Hooden Horses gather in East Kent
New book helps revival of ancient 'pagan' Christmas folk tradition
By: Ozaru Books
Hoodening is an ancient calendar custom, which has been performed in this area for over two hundred years. The first reference in print was in 1735, but there are indications that similar practices were part of pre-Christian pagan life a thousand years earlier.
Hoodeners were primarily agricultural labourers, often working in ploughing teams. They used to visit pubs and the houses of large landowners during the fallow season of winter, to renew social bonds and ask for "largesse", in other words beer and cake, or sometimes money. They would entertain their hosts with general horseplay, and sometimes songs.
What makes Hoodeners unique is their use of a Hooden Horse - a wooden horse's head, on a pole, with hessian sacking under which the 'animator' would hide to impersonate a real horse. Nowadays the Hoodeners will generally perform a play, involving some form of 'death and resurrection' theme, and collect money for charity instead of themselves.
The oldest group, the St Nicholas-at-
Vaguely similar traditions can be found in other parts of the United Kingdom in the run-up to Christmas (or the Winter Solstice) and New Year. Wales has the Mari Lwyd (using a real horse's skull), and many regions have mummers' plays (often with St George and the Dragon) or morris dancing.
Until recently, the only authoritative reference on Hoodening was "The Hooden Horse" by Percy Maylam, published more than a century ago, back in 1909.
Maylam said the custom was in decline, and it had been thought that Hoodeners had stopped making their rounds at the time of the First World War, but the new book "Discordant Comicals - The Hooden Horse of East Kent" by George Frampton (published by Ozaru Books, http://ozaru.net/
The team in St Nicholas-at-
The various performers showed their respective skills: some with a play in rhyming couplets, specially written for the day, others with plays based on soul caking scripts, and still others offering folk songs, or more conventional songs known to have been sung by Hoodeners a century back. Beer drinking is also an integral part of the custom, and the celebration was held inside the tap room of the village's popular microbrewery, Wantsum Brewery.
The book's publisher Ozaru Books is based in St Nicholas-at-
Note for Editors
Many more photographs of the event, the horses, the author, and the book itself are available, as well as some video clips. Some historical photographs are also available (low resolution copies of some can be found on the Hoodening website, which also has details of this year's performance schedule).