Sitting in a fold in the Berkshire Downs, with the stunning River Kennet running through it, Hungerford seems the perfect small market town. In many ways it is. It manages to be a town but feel like a village. There is a sense of civic pride which is matched by a plethora of community groups and voluntary bodies. Usually cheerful Hungerfordians will sell you just about anything you need in its wide and welcoming High Street.
But 30 years ago, murder came to this idyllic community. It was perpetrated by an inadequate troubled loner who in a few hours of wanton mayhem killed 16 people before ending his own life. This has meant that Hungerford has become a word that is mentioned in news broadcasts alongside Dunblane, Sandy Hook, Columbine and other places where similar shooting tragedies have taken place.
Hungerford’s history is spread over at least 900 years. It was passed from kings to noblemen and back again. Toasts are still drunk to John O’Gaunt to whom the town was ceded in the 14th century. A prince became a king in the Bear Hotel on the Bath Road. Traditions endure and are honoured. The organisation of the Town and Manor of Hungerford has remained little changed for nearly 400 years. Office holders include the Constable, the Port-Reeve, Bailiff, four Tutti-men, Water-Bailiffs, several Overseers of the Common, three Keepers of the Keys of the Common Coffer, two Ale-Tasters, and the Bellman and Assistant Bailiff. So you can see why the Town made a collective decision to ensure that Hungerford was never to be defined by the crazed antics of one deeply disturbed man.
And in large measure they have achieved this. When anniversaries of the tragedy come along Hungerfordians meet, respect the dead, comfort the survivors and bereaved and return to the normal tempo of their lives. There is a reluctance among many to partake in documentaries. If they do, the point is generally made that, while never forgetting what happened, the real Hungerford endures. Hungerfordians are independently minded, tend to hold clear views and have a deep love of their community. They managed the aftermath of the tragedy of August 1987 with just the right balance of respectful remembrance and a determination to move on.