The Hungerford fishery comprises five miles of excellent private fishing along the chalk streams of the River Kennet and River Dun around Hungerford. The unique environment provides an abundance of Brown Trout and Grayling, which thrive and grow into magnificent specimens.
90% of the world’s chalk streams
are within 50 miles of Hungerford,
as reported by the WWF
Once known as the Bedwyn Brook or Stream and for centuries was the boundary of old counties of Old Berkshire and Old Wiltshire.
There are two main sources of the River Dun. The larger of two springs rises a little west of the hamlet of Crofton and the other rises on the edge of Savernake Forest at Puthall between Marlborough and Froxfield, known as Dun Brook.
The two arms of the river join at Oakhill Bridges and flow through Freeman’s Marsh and Hungerford and downstream of Dun Mill where it joins the River Kennet.
Dun Mill was mentioned in a Survey and Charter by King Henry IV in 1407.
For centuries the River Dun supplied the water to drive Dun Mill then an important Fulling Mill (also known as a water mill) which washed and cleaned the rough woven cloth.
At that time there was quite obviously a much greater flow of water than modern day experiences. As the populations have grown in the upstream villages and hamlets and usage by the Canal water has been increasingly drawn from both the stream and pumped from the two little valleys and has inevitably reduced the head of water arriving at the mill and made the Fulling Mill non-viable.
At present the River Dun is primarily known as one of the rare chalk streams of the world home of wild trout and grayling and revered by Dry Fly Fishermen.
Probably more important the river is a wonderful source of invertebrates and plants providing a vast supply of food for the whole river life, birds and animals as well from the supply of high alkaline water at 41°F or 10°C winter and summer alike.
In recent years considerable efforts have been made to protect this unique chalkstream by eliminating sources of pollution and encouraging plant life trees and shrubs.
By Robert James
The Hungerford Fishery is unique in many ways, but not least because of its history. There are records that go back pretty well for six centuries, but since fishing is one of the oldest occupations, then it is hardly surprising that the inhabitants made records of their experiences..
The story starts in the 14th century, but there’s little detail until 16th century and the accounts of various troubles that had to be resolved – becoming a large part of the history of Hungerford itself. It was because of threats to the fishery that the trusteeship was created nearly 400 years ago. This has had a major influence in the affairs of this small town and its determination for independence. In recent times, the estate in trust under the Constable and Trustees of the Town & Manor of Hungerford Charity has been nothing other than a thorn in the side of countless generations of developers and planners, who would have otherwise built houses and factories on a large scale in and around the town centre.
The fishery and how it all come about
Those who have had the privilege to attend the Hocktide Lunch cannot fail to be impressed by the toasts made by the Constable of the day. First the Loyal Toast ‘The Queen Duke of Lancaster’ then all the assembled guests remain standing for the solemn toast ‘The Immortal Memory of John of Gaunt’. This toast has been unfailingly proposed and drunk for centuries, and is still considered to be equally important today.
Tradition and indeed history has it that John of Gaunt, (1340-1399) the fourth son of King Edward III, came into the ownership of the Manor through his marriage to Blanche the daughter of Henry, Duke of Lancaster and he granted the inhabitants of Hungerford the right to fish in the River Kennet from Elder Stub at Leverton to Irish Style, two miles downstream of Kintbury. Altogether about six miles of prime fishing and a significant source of food in those days. Consequently it was fought over many times by those with a mind to take commercial benefit from these miles of productive chalk streams.
In the Town Coffer there is to this day an ancient 14th century brass hunting horn, which is said to have been given as a guarantee for the fishing rights granted. It is inscribed with the word ‘Hungerford’, and the Town Badge – the Crescent Moon and Star now recognised as the Arms of Hungerford – is repeated three times.
In addition, history claims that there was also a Charter, however the original was lost in the fire of 1381 that burnt down John of Gaunt’s Savoy Palace in the Strand, and a copy of it was stolen in the 16th century.
In the Middle Ages great value was placed on freshwater fish, as it was available all year round and an important source of protein that added to a predominantly carbohydrate and uninteresting diet, particularly so during the winter months. After the Reformation the former fish day on Friday became compulsory, then Saturday was added in 1563 to the days when no flesh was to be eaten. This made it even more important for the inhabitants of Hungerford to cling to their right to fish. On the other hand, the Duchy of Lancaster had a real incentive to restore the fishery to the Crown, and soon there was a serious conflict that developed and the townsmen could see that their rights could easily be lost to the Crown.
