Huntington was recorded in the Domesday Book 1086 as Hantinetune, 'the homestead of the huntsmen' and described as wasteland having been destroyed during the conflict between the English and the Welsh some thirty years earlier.
Huntington possessed a late 11th century castle (a probable replacement of the pre-Norman Turret Castle in Hell Wood which had been destroyed by the forces of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn forty years earlier) later to be fortified in stone and known by the Welsh as Y Castell Maen.
By the 13th century Huntington Castle (right and below) was the defensive and administrative centre of an important manor with resident reeve or steward. The manor of Huntington comprised the three parishes of Kington, Huntington and Brilley and divided into two parts - English and Welsh Huntington. Welsh Huntington consisted of Brilley and Hengoed; English Huntington, the remainder of the parish and the parish of Kington as from circa 1270.
It was probably at this time that a 'military' borough was established - a ghost of a borough plan extends southwards from the castle to the church, but without the natural defences evident in other military boroughs such as Hay. The rising ground in the southern part of the field between the castle and Lower House (the site of the original manor) shows some evidence of house platforms.
In hostile territory such as Huntington, the creation of a military borough as an appendage to the castle probably resulted in concessions of personal freedom in order to attract settlers. In the 1299 Inquisition of lands and tenements of Huntington witnessed on the oath of Richard de Baskerville and John de Huntington among other, mention is made of 47 free tenants and a total of £8 13s 5d paid in rents. Some of these free tenants were of Welsh origin such as David ap Wawayn and Llewelyn ap Joneth the miller - a surprisingly large percentage of free tenants were of Norman extraction. Among the tenants in 1299 was an individual with the rather curious name of Mahonly. This under various forms persists until 1719 with the name Edward Mahollam.
As a marcher lord, the owner of the castle, such as Humphrey de Bohun, exercised civil and criminal jurisdiction and held court in the hall at the castle three times a year, with proceedings recorded by the reeve. Below is an entry in the Court Baron from 1748.
The honour of Mannor of English Huntington
At a Private Court Baron of Thomas Eyre Esquire Lord of the same Mannor held in and for the same Mannor at the dwelling house of John Jenkins situated at Huntington with the Mannor on Saturday the twelfth day of November in the year of our Lord One thousand seven hundred and fforty eight before Richard Hooper Gentleman Deputy under Humphry Pytt Gentleman Capitall Steward of the same Mannor
In 1348 the reeve, Roger Barton, wrote that as a result of the pestilence, Huntington rents were in arrears from 15 tenements and he recorded the death of 7 tenants from the Black Death. The same Roger Barton in 1372 listed details of the stock on the lord's manor farm as follows: 3 carthorses, 17 bullocks used for draught and 324 sheep, of which 25 were bought in May at 1s 5d. each. Nine of the flock died in winter before the shearing and 23 after, which suggests that Roger Barton did his shearing a little too early. 315 fleeces are accounted for at the shearing, of which 29 were rendered for tithes, one given as gift to the shepherd, one sold for 7d. and the remainder sent to Brecon. The skins of the sheep which died before shearing were sold at 4d. each, those which died after at 2d. One penny per score was paid for collecting and shearing, 4d. to a man for taking the wool to a packer and 4d. for its carriage as far as Hay.
There was no mention made in the reeve's account of 1402/03 of any damage to Huntington Castle by the forces of Owain Glyndwr - possibly the castle was found to be judicially undefended. However, it does appear from the same account that Chickwardyn mill had been burnt, the Walrhey toll-gate near the manor house had been destroyed, the mill at Brunley was in a state of decay and that no one would rent the fulling mill at Hengoed for fear of further Welsh raids. It may have been from this time that the farm at Burnt Hengoed acquired its name.
The pacification of the Welsh gradually caused the maintenance of the castle to be a less urgent matter. By 1460 it was reported as worth nothing - ultra reprisis - beyond repair. And a survey conducted in 1521 found that the township of Huntington, 'was in a manner decayed'. It was about this time that Howell Uklegate, described as an outlaw, was mentioned as residing somewhere in Huntington.
An interesting quote from the 16th century John Leland reads, 'Al the hole shir of Huntendene hath beene, as it is saide, Forest grounde, but it is long sins it was deforested'. Hence the name Hengoed meaning 'old wood'.
John Speed's map of Herefordshire from 1610 shows the village of Huntington with a larger symbol than the surrounding areas, indicating greater importance, but there is no indication that the Hundred of Huntington still existed.
