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

In the 12th century there were three estates, each bearing the name Hungerford. These were the manor of Hungerford under the lordship of the de Beaumont family; the manor of Hungerford Engleford; and an estate in the parish of Hungerford of the Abbey of Bec. There was also the fee of Sandon, a rural estate which lay all around the town of Hungerford and later became identified with the town and borough.

Reference to the early existence of a parish church occurs in the Cartulary of St. Frideswide which Wigram dates c.1148 with mention of Radulfus (Ralph) ‘priest of Hungerford’ [1]. A later reference to ‘R. vicar of  Hungerford’ occurs in the Sandford Cartulary dated c.1220 [2]. It is possible that the land available for the church in or near Hungerford could have resulted from the grant which Waleran de Beaumont made to the Abbey of Bec in 1119 in memory of his father. Why this particular site was chosen it is difficult to say; two factors might have influenced it. One was that this was the best ground the grantor was willing or able to make available and the other that this was where a small community already existed or was thought likely to grow up around the church. If we look at any later street map of the town, however, we can see that the church long ago ceased to be at the centre of the local community and that the town developed particularly along the line of its present day High Street. When did this development occur and why?

During the 12th century there are additional references to ‘Eddenetune near Hungerford’ [3], to the church of Hungerford in 1147 and to Ralph, vicar of Hungerford c.1150-60; to the community of burgesses c.1170; and to the existence of ‘firma burgi’ in 1173-1175 [4] . These early references almost certainly refer to the ‘old’ settlement, in the close neighbourhood of the church building. Even the reference to the ‘firma burgi’ (that is, the right to collect tolls and rents on behalf of the king) is to a temporary arrangement which in this instance merely implies the absence of the lord. As to the ‘community of burgesses’ it is noticeable from the document in which it occurs that if the burgesses had any court to come to, it was the Bec-controlled manorial court at Hidden. It is difficult at this stage to know if the development of the town away from the church had yet begun. The references in 1170 and 1173-5 suggest that some early movement may be in progress. Dr G. Astill suggests that ‘the village documented in the early 12th century was probably centred on the parish church ........ the [new] town was probably laid out between the 1170’s and 1296 [5]’.

This is a sufficiently wide margin, but not very useful, since events which occurred in 1241 and 1248 provide evidence that borough development had already taken place. In 1241 Hungerford is named a borough and is represented at the Assizes by a bailiff and 12 jurors [6]. In 1248 in a case of the Berkshire Eyre a plaintiff complains that he was impeded from going to Hungerford market, as he had been wont to do [7]. Since a fully developed manorial burgage system involved, among other things, the existence of not only a court, and a mill, but also a regular market, this case provides strong circumstantial evidence for dating the main development of the town as having already been established by, and probably well before, 1248. Such a development could have taken place only with the encouragement or active participation of the manorial lord and his agents.

After the reference to a market in 1248, we have no mention on paper of a court in Hungerford until 1291, no mention of a mill until the two watermills recorded in the 13th century, no reference to a fair until 1361. On the other hand, in the references we do have, the mills were already operating, the market was already in existence, and we have a reference to a Hall or Court c.1220. Some Hungerford Engleford property - mostly dwelling houses - now lay within the town, and some Hungerford Engleford lands lay within the fee of Sandon. A similar situation existed with regard to the estate of the Abbey of Bec. As with Hungerford Engleford, some Bec property and lands were intermixed with the lands and property of the town, but each still retained their own lord and their own manorial courts.

From the 13th century onwards the major part of the town, in particular the High Street, was clearly in the possession of the manor of Hungerford. Land outside the town, with the exception of certain common fields which now belonged to the townsmen of Hungerford, lay in the fee of Sandon. The parish church itself lay in Sandon Fee, surrounded by several tenements and land holdings which still belonged to the Abbey of Bec.

The earliest income and expenditure accounts to have survived are those from the year 1313/14 when Geoffrey de Kyng ‘prepositus’ of Hungerford presented his account to the Duchy of Lancaster [8], in which he included income from the farm of the burgh, the market tolls and the grinding mill, together with the perquisites of the court.

There is also a specific entry of £7.18.0d from Henry Riot, bailiff of the ‘new liberty’ there. What happened was not merely the construction of a new road but the ribbon development of a new town. Burgage plots suitable for dwelling houses, with gardens and orchards about one hundred yards long stretched along both sides of the road. Back lanes later developed at the rear of the burgage plots and survive to this day.

