Hungerford is a market town and civil parish in Berkshire, England, centred 8.7 miles (14.0 km) west of Newbury. Its amenities include shops, cafés, restaurants, schools and sports teams or clubs in the main national sports. It has a railway station which is a minor stop on the London to Exeter (via Taunton) Line and part of the upper River Kennet flows through the town which has the confluence of its main river, the River Dun which is through the town deepest and widest as the Kennet and Avon Canal. Hungerford is on the River Dun. It is the westernmost town in Berkshire, on the border with Wiltshire. It is in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The highest point in the entire South East England region is the 297 m (974 ft) summit of Walbury Hill, centred 4 miles (7 km) from the town centre. The Kennet and Avon Canal separates Hungerford from what might be described as the town’s only suburb, the hamlet of Eddington. The town has as its western border a county divide which also marks the border of South East and South West England regions; it is 68 miles (109 km) west of central London and 55 miles (88 km) east of Bristol on the A4 road. It is almost equidistant from the towns of Newbury and Marlborough, and lies 2.5 miles (4 km) south of junction 14 of the M4 motorway.
Hungerford is a slight abbreviation and vowel shift from a Saxon name meaning ‘Hanging Wood Ford’. The town’s symbol is the six-pointed star and crescent moon. The place does not occur in the Domesday Book of 1086, but certainly existed by 1173. By 1241, it called itself a borough. In the late 14th century, John of Gaunt was medieval lord of the manor and he granted the people the lucrative fishing rights on the River Kennet.
The noble family of Walter Hungerford, 1st Baron Hungerford originated from the town (c. 1450–1450), although after three generations the title passed to Mary, Baroness Hungerford who married Sir Edward (afterwards Lord) Hasting and the family seat moved to Heytesbury, Wiltshire. During the English Civil War, the Earl of Essex and his army spent the night here in June 1644. In October of the same year, the Earl of Manchester’s cavalry were also quartered in the town. Then, in the November, the King’s forces arrived in Hungerford on their way to Abingdon.
During the Glorious Revolution of 1688, William of Orange was offered the Crown of England while staying at the Bear Inn in Hungerford. The Hungerford land south of the Kennet was for the centuries, until an 18th-century widespread growth in cultivation the area, in Savernake Forest. St. Lawrence’s parish church stands next to the Kennet and Avon Canal. It was rebuilt in 1814–1816 by John Pinch the elder in Gothic Revival style and refurbished again in the 1850s. In the late 19th century, two policeman were shot by poachers in Eddington. Their memorial crosses still stand where they fell.
Hungerford is the only place in the country to have continuously celebrated Hocktide or Tutti Day (the second Tuesday after Easter). Today it marks the end of the town council’s financial and administrative year, but in the past it was a more general celebration associated with the town’s great patron, John of Gaunt (see below). Its origins are thought lie in celebrations following King Alfred’s expulsion of the Danes.
The ‘Bellman’ (or Town Crier) summons the Commoners of the town to the Hocktide Court held at the town hall, while two florally decorated ‘Tutti Men’ and the ‘Orange Man’ visit every house with commoners’ rights (almost a hundred properties), accompanied by around six Tutti Girls, drawn from the local school. Originally they collected ‘head pennies’ to ensure fishing and grazing rights. Today, they largely collect kisses from each lady of the house. In the court, the town’s officers are elected for the coming year and the accounts examined. The court manages the town hall, the John of Gaunt Inn, the Common, Freemen’s Marsh, and fishing rites in the Rivers Kennet and Dun.
There is an old legend that “Hingwar the Dane” (i.e. Ivarr the Boneless) was drowned accidentally while crossing the Kennet here, and that the town was named after him. This stems from the probably mistaken belief that the Battle of Ethandun took place at Eddington in Berkshire rather than Edington, Wiltshire or Edington, Somerset.