One of England’s best known and most ancient customs, medieval Hocktide is the also the most important event in the life of the Town & Manor of Hungerford, and takes place annually on the second Tuesday after Easter.
It’s believed that Hungerford is the only place where this festival continues to be marked and celebrated.
The chief function of Tutti Day is the holding of the Hocktide Court
The whole celebration spans 2 weeks, and encompasses the selection of the Hocktide Jury, Ale Tasting, Tutti Day (also known as Hock Tuesday or Hockney Day), the all important Hocktide Court during which the selected Jury are sworn in, and the Hocktide Luncheon, followed by Court Leet for the swearing in of the new Constable and other Officers. The finale, the Constable’s Parade and church service, conclude events on the following Sunday.
First Tuesday after Easter – Selection of Hocktide Jury – Town Hall – 6pm
All Commoners are invited to select the new Hocktide jury, which takes place at 6pm in the Town Hall. The new Jury is then issued with a summons to attend the Hocktide Court the following Tuesday.
Friday – Macaroni Supper – Town Hall – 6.45pm
The Commoner Officers of the Town & Manor meet in the Town Hall to enjoy a supper based around macaroni, where potential office holders for the upcoming year are discussed. The Plantagenet punch is also mixed.
Sunday – Common clear-up – Downgate – 10am
Commoners, friends, camp-followers – everyone is welcome to meet and help clear up the Common, ready for the arrival of the cows for the new grazing season. We usually start in the morning, so we can be finished in plenty of time to reward ourselves with a pub lunch.
Monday – Ale Tasting – Corn Exchange – 7.30pm
Ale Tasters, last year’s Tutti Men, carry out the onerous task of testing and declaring on the quality of the local ale. It’s a tough job, but we usually find someone willing to do it!
Tuesday – Tutti Day (Hocktide) – a long action-packed day…
8am – Town Hall Balcony – Summoning of all Commoners to Hocktide Court
The Bellman will sound the Constable’s Horn from the Town Hall balcony. All Commoners will be summoned by the bell and proclamation to attend the Hocktide Court.
9am – Town Hall steps – Tutti Men set off
The Constable presents the decorated Tutti Poles to the Tutti Men (also known as Tything Men) who, accompanied by the Orangeman and Tutti Girls, set off to collect the dues from the Common Right properties
9.05am – Town Hall – Hocktide Court
The selected Hocktide Jury attend and all Commoners are called. Spectators are welcome to watch and listen to this very old tradition.
12.30 – Corn Exchange – Hocktide Luncheon
The traditional highlight of the town’s year, a four-course meal with various toasts, which includes the Tutti Men and Orangeman.
After lunch – Shoeing the Colts
The Blacksmiths proceed with shoeing the colts, a tradition carried out light heartedly, in which first-time visitors to the lunch are caught and ‘shod’ (the shoe is real, the shoeing isn’t!) A little struggle makes it all the more fun, but colts can be shod gracefully if they’d prefer.
5pm – The Three Swans Hotel – Anchovies on Toast
A traditional and tasty treat, courtesy of the Three Swans.
7.30pm – Corn Exchange
The Hungerford Town Band play for the pleasure of the people of Hungerford.
9pm – The Three Swans Hotel – Return of the Tutti Men
The last port of call for the Tutti Men. The Constable and collected people of Hungerford welcome them safely back at the end of their long and arduous day.
Friday – Town Hall – Court Leet
The Court holds its first session, where they swear in the Office Holders elected at the Hocktide Court.
Sunday – Constable’s Sunday
10.45am – Outside the Town Hall – Constable’s Sunday Parade
The Constable, Steward, Commoners, Trustees and various organisations from the town parade from the Town Hall to the Parish Church – St Lawrence’s. The Bellman organises the procession, which is led by the Hungerford Town Band.
11.15am – St Lawrence’s Church – Constable’s Service
Once at the church, those gathered will celebrate the life of the Community of Hungerford.
The most important event in the Town & Manor of Hungerford’s calendar, the early medieval Hocktide is also one of England’s most ancient, and still proudly going strong.
Early medieval, Hocktide probably arises from ‘tourns’ or sheriff’s (shire-reave’s) courts, when the sheriff would visit the town regularly, holding court to manage finance, property and misdemeanours.
