Hooden Horse

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One of a range of animal-disguise customs, Hoodening can be regarded as a regional variant of the hobby horse, being recorded in about 30 places in east Kent and nowhere else. The custom took place at Christmas, and the team of between four to eight farmworkers visited the neighbourhood houses and pubs performing, singing, and collecting money. The central character was the horse which was made up of a wooden head on a pole, carried by a man who was bent double, leaning on the pole, under a dark cloth covering. The head was decorated with horse brasses, rosettes, ribbons, and so on, and had snapping jaws operated by a string from inside. The horse had a Groom (or Waggoner or Driver) who led him around and who carried a whip. There was also a Jockey, who tried to ride the horse, a man-woman (Mollie), and musicians. The earliest mention is in 1736, which refers to ‘Hooding’ and is so brief as to be inconclusive, and a better description appeared in the European Magazine in May 1807. The custom seems to have died out about 1908. Various suggestions have been made regarding the name of the custom. The most convincing are that ‘hooden’ may be from ‘wooden’ or perhaps ‘hooded’.

Percy Maylam, The Hooden Horse: An East Kent Christmas Custom (1909);Cawte, 1978: 85–93.

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