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Salisbury Giant and Hob-Nob


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St Christopher, the Salisbury giant, now lives in the Salisbury Museum (Wiltshire) and only comes out on special occasions. He is the twelve-foot (previously fourteen-foot) tall pageant giant originally belonging to the Salisbury Guild of Merchant Tailors, and is the last surviving example of a once popular genre. He is light enough for one man to carry him, and is designed so that the carrier cannot be seen, and, in procession, he can sway, lean, and turn. The giant's costume has been renewed many times in his existence, altering his appearance quite dramatically. In 1982 he acquired a red woollen robe, 15th-century style head-dress, leather gauntlets, and leather baldrick. The head is definitely the oldest part of the figure, although it is not possible to determine whether it is the original one. It is carved from a block of wood, and, in the past, his lips were able to move, presumably worked by the carrier from inside. When in procession, he is accompanied by two men (‘whifflers’) carrying his regalia, a huge wooden sword and a mace, and a Yeoman to carry his staff of office. The procession also usually includes morris dancers, first mentioned in 1564. The first mention of the giant is in 1570, but he was already old enough then to need repairs to his costume. It is possible, though not at present provable, that he is as old as the Guild itself, which received its chapter in 1447.

His other companion of long standing is Hob-Nob, the hobby horse (occasionally referred to as a dragon). In E. C. Cawte's definition, Hob-Nob is a ‘tourney’ horse, that is, the operator wears a framework around his waist, suspended from his shoulders, which has a horse's head and tail, and a cloth which hangs all round, reaching the ground so that it hides his legs. In Hob-Nob's case, the operator's upper body is covered in netting—perhaps to disguise him, or to protect him from rotten fruit thrown by exuberant onlookers. As usual, Hob-Nob's jaws are designed to open and shut. Hob-Nob is not mentioned specifically in the earliest records, but appears in 1572, when ‘Thomas Barker dyd bringe in one Hobby-Horse …’. Since 1873, the giant and Hob-Nob have belonged to the Museum.

Hugh Shortt, The Giant and Hob-Nob (1972;2nd edn., revised John Chandler, 1988);Cawte, 1978.


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