Hungerford is a superb example of a planned medieval market town.
There is some evidence for prehistoric activity to the north of the Rivers Dun and Kennet in the area now occupied by Charnham Park. Features of Neolithic and Bronze Age date have been found in this area indicating some ceremonial function. Evidence for Iron Age activity has been found on the southern edge of the current town.
Although little more than a village at the time of the Norman Conquest, Hungerford's ambitious owners recognised the commercial opportunities represented by its location on the London to Bath and the Oxford to Salisbury roads to establish a new market town here in the 13th Century. The wide market place and the long narrow burgage plots that run of each side of the main street are remnants of this early town planning. It is clear that some burgage plots on the edge of the town were laid out but were not occupied in the medieval period, suggesting that the landlord had been over optimistic in their commercial plans.
The parish church, an early 19th century Gothic Revival building that replaced its run-down medieval predecessor, stands away from the current town centre. This part of Hungerford, which now stands in quiet seclusion, was probably the site of the original, possibly Saxon, village.
The High Street is flanked by a range of attractive historic buildings. Whilst most appear to be of 18th or 19th century date, research has shown that many hide medieval structures behind their remodelled facades. The High Street is now punctuated by the Kennet and Avon Canal, with its early 19th century brick bridge, and the main line railway from London to the West Country, with its somewhat more industrial iron bridge.
The town retains the ancient traditions associated with the management of its commons: the Town Common on the eastern side of the town, Freemans Marsh to the west, fishing rights on the River Dun, the Town Hall and the John of Gaunt Pub in the town. Each year the Hocktide festival, or Tutti Day, is celebrated on the second Tuesday after Easter. The Hocktide Court is held and two ‘Tutti Men’ and an ‘Orange Man’ visit all the properties in the town with commoners’ rights. In the past this was to collect a fee, but today a kiss is collected from the lady of the house.