The origin of the name Hocktide is unclear. One theory is that it’s named after ‘Hocking’, a springtime Pagan ceremony, while another is that it derives from the Saxon ‘Heah-tit’ or ‘high festival’. No trace of the word is found in Old English, and hock-day, its earliest use in composition, appears first in the 12th century.
In the legal world, the judicial year usually starts in the autumn, but in Hungerford the Hocktide Court sits in the spring. This may be because the Commoners of Hungerford have Rights linked specifically to spring-related activities such as grazing and fishing.
The tradition of Hocktide dates back to the 14th century, when John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who owned much of the land around Hungerford, gave certain fishing rights to the townsfolk, which continue to this day. This was in addition to privileges already bestowed on the town by his father, Edward III, and grandfather Edward I, who gave the rights to hold charter markets and fairs.
Hungerford’s first Constable was John Tukill, appointed in 1458
The role of Constable, one of only five that remain throughout the UK, is supported by a team of Officers of the Court and Trustees. Trustees have administered the estate since 1617, which today covers 400 acres of land, 5.3 miles of trout streams and 3.2 miles of canal fishing.
The first key event, the selection of the Hocktide Jury, takes place on the Tuesday after Easter Monday. The town’s Commoners (those who live or have businesses in one of 103 eligible premises) have their names put into the top hat belonging to the Bellman (the town crier); those whose names are drawn are required to attend Court on Tutti Day – the most important day in Hungerford’s calendar.
The Macaroni Supper used to mark the end of the quit rent year, by which time the various town rents, tolls and fines had to be paid. Those funds would be ‘banked’, and any outstanding bills were paid from the Common Coffer. The Portrieve wrote up the ‘Constable’s Account Book’ and when the work was finished, the Constable bought supper for the officers.
Today there is no book keeping at the Macaroni Supper, instead it’s used to discuss possible appointments to office at the new court, as well as the making of the ‘Ye olde Hocktide Plantagenet punch’ concentrate.
Having lapsed in 1900, this was reinstated in the late 1970s.
The Constable, Ale Tasters, all Commoners and some invited guests attend, to share in the tasting(!) of the ale.
Two quart-sized (two pints) pewter tankards were found especially for the purpose. A cold buffet is served, and the evening makes a splendid prelude to the most important day to come.
Previously it was held at ‘8 of the clock in the forenoon’, but since about 1900 it has started at 9 o’clock. However the day still starts at 8am, when the Bellman (a role filled by Julian Tubb since 2012, following in the footsteps of his uncle) gives mighty blasts on the Constable’s Horn (a replica of an ancient hunting horn made by Robin Tubb, uncle of our current Bellman, Julian Tubb), summoning all Commoners to Court with the words:
“Oyez! Oyez! All ye Commoners of the Town and Manor of Hungerford and Liberty of Sanden Fee, are requested to attend your Court House at 9 o’clock this morning on pain of being fined. God Save The Queen, Duke of Lancaster!”
In the early 1900s it was custom that Commoners who were unable to attend Court came out into the street and paid the Assistant Bailiff the ‘Commoners Penny’. This ‘Commoners Penny’ is quite separate from the ‘head penny’, which is collected later in the day by the Tutti Men.
The Hocktide Court
The Hocktide Court convenes at 9am prompt in the Town Hall, when the business of the Town & Manor is conducted much as it has been for over 450 years, including the role call, presentation of the accounts, the reading of rights of the Commoners, and the swearing in of the new Hocktide Jury.
The Constable presides over the Court, which is managed by the Steward, and takes his or her seat in a historic carved ebony chair, probably of Portuguese origin, and believed to date back to the Stewart period.
The Constable’s Horn is laid before him (or her) and proceedings commence.The Tutti Men tour the town
While the Court is in progress, two of the four appointed Tutti Men (also known as Tything Men), historically responsible for keeping law and order before the advent of the police force, visit the 103 properties with Commoners’ Rights, accompanied by the Orangeman, the mentor and guide, and several Tutti Girls.
The Tutti Men carry Tutti Poles decorated with flowers, which helped to mask the stench of the less sweet-smelling houses of medieval times!
A Tutti Pole is a two-metre tall staves, traditionally and beautifully decorated with spring flowers and ribbons. It’s likely that it’s these decorated poles that give Tutti Day its name – tutti being a West Country name for a nose-gay, or bunch of sweet-smelling flowers.
On top of each pole is an orange, representative of the town’s loyalty to William of Orange who, with his wife Queen Mary, introduced the first democratic monarchy to oversee the English parliament.
Here’s Trustee and Tutti Pole dresser, Fiona Hobson, at work creating one of the beautiful, fragrant Tutti Poles.
The Orangeman guides the Tutti Men through the town. It was the Tutti Men’s duty to collect a ‘head-penny’ from each lady of the Commoners’ households while their husbands attended Court.
The Commoners always offer a drink and a snack to see them on their way, before parting with a few pennies to be thrown ‘for the poor’ – in later years the pennies collected were thrown for the children who would scramble for them. In exchange, the Orangeman supplies an orange for presentation to each lady kissed.
This custom has not lapsed, and the Tutti Men have been known to use many devices, including ladders, to achieve their aim.
With more than 100 Commoners houses to visit, and a day that lasts from 9am to 9pm, it’s no wonder the Tutti Men and Orangeman can sometimes look worse for wear. However, the Orangeman ensures that all goes well, and that the whole hazardous course is completed by the end of the day.
The Hocktide Luncheon
At mid-day the Hocktide Luncheon is held in the Corn Exchange – all Commoners and their invited guests are welcome, but demand means it has to be by ticket only – on a first come first served basis.
During the meal the Ale Tasters pronounce on the quality of the ale being served, using the large pewter tankards which are their badge of office. Also served at the lunch is ‘ye ancient Plantaganet punch’ whose recipe was traditionally handed down to successive Constables.
After the meal, the speeches by the Constable and guest of honour, and traditional toasts, all newcomers to the Hocktide lunch, known as ‘colts’, are shod. This involves having shoeing nails driven into their shoes (and occasionally, it is whispered, their feet), by the local blacksmith, a post held enthusiastically for many years by Peter Rackham. The hammering only stops when the colt shouts “punch” and pays a contribution toward the refill of the punchbowl.
Copper coins were once thrown to the town’s children, but these days pennies are thrown by the Tutti Men during their trip around the town. Since 2013, and the introduction of the Tutti Day Crafts aimed at children (held at the United Reformed Church), this practice has been revived and also includes sweets!
The Lord Howard de Walden Trophy for the best shop window display: In 1995, Lord Howard de Walden gave a trophy for the best shop window display on Tutti Day. The joint winners in the first year were Barnaby’s and The Hungerford Arcade. The trophy is awarded annually.
After lunch, people gather in the Three Swans where they enjoy the salty dish of anchovies on toast (which also ensures a continuing thirst), supplied courtesy of the Three Swans. By 9pm the exhausted Tutti Men and Orangeman are welcomed back.
Robert James noted that when he was first involved with Hocktide, back in 1964 (before he was Constable in 1978) that it was always part of events after the luncheon to have hot toast and anchovies from a tin. “The lunch was pretty simple ‘meat potatoes greens and gravy, apple pie and custard’, beer and punch. It was always in the Three Swans at the end of lunch that we all went out into the yard to meet the children and throw hot pennies to them. If there was punch left, they took it with them from the dining room to finish off.”
He adds “They had, I believe, two magnificent china punch bowls, but in the early part of the Second World War they were broken – so my Grandfather said – and it was then that Lord Portal gave the inscribed silver bowl to the Court.”
The Hocktide Banquet and Ball
In past years, the final event of the week was the Hocktide Ball. Originally a banquet held in the Corn Exchange to round off the proceedings, it was later (in the 1980s) held in the John of Gaunt School, with the last Hocktide Ball being held in 1982.
The final day of Hungerford’s Hocktide takes place on the second Sunday after Easter. The Hungerford Town Band lead the newly elected Constable and Steward, with the Officers, Trustees, uniformed organisations and local dignitaries, to St Lawrence’s Church for the Constable’s Service – a fitting end to a wonderful fortnight of English eccentricity.
Newly elected Constable, Ellie Dickins, addresses the congregation.
Centuries of tradition
The customs are carried out today very much as they would have been many centuries ago. Hungerford’s Hocktide Court is now unique in the country, the last remaining court with such administrative jurisdiction over its affairs.
We hope that these traditions will continue to be carefully re-enacted to inspire future generations with thoughts of centuries of rural English history, and the important Rights of the Commoner!
With special thanks to Robert James, Trustee and Steward of the Hocktide Court for the Town & Manor of Hungerford, and Hungerford Virtual Museum