The Berkshire Enclosure Award map of 1812 presents a lay-out very little changed from the medieval plan [9]. Earlier maps, such as that of La Roque in 1761, show the same effect, though in less detail. Local historians have noticed that even today certain of these plots (especially on the west side) have a typical bend or curve, such as occurred in medieval ploughing to facilitate the turn of the ox-team as it reached its boundary. What we have here in fact is evidence of the lay-out of a main street which cut through the rural area known as Sandon Fee. What we do not know is when exactly this occurred and who was responsible for the plan. That the new town planner was lord of the manor of Hungerford is certain, because not only did the lord alone have the power to bring about such a change but also because it was very much to his pecuniary advantage to do so.

These lands were waiting to be developed and from their development and prosperity the lord might derive a substantial increase in his revenues. What could be made of Hungerford? It had several undeveloped advantages. First it lay athwart three highways - one to the north of the town which ran east and west through Charnham Street from Newbury to Marlborough, another which ran along the south bank of the river from Kintbury to Marlborough, and a third which ran north to south, across the ford, from Oxford to Salisbury. For a town so situated a market could have a particular attraction. It could draw country dwellers with their rural produce into contact with town tradesmen, to their mutual benefit, and of course to the benefit of the lord who exacted from the town a market toll. In a bold move the lord of the manor of Hungerford decided to lay out long strips of land in a new street, which ran from the ford over the river Dun (present day Bridge Street) and up the hill onto drier ground in the direction of Salisbury. Alongside the route the land was divided into strips. These strips on either side of the new street were especially attractive to aspiring artisans and tradesmen; the unusual length of their gardens provided not only vegetable allotments and orchards but also room for business or domestic expansion if necessary.

As we have seen, as early as 1170 townsmen of Hungerford referred to themselves as burgesses at a time when they seem to have obtained the dubious right to ‘firma burgi’. Although this claim may have been due to exceptional circumstances when Robert de Beaumont was in temporary disgrace, it does indicate the undoubted existence of a town (though whether old or new is not clear) and it suggests that a form of burgage tenure had already been established. Burgage tenure meant that the householder might own his dwelling as freehold and not as previously by copyhold, i.e. dependent on the lord’s manorial court. Under burgage tenure he would be free to sell or lease the property as and when he chose, and paying only a fixed nominal rent (quit rent) which released him from all other services to his feudal lord. Burgage tenure was a feature of the new ‘model’ vill or town, which ran along the line of present day Bridge Street and High Street and was an indication of freehold rights within the manor of Hungerford.

The Enclosure Award map of 1812 gives us a picture of the ground space in which these new burgage plots had been created, and a rental of town properties compiled c.1470 fills in that space with the names of their then current owners, the amount of quit rent they paid and (in the order in which they are recorded) the location of their particular burgage strips relative to each other. In order to understand the rental fully it is necessary to consider the arrangements which are known to have existed in other towns. First of all, we may expect the houses to have been sited in such a way that access would be from the main street, and that the land within the strip lying behind the house would comprise outhouses, a well, orchard and garden. Although a main street entrance might seem to us nowadays as particularly desirable for a tradesman or shopkeeper, medieval householders preferred a more withdrawn entrance via a side alley. Only later, in the 16th century were houses built facing the street [10]. Broadly speaking, the order in which a site appears in the Hungerford quit rent rolls (together with its distinctive quit rent) enables one, other evidence being lacking, to identify the same site through the centuries until quite modern times. The annual quit rent payment was a traditional due owed to the lord of the manor, unchanged in its ancient original amount, and made originally to entitle the burgage holder to exemption from the customary manorial services.

We know from a rental of Hungerford [11] that at some date c.1470 a half burgage site was being held of the Abbey of Goring by Henry Capper, for which he paid to the Duchy of Lancaster (which was Lord of the Manor) a distinctive quit rent of 4d per annum. In addition to the quit rent the burgage tenant would also pay the normal economic rent of the time to the Abbey and this became a regular part of the Abbey’s income.

The fact that the annual quit rent remained frozen through the centuries is helpful in enabling us to identify a particular site. Collection of the quit rent was the responsibility of the town’s Portreeve. Rent rolls or lists of occupiers or owners were usually drawn up in a particular order, just as an electoral roll might be today. In Hungerford they started at the north east end of the old High Street, continued along the east side and at the top of the hill crossed the street to descend along the west side until they came to the northern end of the street. Although occasional exceptions arose for special reasons, the general result is that one can map out a series of burgage sites, on either east or west side of the High Street, which virtually always remain in the same order of recording, thus enabling the sites to be recognised down the centuries.

