford. Fines for the reign of King John do not exist, but when recording recommences in the reign of Henry III, another messuage in Hungerford is transferred in 1219. The first burgage in Hungerford mentioned in these Fines is in 1243 and consists of 1½ burgage. It might seem therefore that Hungerford did not have burgage status in 1199 but did in 1243.


1   N. F. Hidden: The Manor of Hidden (published privately, 1987).
2   M. Gelling, Place Names of Berkshire, p.301
3   J.B. Johnson, The Place Names of England and Wales, London 1915
4   N.F. Hidden, op.cit. pp.10-11
5   Victoria County History, Berkshire Vol.iv, p.185
6   W.H. Summers, The Story of Hungerford in Berkshire, ed. H. Peake, Whitefriars Press, London, 1926
7   J.H. Round, Calendar of Documents Preserved in France Vol.1, p.123
8   Regestra Regum Anglo-Normanorum Vol.2, item 1214
9   S.F. Wigram, Cartulary of St. Frideswide p.337
10 Wigram, op.cit. pp.324-326
11 Ibid. p.235
12 Ibid. p.350
13 W.H. Summers, op.cit. p.40
14 Charity Commissioners’ Report, 1906: The Endowed Charities of Berkshire Vol.2, H-R
15 Calendar of Pipe Rolls: 1174,75

See also:

- Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford

- Domesday Manors of Hungerford

- Manorial History of Hungerford 

- Archaeological Digs (for much more on the ancient, Roman and Saxon occupation).