Hungerford Arcade’s wonderful friend and author, Stuart Miller-Osborne has written this fascinating article during his very busy schedule for which we are truly grateful. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did with a nice cup of tea!
A few days ago I popped into a bookshop in Henley on Thames during my lunch hour just really to shelter from the showers of the day. As I was about to leave I noticed an antiquarian book which looked interesting. Its title in short was, The Beauties of England and the book dated from 1791. What initially took my interest was that there was a bookplate inside the front cover which noted that the book had once belonged to Bernard Edward, The Duke of Norfolk. Above the bookmark the name Charles Howard had been added in black ink.
I purchased the book for two reasons. One was that it appeared to have been part of the library of The Duke of Norfolk and also, I was fascinated to find out who Charles Howard was. The other reason was that Beauties of England was full of short portraits of the villages, towns and cities of Great Britain including Hungerford.
Hungerford 64 miles from London stands on the River Kennet, famous for the best trout and cray-fish; but neither its buildings or market are considerable. The constable who is chosen yearly, is lord of the manor, and holds it immediately under the King. They have a horn here, holding about a quart, which the inscription says, was given by John of Gaunt.
This is a short description of Hungerford in 1791 and whilst the town has changed a little, one can still see our eighteenth century town. Our neighbours in Newbury also have an entry on the opposite page.
Newbury or Newborough 56 miles from London, remarkable for being the birthplace of that great clothier, Jack of Newbury. Large qualities of shalloons and druggets are still made here; which with its other trades render it a flourishing town. It stands very peacefully on the River Kennet. The streets are spacious, particularly the market place, in which stands the guildhall. History reports, that at the sand-pits near the town, several were burnt for their religion, in the bloody reign of Queen Mary.
The streets in Newbury have a sense of space but the town has obviously been built up since 1791. The Kennet and Avon Canal was still a few years away and it would be nearly seventy years before the railways reached both Newbury and Hungerford.
Lambourn also gets a short mention.
Lambourn or Langhorn, 10 miles from Newbury takes its name from the little river that runs by it, and falls into the River Kennet at Thackham. It stands on the S side of White-horse-hill in a pleasant sporting country.
Although I do not know Lambourn well, I am fully aware of its sporting connections which probably have not changed that much since 1791.
One of the great things about living in the countryside is that things do not change that much. If the developers had their way then as with Thatcham and Newbury, new estates would spring up spoiling the landscape. But we are safe in Hungerford and beyond.
The true Berkshire countryside I believe, starts as you leave Newbury. If you are travelling by train it is noticeable how unspoiled the countryside becomes as you travel towards Hungerford. In the distance one catches glimpses of the far off Downs in all their moods. The canal follows the railway loyally and various creatures such as deer, rabbits and foxes are easily spotted. Kintbury comes and goes as does Hungerford, Bedwyn and Pewsey. The traveller is in some of the most beautiful countryside in Southern Britain. And it is here for each of us to enjoy.
A man such as myself in 1791 although with a lot less time on his hands, would have appreciated the landscape and maybe would have written about it. He might have been as privileged as to own a copy of the Beauties of England who knows? But what I do know is that Bernard Edward the Duke of Norfolk had previously owned the book that I purchased in Henley. As had the mysterious Charles Howard. It was time to research these men a task which I found surprisingly easy.
Bernard Edward Howard (1765-1842) was the 12th Duke of Norfolk who inherited the title being the third cousin of a certain Charles Howard (1746-1815). This was the mysterious signature above Bernard’s bookplate. Charles Howard had been the 11th Duke of Norfolk and to think that this 1791 book had belonged to both men was quite moving. It had most probably been part of the library handed down and is likely to have spent many years at Arundel Castle in Sussex.Quite how it ended up in Henley on Thames is anybody’s guess. Perhaps it was stolen by a member of the staff and sold on or more likely it became redundant and was sold by the house. It is not likely that I will ever find out but to imagine that this modest little book had been handled by both Dukes (Who were both direct descendants of Edward the First) is rather interesting to say the least.
Here in Hungerford in the early spring of 2016 I have this book in front of me. I am referring to it as I write this short article very much as the Dukes might have referred to it all those years ago. Charles Howard may have had occasion to go to Great Bedwyn and would have found the following rather strange description.
Great Bedwyn, formerly a city and the metropolis of Cissa a Viceroy of Wiltshire and Berkshire in the time of the Saxons is 70 miles from London. The church which is a spacious fabric is built in the form of a cross, has a lofty tower in the center and several ancient monuments.
You can see the history of the now sleepy Bedwyn in this short and slightly mysterious account. Nearby Marlborough is described beautifully.
Marlborough 76 miles from London, so called from the chalky soil in which it is situated is prettily built, but consists chiefly of one large straight street, with piazza’s along one side of it. It has a parish church and several commodious inns being the grand thoroughfare from London to Bath and Bristol.
But my favourite is little Froxfield which is surprisingly included.
At Froxfield, 7 miles distant, the late Duchess of Marlborough endowed an alms-house for 30 poor widows, with an ample annual stipend for apprenticing 10 or 12 children.
The alms-houses are still there and have not changed that much in the last two hundred and twenty-five years. As far I as I am aware the buildings still cater for widows although I think that the apprenticeships may have become a trust or the like since then.
I have only covered Hungerford and her neighbours in this article but the book itself covers the whole of Great Britain. It was a chance find during a damp lunch-hour in Henley on Thames. But then again, many of the most interesting finds occur when you are not actively seeking them. To stumble upon a book owned by the two Dukes of Norfolk is interesting enough in itself. But to see some of the towns and villages of this area over two hundred years ago is quite memorable.
I have lived in Hungerford for nearly ten years but feel that I have known the town and its neighbours for a much longer period.
Hungerford Arcade are always proud to promote special events in the town and this one is no exception. The Hungerford Bookshop hold many events throughout the year and are very popular. 'Poetry in the Bookshop' will be a wonderful evening and we hope you enjoy it.
'Poetry in the Bookshop'
Tuesday 8th March
with guest poet Toni Kent – and you!
Due to the success of our ‘Poetry in the Bookshop evening’ as part of the Hungerford Literary Festival back in October, we have decided to run it three to four times a year.
The evening will start at 7:30 with Toni Kent who will read from her anthology ‘I Need a Wife’. Newbury Weekly News describes her as “part thinking woman’s Bridget Jones, part edgy Pam Ayres’. Toni says she is an “optimist, absurdist and relentlessly cheerful. I write, rhyme, and perform stand up as a way of escaping from the fact that I’m actually a 40 year old mother of two, and not Alison Goldfrapp”.
After listening Toni read from her book, it’s the turn of the audience. Sign-up at the door to read a poem that you have brought along. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere (with plenty of wine to calm the nerves). The shop is small so expect it to be cosy! It is fascinating hearing the diversity of work.
Tickets are £4 (and includes a glass or two of wine)