Hungerford Hocktide Court, BerkshireThe Berkshire town of Hungerford manages to keep a foot in medieval times in two ways: houses in the High Street have the long thin back gardens retained from those days; and its quaint Hocktide Court.
Hocktide is the Monday and Tuesday after Easter, though in Hungerford the first event of the Hocktide Court is on the preceding Friday, when the Constable (chief person in the town and manor) and Hocktide Council are chosen. The court over which they preside is a meeting of the town‚s commoners, those who have rights granted by John of Gaunt, the first Duke of Lancaster . These rights give the commoners the freedom to fish parts of the rivers Kennet and Dun, and to graze animals on common land called Hungerford Port Down.
To retain their rights the commoners (those who occupy 102 properties in the town), in theory have to pay a nominal rent, and they can be fined for not attending the council (the fine being paid means they retain their rights in spite of failure to attend).
The Council is made up of various officers: Aletasters, Portreeve, Water Bailiffs, a Bailiff, and four so-called Tithing Men, of whom two are perhaps the most significant personages in the custom, Tuttimen. These were named probably for the poles they carry atop which are garlands or nosegays (Tutty is an old English word meaning posy or nosegay) said to have protected the officials from the smells in the baser premises visited on their rounds made on the Tuesday following their election. The party sets out at 8am on that Tuesday, heralded by a Bellman sounding a horn as they leave.
These days the Tuttimen dress in top hat and tails, emphasising their authority, but the whole event is good humoured ˆ the rents collected on the rounds are a few pennies from the men they find in, and a kiss from the women.
In return for the kiss women receive an orange from the Orange Scrambler, another of the figures in morning dress. These days the Tuttimen and Orange Scrambler are often greeted with a glass of something for their troubles, and given there are 102 properties to visit...
After the rounds there is a traditional lunch, at which Plantagenet Punch is served, and after which newcomers to the body are initiated by having their feet held while a blacksmith begins to hammer a nail in their shoe, a custom called shoeing the colt‚. The new members have to cry "punch"‚ to have the blacksmith cease, a sign they will pay for a round of drinks for all.
Hocktide has survived in Hungerford because of the once valuable rights entailed in the custom. The derivation of the festival and the very word is obscure, possibly simply from the Germanic hoch‚ to signify a high day and holiday, possibly linked to the slaughter of the Danes in 1002. In past times the two days were noted for men binding women on the Monday and demanding a kiss, and the reversing of the honours on Tuesday, a tradition perhaps surviving in the holding of the legs during the colt shoeing in Hungerford
More British Folk Customs?