Hungerford looking to the future
PUBLISHED: 14:43 12 August 2016 | UPDATED: 14:43 12 August 2016
© Anna Stowe / Alamy Stock Photo
The busy market town known for its antiques loves tradition, but rightly looks to the future, says Sue Bromley
This magazine champions the best of Berkshire, our wonderful people, the beautiful scenery and the numerous businesses, from little more than one man or woman bands to the international giants which have realised that this is the very best place to base their headquarters.
From heritage to high tech, internationally acclaimed food and drink, three racecourses, rivers and Royals, we’ve got the lot.
But when it comes to Hungerford, our most western town before the Wiltshire border where South East officially turns into the South West, there is the undeniable dark moment in its history when a gunman claimed the lives of 16 people, and then his own.
In August next year we will reach one of those dreaded dates some national newspapers love to dredge up from their archives so they can revisit ‘scenes of crimes’ – the 30th anniversary of the day which left Hungerford grieving.
It would be nice to think that, with so much time passed, they might finally draw a line under all this, but this year saw a flurry of activity as the similarly terrible day in Dunblane, Scotland, was back under scrutiny, 20 years on from that tragedy.
You never forget such things, but the truth is that our Hungerford community has moved on, with new lives, new residents and a positive focus on how the closeness of townspeople not only sees them celebrating the best of their history but looking to the future.
They share in moments such as in June when Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of the Royal County of Berkshire, James Puxley, arrived at Hungerford’s imposing Victorian Corn Exchange to present Freedom of the Town awards to three residents.
They include Janette Kersey, twice Town Mayor and currently chairwoman of CHAIN, a charity which links so much of the town together. It helps with transport to doctors, dentists, chiropodists, hospital appointments through ‘per mile’ donations, runs the West Berkshire Council ‘Handybus’ to lunches and trips out that ensure sometimes otherwise isolated people have a social life. Then there are the bi-monthly lunches in the Croft Hall and a free quarterly magazine.
Another recipient was David Clayton, who for 25 years has chaired and directed the Community of Hungerford Theatre Club, seeing many young performers go on to turn their dreams into reality, with some now professional artistes.
The third was Neale Marney, one of those people others rely on to make things happen and whose ‘civic duties’ spread across a wide range. A former chairman of governors for Hungerford Primary School and past president of The Tuesday Club, a gathering of Hungerford’s less mobile residents, Neale is also a mainstay of St Lawrence Church as both churchwarden and chorister.
He’s also been kept busy installing life-saving defibrillators and at the centre of the team who pull off one of West Berkshire’s big events each Christmas – the Victorian Extravaganza that draws thousands to the town every year.
Town and Manor
People definitely like to get together – and pull together – in Hungerford. When it came to marking HM The Queen’s 90th Birthday with the lighting of a beacon, a large crowd gathered to watch the Mayor and Mayoress, Martin and Virginia Crane, carry this out alongside Town and Manor Constable Ellie Dickens and Hungerford’s Bellman, Julian Tubb, who took over from his late uncle Robin (Bellman for 55 years).
Those ‘job titles’ provide a clue to Hungerford’s quirks and fascination with truly local history. Ellie, for instance, is known to most as the proprietor of Ellie Dickens Shoes in the High Street, but that role as Town and Manor Constable of Hungerford and the Liberty of Sandon Fee, sees her heading up an association dating back hundreds of years – itself set up to protect ancient rights of commoners.
It’s believed that Town and Manor began in the 14th century, covering the likes of Commoners’ rights to grazing, fishing and to hold markets (John O’Gaunt, son of Edward III, created the fishing rights and Hungerford’s senior school is named after him).
Today Town and Manor owns some 300 acres, much of it grazing land, but also some properties, including the John O’Gaunt Inn, Town Hall and Corn Exchange. In all, this is worth well over £6m, but this is just ‘book value’ as it’s extremely unlikely anything would ever be sold. Every year Town and Manor provides welcome charitable donations to the likes of church, youth, sports and the arts groups.
It has bailiffs overseeing stewardship of matters such as trout fishing, with all the ancient rights administered by a Hocktide court. Hocktide, marked in the fortnight leading up to Easter, includes the entertaining Tutti Day, which follows a clear up of the commons followed by some necessary ale-tasting the next day.
Tutti Day itself sees a parade in traditional costume, with The Bellman summoning Commoners to the Town Hall. Tithing Men, carrying decorated Tutti Poles, and Tuttigirls then set off to collect ‘tithes’, often sealed with a kiss.
There’s a joyous lunch, a traditional late afternoon anchovies on toast at the Three Swans Hotel, with the Hungerford Town Band playing at The Corn Exchange. On the Sunday after all this there’s a parade of Commoners, trustees and town organisations to a service at the parish church.
One issue that has been at the centre of Hungerford concerns in recent months is the possible closure of the town’s library in Church Street. It’s one of eight under such threat in West Berkshire as the council struggles to cope with Government budget cuts of £17.5m. If Hungerford Library and the others on the danger list close, this will leave just the Newbury one open in the district. The library not only serves the town but is also used by people from the nearby village communities such as those in Kintbury, Lambourn and Inkpen.
Hungerford’s library fans have launched a campaign to keep open what they consider to be a vital local resource used by people of all ages. Although it looked as though ‘transitional funding’ would give Hungerford a stay of execution for perhaps two years, there is now some doubt over this.
Campaigners formed Friends of Hungerford Library in the spring and have a page at www.facebook.com/friendsofhungerfordlibrary. As we went to press for this issue they were urging residents to ensure their voices are heard at a drop-in session organised by independent consultants brought in by the district council. Their review started in May and the consultants are expected to report back to the council by the end of August.
While we’re on the subject of reading matter, it’s good to note that The Hungerford Bookshop won the Best Berkshire Bookshop category in awards by lifestyle blog Muddy Stilettos.
The Berkshire town is twinned with Ligueil in the Indre-et-Loire department of central France and Hungerford Twinning Association will host a visit by people from the heart of the Chateaux and Loire wines region from 26 to 30 August 2016.
Will they be raising a glass at Hungerford’s Real Ale Festival at The Hungerford Club in The Croft from 23 to 26 August? We don’t know… but what a chance to sample such delights as Black Sheep Best Bitter, Sticky Wicket, Growler Gladness or local ciders on arrival!