Hungerford is a small historic market town, nine miles west of Newbury, situated in the North Wessex Downs, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The name, Hungerford, originates from the Saxon name, “Hanging Wood Ford”. It is located on the old Roman Bath Road (A4) and now, only four miles from the M4 motorway. Its position has been an important feature of its development over the centuries. The stage-coach route between Bath and London, resulted in the town having many coaching inns, stables and blacksmiths. The geographical importance of Hungerford can be seen from the events of 6th December 1688. Prince William of Orange, who had landed at Brixham in Devon on his way to London, met with three commissioners sent by King James II, at the Bear Inn in Hungerford. Here, plans were made for the throne of England to pass to William, who became William III. The Bear Hotel is one of the oldest inns in England, dating from the 13th century and at different times, is believed to have belonged to Henry VIII’s wives, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard.
The Kennet and Avon Canal opened in 1810 and brought considerable business to the town. In the 1830s, Hungerford Wharf was a thriving wharf with many industrial buildings. Bath Stone, from which St. Lawrence Church was built, was transported along the Canal. It was built in 1816.
The Great Western Railway, which reached Hungerford in 1847, destroyed the canal trade and coaching traffic. Journeys that had taken over one week by canal, could now be achieved in a few hours.
A 900 year old traditional festival is still carried out in Hungerford on the Tuesday after Easter. John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, granted manorial rights to Hungerford in the 14th century. On Tutti Day, or Hocktide, the Tuttimen, (which includes women) called on the commoners, who lived in houses belonging to the estate, to collect the rent. They carried fragrant poles to ward off the stench from the houses. These days the Tuttimen extract kisses from the householders in return for the gift of an orange. As well as being an excellent place to start a walk along the Kennet and Avon Canal into the Wiltshire or Berkshire countryside, Hungerford also has nationally and internationally renowned antique shops.
Unfortunately, the town is also associated with the tragic events of August 1987, which have become known as the Hungerford Massacre. Michael Ryan, who lived in Hungerford, killed sixteen people and wounded fifteen others in Hungerford or nearby Savernake Forest. When trapped by police, he killed himself. Following the incident, UK law was changed to ban ownership of semi-automatic rifles.