An appeal was made to Queen Elizabeth I, who was staying at Wilton House with the Earl of Pembroke. The Earl was High Steward of the Borough of Hungerford, and the result was that a letter dated 7th September 1574 was drafted by Thomas Seaford, by order of the Queen, confirming to the inhabitants of Hungerford “such liberties and profits and benefits as theretofore, time out of mind and remembrance of man they have used and enjoyed”.
“such liberties and profits and benefits as theretofore, time out of mind and remembrance of man they have used and enjoyed”
Queen Elizabeth I, 7th September 1574, acknowledging that the Crown would not take away the commoners rights
A copy of this letter is framed and can be seen in the Town Hall, while the original is in the County Archives and looks pristine, despite being well over 400 years old.
The fishery has always been tremendously important as a source of food and sporting activity, and through the centuries it has been let commercially on an annual tenancy – it could even be claimed as the oldest let fishery in the country. The let seems to have always been without hindrance to the commoners’ rights, and for wealthy tenants to pay an annual rent for the fishing and to have to put up with commoners fishing could only mean that the river always supported an abundance of fish.
Mr Thomas Ward and Mr Slumber paid £3.11s.0d. rent in 1658. Two years later this had risen to £4.0s.0d. A few years later the rent had dropped to £2.10s.0d, but by 1713 had risen to £5.10s.0d.
By 1658 there efforts were made to put in place rules for the fishery, administered by the Hocktide Jury, which included limiting a daily catch, and restricting Commoners fishing to three days each week – Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. The season opened on the 1st April and closed on 1st September each year. The tenant was also expected to provide ‘a handsome dish of trout for the Hocktide Lunch’.
Commoners were expected to provide ‘a handsome dish of trout for the Hocktide Lunch’
Rent charged for the fishery increased, by 1813 it had risen to £15.0s.0d per year, though it was recorded that while costs were rising as well, the fishing was in decline for whatever reason.
The Kennet and Avon Canal in 1822 was included for the first time in the letting, and inhabitants, children and friends were able to fish free of charge. It was then that the old Feoffees made their claim as riparian owners of the canal, which has continued ever since, though not without problems over the years.
It was not until the First World War that the Trustees resolved to establish a formal Canal Angling Club. The timing coincided with the election as a Trustee of the great pike fisherman, The Reverend TS Gray, Vicar of Hungerford and author of the book ‘Pike Fishing’, remembered by local fishermen for the 30lb pike he caught on 16th January 1906.
The Reverend’s 30lb pike goes missing
The Reverend had the pike stuffed, and left it to the Hungerford Canal Angling Association where, for many years it was to be seen at the Railway Tavern – home of the HCAA. Regrettably the specimen fish disappeared in the seventies, believed to have been be sold. The Trustees have been searching for this fish ever since – as an important part of the history of fishing in Hungerford, they have wanted to add it to the unique collection of specimen fish displayed in the Town Hall.
The Hungerford Canal Angling Association was finally formed in 1917 with a founding committee of five, one of which was Rev TS Gray, who represented the Trustees. Tickets were sold at 10s.6d. per year or 1s.0d. per day and no Sunday fishing was allowed.
We return to the Hungerford Fishery, which had been let throughout the centuries by the old Feoffees to various tenants who by and large struck up good relationships with the Town & Manor and respected the Commoners’ Rights. There was little doubt that there were times when the Fishing Committee of the Water Bailiffs from the Hocktide Court, and in particular the Hon Secretaries, found their work too demanding and replacements were not easily found. There were resignations in 1957, and because there was no obvious taker for the job, the tenancy was offered to Mr Lancelot Peart – owner of the Berkshire Trout Farm at Dunmill. It seemed that the let was to be attractive, as the family were well known in the game fishing world and would have little difficulty in finding paying rods to fill the spaces available each year.
Maintaining the rivers and banks proved too much
Although Mr Peart paid only a nominal annual rent of £25, he was expected to maintain the rivers and the banks. He always complained of too many Commoners fishing, and that the rod fees did not cover his expenditure, and after 15 years he handed the tenancy back at short notice. This turned out to be a stroke of luck as Jim Davis, the Constable at the time, had been critical of the tenant’s management of the fishery, and considered that under his own management it could be made into a first class chalk stream trout fishery; there were plenty of fishermen willing to pay a proper price to take all the available rods.
