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The History of Hungerford

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There is an old legend linking Hungerford to Hingwar the Dane (Ivarr the Boneless), who had killed Saint Edmund, King of East Anglia, in AD 869. The story tells that the warrior was drowned while attempting to ford the River Kennet at the place where Hungerford now sits, and that the town was subsequently named after him. This stems from the almost certainly mistaken belief that the Battle of Ethandun took place at Eddington in Berkshire. It is widely accepted among historians that the battle was in fact staged at Edington in Wiltshire , or Edington in Somerset . The name Hungerford is also sometimes said to have derived from ‘Hanging Wood by the Ford’. The town’s motiff is the six-pointed star and crescent moon.

Hungerford is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 but records exists showing it was definitely established by 1173. By 1241 it had attained the status of a borough. The town was known as Hungerford Regis in the 13th century, meaning ‘Royal’ Hungerford, the town was passed from the King to the Dukes of Lancaster. Late in the 14th century John of Gaunt, the lord of the manor and Duke of Lancaster, granted the townspeople the lucrative fishing rights on the River Kennet.

The Bear Hotel in Charnham Street was a hospice that dated back at least to 1464. Historians have speculated that it was connected with the Hospital of St. John, established in the same area by King Henry III . When Queen Elizabeth I visited the inn it is recorded that her coachman unfortunately died while staying there, although the cause of his death is unclear.

When the country was embroiled in the Civil War Hungerford became something of a favourite for visiting troops. The Earl of Essex and his army billeted at Hungerford for a night in June 1644 and in October the Earl of Manchester’s cavalry were also enjoying the hospitality of the town. The following month, in November 1644, the King arrived with his troops en route to Abingdon .

William III stayed in Hungerford in December 1688 while marching from Torbay to London . While he was staying in Hungerford Royal commissioners arrived to offer him the Crown of England. A plaque now records the details and a gift of a Red Rose is still presented to the reigning monarch, outside the Bear Inn, on their first visit to the town.

The parish church of St. Lawrence , by the Kennet and Avon Canal , was rebuilt in a Gothic style during the period 1814-1816 by John Pinch the elder. It underwent further refurbishment in the 1850s.

Despite being a sleepy Berkshire town, Hungerford has an unhappy history involving gun crime. It starts in the late 19th century when two policeman were shot by poachers in Eddington. Memorial crosses now stand where they fell. An even more serious incident involving guns happened on August 19, 1987 and involved Michael Robert Ryan, a 27-year-old unemployed local labourer. Ryan roamed Hungerford for
hours with several weapons including an AK-47 rifle and a Beretta pistol on that day and shot and killed sixteen people, including his mother. Ryan also wounded fifteen people, before finally fatally shooting himself. The massacre led to the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, which banned the ownership of semi-automatic centre-fire rifles and restricted the use of shotguns with a magazine capacity of more than three rounds.

Modern Hungerford has maintained its original street plan, as originally laid out in the 12th century. The houses have very long and narrow strips of land trailing perpendicularly backwards from the buildings in an urban layout that is typical of the Medieval times.

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