Issue 145    Dec 1st   to   March 1st   2020

Hungerford Virtual Museum

Steam Rallies on the Common

In 1969 the Town Hall and Corn Exchange had fallen into a poor state of repair. Money had been found to restore the frontage of the building and the Town Hall and Magistrates Room, but the Corn Exchange had some major problems. The lantern roof running the length of the Corn Exchange was in a poor state, and the gas heaters were inadequate for modern use.

Indeed, the Corn Exchange had become virtually unused. There was even the threat that it might be demolished to make way for housing to raise money for the Town and Manor, who were the owners.

Something had to be done. At a crisis meeting of the Trustees of the Town and Manor, John Newton, who had a lifelong passion for steam engines, volunteered to help arrange a Steam Engine Rally on the Common.

The first Steam Rally, held on 13th and 14th June 1970, was a huge success, and it became the first of seven such rallies held over the following eight years (1970-1974 and 1977-78).

There was a very wide range of entertainments including: Military Bands; Narrow gauge railway; Punch & Judy; Sheep shearing; Vintage cars and motor-cycles; Wheelwright display; Wood carving; Hungerford’s old horse-drawn fire engine; Fairground rides; Donkey rides; Free-fall parachute displays.

About 20,000 people attended each show, perhaps the largest crowd ever on the Common. (The Bare Knuckle Prize Fight of December 1821 was said to have attracted 22,000 people – but there must be some doubt about this claim!)

You can see several of the souvenir programmes on the Virtual Museum.

John Newton died in June 2019. He had been very well known in the town – owning and running the newsagents (now WH Smith) and owning much property in the town. He was Constable of the Town & Manor in 1972-1974 and 1991-1992. He was trustee of the Town & Manor, parish councillor, trustee and chairman of the Croft Hall, trustee of the Duchess of Somerset Hospital at Froxfield and fundraising coordinator of the Hungerford Tragedy Appeal in 1987. His abiding passion was for the preservation of steam engines, and he restored and owned several. He talked widely on the topic.

For much more on this or any other aspect of Hungerford’s fascinating history, visit the Hungerford Virtual Museum –                   Hugh Pihlens