The earliest of these complete rent rolls is that dated by internal evidence c.1470 and the burgage details it gives also provide a picture of the planned medieval extension [12]. Interesting as these documents are, however, they bring no definite answer to the questions: when did this new development take place and who planned it? Terminal dates lie between 1170 and 1241; and the planner could only be whoever was simultaneously lord of Hungerford town, lord of Hungerford Engleford and also the holder of Sandon Fee, since all three areas were involved in the extension.

These dates determine that the choice lies between Robert de Beaumont (died 1190) and Simon de Montfort (died 1265). Among their other titles, both were Earls of Leicester; both enjoyed enormous power; both spent large periods of their life overseas; both were strong-willed, ambitious men; and the careers of both were affected by quarrels with their respective monarch.

Robert de Beaumont was the son of Robert, the first Earl of Leicester; (according to the Concise Dictionary of National Biography; 2nd Earl in other sources), date of birth not known. He inherited his father’s lands and title on the latter’s death in 1168.

Attaching himself to ‘the young king’, Prince Henry, he joined with him in the latter’s failed rebellion against Henry II (1173). As a result, his English lands were confiscated and he was imprisoned in France 1173-4. It is thought that possibly at some later stage of his life he suffered from leprosy, hence his nickname Blanchmains. Restored to his lands in 1177, he went on pilgrimage to Palestine in 1189 and died in 1190 on the journey back. If Robert were the new
town planner, it is likely that he would be most free to develop such a scheme during the years between 1177 and 1189.

Simon de Montfort was born in Normandy probably in 1208. He obtained the estates of the Earldom of Leicester in 1231. In 1238 he married Eleanor, sister of King Henry III, and in the following year was formally invested in the earldom of Leicester. Within the year he  had quarrelled with his royal brother-in-law concerning a debt he owed the king, and set off in 1240 as a crusader, returning to France in 1242. Here he helped Henry III in Poitou. Appointed Commissioner to help the king’s demand for money (1244), he further assisted Henry by undertaking the governorship of Gascony (1248), but in 1252 was force d by the king to resign his governorship. From 1253 - 1257 he seems to have been mostly in France. In 1258 he was one of the commissioners of administrative reform who drew up the Provisions of Oxford and from that time on his energies were spent in leading the opposition to the king, until his death at the battle of Evesham in 1265.

It will be seen from these brief biographies that both men were frequently absent from England, absorbed in overseas affairs. Nevertheless, both spent enough time in this country to have undertaken the development of their estates, had they so wished, and both would have had capable officers to represent them in their absence and to carry out whatever decisions or plans their lord may have charged them with undertaking. Beaumont‘s leprosy may have led to some withdrawal in his later years from an as adventurous a life as he might have wished. But this is merely assumption. De Montfort spent most of the younger years of his life overseas, but after his marriage to the king’s sister he evidently grew in power and the range of his participation in events in England was extraordinary. He was fortunate in that signs of his energy and dominance at all stages of his adult life have been recorded by his contemporaries.

Finally, if the assumption is correct that the planner of the ‘new’ town was a lord who held among his other land possessions the fee of Sandon, it may be significant that no evidence exists that Robert Blanchmains held the fee.

References :
1 S.F.Wigram, "The Cartulary of St. Frideswide's", ii p.323; charters 1124, 1132, 1133, 1134.
2 Sandford Cartulary
3 Calendar of Documents of France Vol.1 p.124
4 Wigram: pp.325, 331, 330
5 G.C. Astill Historic Towns in Berkshire, Berks. Arch. Cttee Publication no.2, Reading, 1978
6 V.C.H. Berks. Vol.4 p.185
7 M.T. Clanchy, The Berkshire Eyre of 1248, Selden Society, London, 1973
8 P.R.O.: DL29/1/3
9 Berks. Enclosure Award Map B.R.O.
10 E. Vale How to Look at Old Buildings , Batsford 1945
11 P.R.O.: DL/43/1/4 Rental of Hungerford; dated temp. Hen.VI
12 Ibid. [internal evidence suggests a date between 1460 & 1483; perhaps1470

See also:

- Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford