Markets & Fairs: a brief history

Hungerford has developed over the centuries as a market town, supplying the goods and services for the surrounding villages.

Click here for the dates of our regular high street markets and fairs.

More than 800 years of market history

Hungerford probably gained a market in 1248, during the reign of Henry III. There is little written evidence of this until 1296, when Edward I confirmed to the inhabitants of the town certain Rights and Privileges, including the right to hold a Market.

Centuries later, in the reigns of Henry IV and Edward IV, further confirmation of these rights was made through surveys by the Duchy of Lancaster, when there was revision of the Charters. These documents can be found in the County Archives, and still look like new today.

A charter to hold a market

The charter was usually granted to the most important nobleman responsible for the town, to give the inhabitants a legal means of holding markets and fairs for their own benefit, within a specified area on particular day, or days, during the year.

A bonus of the introduction of the formal market, was that it became difficult for outsiders to set up competing markets. The townsfolk and traders also enjoyed privileges not extended to competing markets, such as being exempt from tolls and taxes on specified market days. Those attending the markets and fairs could also expect to benefit, from lower cost goods free from tolls.

A chartered town, but not a borough

Chartered towns also benefited by attracting people from neighbouring countryside. The defined area extended the powers of the town, which then gave it Borough status. In attaining ‘free borough’ status, the town could then hold its own Court, make local Law and Levy fines.

However, while Hungerford was never able to successfully plead its case for borough status, it has been called a town from time immemorial. And by holding both the Court Leet and Court Baron in the Town Hall, it has been able to maintain the status of being ‘town’, rather than that of a ‘village’.

Markets, Sheep Fairs, Fat Stock Fairs and Autumn Fairs

Wednesday is market day, when traders are permitted to erect stalls and sell produce. In addition, there is a Sheep Fair Day in August, a Fat Stock Fair in December, and two Autumn Fairs in October, which are included in the Charters, although the rights have not been exercised for many years.

Well-supported livestock auctions continued until the early 1950s, although the street market sadly failed during the depression that followed the First World War.

1984 sees the return of the Wednesday market

More recently, there was renewed interest in re-establishing the Wednesday market. In 1984 the Constable and Trustees, with considerable assistance of the Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, successfully overcame objections from district planning and the town’s retailers. The historic chartered right to market was re-established, and Hungerford could once again enjoy a weekly market.

Interested in taking a stall? 

If you’d like to find out more about how you could be part of the weekly market, please speak to Darren on the Flower Stall.

By Robert James, Trustee