Jim Davis stood down after his second year as Constable in favour of the job as Hon Fishing Manager. He signed up Paul Hill, a young Water Keeper, and obtained planning permission to build a house for the Keeper in the garden of the John O’Gaunt Inn. The funds required, over and above the amount the Trustees could raise, came from a personal approach to the Fee Paying Rods and Commoners. With the Fishery again in hand, it went from strength to strength, and within 2 years the borrowed money was all paid back.
Since those days the Fishery has gone from very modest sporting and environmental habitats to a fishery of excellence, with protected areas of natural habitats.
1992 sees the arrival of an enthusiastic young Water Keeper, Robert Starr
The big change over the years has been due to the standards set by Jim Davis in those early days, and by subsequent Constables who have persevered and fought off the threats of government and of the demands of modern life. Like most things in this world, success comes with effort and good management. The appointment in 1992 of another skilled and enthusiastic young Water Keeper, Robert Starr, who came from a family of Water Keepers of the Chalk Streams of Wiltshire, with the support of the Fishery Committee of Water Bailiffs and the Trustees, has created the Hungerford Town & Manor Fishery as we now know it.
Today there are 37 Fee Paying Rods, with 20 or so Commoners and Invited Guests, who fish each year and are well spaced out over the 5 miles of double bank fishing along the Rivers Kennet and Dun. The unique environment of the chalk streams provides an abundance of super quality natural food for the Grayling, Brown and Rainbow Trout that thrive and grow into magnificent specimens for the determined fly fishermen to stalk and hook. If by good luck such a specimen is landed, then the story can for ever be re-told to any willing listener in the years to come.
See also: EL Davis, The Story of an Ancient Fishery, 1978.
Trustee of the Town & Manor of Hungerford
By Martin Salter, National Campaign Coordinator, Angling Trust
The past year has seen ever closer working between the Angling Trust and the upper Kennet fisheries including the fishery of the Town and Manor of Hungerford and conservation groups such as ARK. The parlous state of some England’s finest chalk streams, and the potential disaster that was the 2012 drought, provided the catalyst for a national chalk stream summit in December 2012.
The Grosvenor Hotel in Stockbridge was the setting for an event organised on behalf of the Angling Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association to discuss the plight of our chalkstreams, which was attended by over 100 of the top figures in English fly-fishing and river conservation. 85 are situated in England, mainly in the South, and all are internationally significant habitats which are wilting under extreme pressure from diffuse pollution, abstraction and habitat damage. Many, including the upper Kennet, came close to an environmental disaster during last year’s drought and were only saved by exceptional rainfall during the summer of 2012. The stewardship of these precious world class environmental assets has been nothing short of shocking with over one third of our rivers at risk of significant damage from over-abstraction.
If the UK does not address unsustainable abstraction, it will be at risk of failing to meet its legal obligations laid down in the EU Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive. As a result of the summit it was agreed that a special Chalk Stream Charter would be drawn up as a matter of urgency and presented to the government as part of a campaign for greater protection of these iconic environments.
The Angling Trust represents all game, coarse and sea anglers and angling in England. The formation of the Angling Trust brings with it a positive new future for angling. For the first time ever, there is a single body to take cohesive action to solve all the problems that affect our sport. For further information about the work we do visit the Angling Trust website www.anglingtrust.net and discover in what ways becoming a member of the Angling Trust can benefit you.
In addition to fly fishing, an extensive length of coarse fishing is available in the Kennet and Avon Canal.
Please visit Hungerford Canal Angling Association to find out more.
The Hungerford Canal Angling Association enjoys a fine stretch of over three miles of coarse fishing on the Kennet & Avon Canal, from Highclose in the west to Denford in the east.
This stretch of beautiful country is where the canal crosses land in the ownership of the Town and Manor of Hungerford (who are the riparian owners of the fishing).
The Association is affiliated to the Angling Trust, holds regular competitions, and has a large number of Challenge Cups, which are normally presented at the club AGM which takes place around Tutti Day (the second Tuesday after Easter) each year.
Please contact the HCAA for information including subscriptions, annual permits and day tickets.