The Huntington Tithe Map of 1844 gives a dramatic overview: in the central and southern parts of the parish are ancient fields with crooked boundaries dating back to at least the Saxon period, the fields having odd shapes because they were cleared from the woodland one at a time with no planned order. Many of these fields retained their Welsh names such as Cae Pant y Back - Field of the Small Hollow - situated close to the church. By contrast the northern area has a very regular arrangement of fields with English names such as Ox Pasture, resulting from the more recent enclosure of waste land and commons. The Swan Inn is shown as the blacksmith's shop. Arthur Price was the blacksmith in 1896 and there is still a set of bellows kept in the part now used as a garage. The old Post Office was an inn with Michael Thomas as the inn keeper between 1829 and 1838. Its old name was 'The Wych' so called after a wych-elm tree that grew on the triangular sward in front of the building.
The early 13th century church dedicated to St.Thomas à Becket possibly stands on the site of an earlier Saxon church. In 1397 there is mention of a Chaplain by the name of David Pillalleyn living in Huntington Castle. However before the end of the reign of Henry IV (1399-1413) the church was held with the living of Kington and it has remained so ever since. After the Reformation, Becket was no longer regarded as a saint. Nearly all churches consecrated to him were dedicated to other saints, but remote Huntington escaped the royal commissioner's notice. It is one of only four English churches still to claim Thomas à Becket as patron.
Huntington Horse Fair
In 1256 Henry III granted to Humphrey de Bohun the right to hold a weekly market on Friday in the manor of Huntington and a three day annual Horse Fair in mid July, so arranged to correspond with the anniversary of the translation of Thomas à Becket on July 18. In the mid-1960s, Miss May Jones of The Railway Tavern, Kington, recorded the following account of this important horse fair:
The horses and ponies were of all descriptions and generally numbered between 500 to 600. There was no auctioneer, all the business being done by hand. The buyers travelled overnight and arrived in Kington Station on the 6 am mail train. They then travelled the four miles to Huntington by horse brake. The buyers had one or two extra men with them. These were known as 'touts' and it was their job to sound out a man as to how much he wanted for his horse. After doing this they would find all kinds of faults with it and then offer the vendor a very low price, so as to devalue it ready for the real buyer to come along and probably get the horse at a very much lower price than he could have done if the tout had not been at work. The most notable of these touts was a man named Ted Hathaway who came from Gloucester. He died in 1964 at the age of 96.
Important buyers included Fred Grindle of Bristol who bought horses for the railways; Bob Fossle of Bristol who bought for the breweries; Harvey of Gloucester who bought for the city carriers (vanners); Dick Harrison of Manchester who bought for the tramways and barges; Fred Gay of Bristol bought cobs; Jo Bowdler of Wolverhampton bought ponies for milk floats and costermongers; Jim Burrows of Shrewsbury bought ponies for the mines (pitters); Henry Chatham of Reading bought army remounts and ponies; Ted and John Hart of London bought heavy draught horses and vanners.
Some wore distinctive headgear. Fred Grindle and Bob Fossle wore box hats. The local men who worked partly on their own account and partly as agents for the main dealers mentioned above were Frank Billingham, Bill Bayliss, Bill Higgins, Jack Eggerton and Bill Houldy. The lord of the manor held the rights of the fair, but as he was not able to collect the tolls himself he employed two local toughs to do it for him.
When the day's business had finished the horses and ponies were driven loose in their various droves to Kington Station for Loading. Although most of these horses and ponies had been purchased in the early part of the day, no money was passed until they arrived at Kington Station. After loading, settlement was usually made at the little inn near the railway - The Railway Tavern. The touts were also paid at the inn after they had completed their job, which included the loading at the station. The reasons for not completing the deal at the time of the purchase was to lessen the risk of being robbed on the road and so that buyers could get their purchases driven to the railway sidings without having to pay drovers
At one time it is reported that the Horse Fair was so extensive that horses lined the roadside from Huntington to Mahollam. The event also brought income to Kington as witnessed in the following entry in Thomas Carleton Skarratt's diary from July 17, 1877. 'A large number of Dealers came to Town for the purpose of attending Huntington Fair on the following day. Report says more than could get beds.'
An 1859 edition of the Hereford Journal carried this report on the Huntington Horse Fair:
No mayor or corporation to advertise with authority its fair days, no hotel, no street, no shops, still it is well known and well attended. The farm houses are hotels for the day, and the celebrated baked geese and new beer of old Farmer Barnett (James Barnett senior, Lower House) are as much relished as if served in a leading hotel. But this reminds us that poor old Barnett, long the hero of these fairs, has been called to his last account, leaving his sons, (Thomas of Upper House and James junior of Llanarrow) behind him to do as he was wont to do.
The last Huntington Horse Fair was held in 1953. Its end came partly because of the pony sales at Hay-on-Wye sponsored by the Welsh Mountain Pony and Cob Society.