We’ve just returned from a few days in the Cotswolds from where we made an excursion south-east to visit a relative in Hungerford, which is an attractive town located pretty much at the centre of the North Wessex Downs AONB. Several water courses run through it, including the River Dun, the River Kennet and the Kennet & Avon Canal. The busy A4 also runs through it, but fortunately it doesn’t form the High Street, which is wide and lined with many fine old buildings containing appealing independent shops, cafés and pubs.
One can’t spend much time in this country without being aware of the host of local traditions, enthusiastically upheld. We have, among many, the Helston Furry Dance, Padstow’s ‘Obby ‘Oss, Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling, the lethal-looking Ottery St. Mary burning tar barrels and the mystical Abbots Bromley Horn Dance.
We found that Hungerford has its own tradition and it’s one that truly celebrates the English appetite for eccentricity.
Close to the canal bridge we found the Tutti-Pole Teashoppe and went in for an excellent lunch, drawn, at least in part, by the curious name. The business has been owned and run by Norman and Barbara Barr since 1981. They were joined by daughter Fiona and son-in-law Stephen in 2001, so it’s truly a family affair. They are clearly accustomed to being questioned about the name because as soon as I raised the topic I was presented with an A4 sheet of paper. I’m reproducing below the information it carried.
“History and Interesting Facts about the Tutti-Pole and Hocktide.
Hocktide dates back to pre-reformation, when it was the time for sports and festivities and collecting of Parish rents. Today, Hungerford still celebrates Hocktide. Commoners enjoy certain rights given to them by John 0’ Gaunt. Tutti Day is the second Tuesday after Easter. A jury to preside over the Hocktide court is selected by commoners, names being drawn from a hat. Office holders are responsible for the ancient Borough. Serving office holders meet at the Watercress and Macaroni Suppers to choose officers for the following year, these names being taken to the Court. Ale Tasting is held on the Monday preceding Tutti Day, commoners are invited by the Ale Tasters to sample the local Ales.
8 am Tutti Day, the Bellman, who is the Town Crier, appears on the balcony of the Town Hall blowing an ancient bugle horn to summon the commoners to court. Just before 9 am the Constable appears with two Tithing men (Tutti-men) and an Orangeman. The Tutti-men visit all the commoners establishments during the day. Each Tutti-man carries a Tutti-Pole. This is a long pole with an arrangement of spring flowers, blue ribbons, topped with an orange (a replica is in the window). The word Tutti comes from the word for “nosegay”. For many years these poles were made in the house where the Tutti-Pole Teashoppe is; they are now dressed by Fiona who is very proud to have taken over from the family that has made them for 128 years.
The Tutti-men collect a penny from each householder and in return for a kiss from the lady of the house, they give her an orange supplied by the Orangeman. Children follow these three men scrambling for money and oranges. The day is also enhanced by wenches parading the town selling balloons and nick-nacks.
Meanwhile the Hocktide court has commenced at 9 am. The roll of commoners is called. New officers are officially elected. The years accounts are presented and business voted on. Officers of the Borough include The Constable, Portrieve, Bailiffs, Overseers of the Common, Ale Tasters. Tithingmen, Blacksmith and Bellman. Summons are sent to all new officers to attend a Court Leet on the following Friday where they will be sworn in. A luncheon is presided over by the Constable who gives a report on the year’s activities. Any new guests to the luncheon are called “colts” and are shod by the Blacksmith. The Tutti-men arrive at The Three Swans around 9 pm their duties accomplished. The Constable invites all commoners and organisations of the Town to attend a Church Service the following Sunday.
We are very proud that Barbara was the very first female Tithingman in 2001 and also the very first female Constable to serve the Town & Manor of Hungerford and Liberty of Sanden Fee, taking up the office on Friday 20th April 2007 & served for three years. Fiona followed in both her parents’ & her great grandfathers’ footsteps 100 years on and was Tithingman in 2013, being the first Tutti Wench to be a Tithingman.”
Our relative confirmed the local enthusiasm for the tradition. She also pointed out that the Tutti-men carry a ladder so that they can collect kisses, and deliver oranges, to ladies in first-floor windows.
I don’t think I can add anything to that. I’ll just say the whole mad business makes me proud to be English.