Hooden Horses gather in East Kent

New book helps revival of ancient 'pagan' Christmas folk tradition
 
 
East Kent Hooden Horses
East Kent Hooden Horses
 
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THANET, U.K. - Dec. 15, 2018 - PRLog -- Eleven Hooden Horses recently gathered in the East Kent village of St Nicholas-at-Wade, to celebrate the publication of the first major book on this topic for over a century.

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-Wade with Sarre Hoodeners, write a new play (and new songs) every year, full of humorous topical references both to the local area and to national or international events. One of their members has been playing his part ("Molly", a man-woman) for over fifty years. The group has appeared in numerous books and magazines throughout the world, including Vogue.

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/ozarubooks, ISBN 978-0-9931587-7-3), that was launched at this year's event, dispels that myth, demonstrating that numerous performances were recorded in different parts of East Kent between 1909 and 1966, the so-called "Revival".

The team in St Nicholas-at-Wade inherited their main horse (they have several) from the earlier Hoodeners, and some members are in fact direct descendants. Other horses and teams present at the event came from Deal, Whitstable, Dover, Canterbury, and even further afield - one horse made a round trip of over 200 miles, coming from Farnborough in Hampshire, although as it is now 'stabled' outside East Kent, it is used for mumming rather than strict hoodening.

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-Wade, and has issued several books focused on the local area. Its author, George Frampton, said he effectively "stalked" various groups of Hoodeners for over a decade to complete his work, as well as pursuing detailed studies in the archives of local libraries. He is well known as an expert in the folk song tradition, leading sessions at the Sidmouth Folk Festival, and has published several other works on lesser known English folk customs.

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).

Contact
Ben Jones
***@ozaru.net
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