Ancient folklore brought back to life

New book explores the old English folk tradition of the guisers, disguising themselves as midwinter beasts
ST NICHOLAS-AT-WADE, U.K. - Jan. 17, 2023 - PRLog -- Hoodening is a calendar custom unique to East Kent, involving a wooden horse's head on a pole, carried by a man concealed by a sack. The earliest reliable record is from 1735, but it was not until 1909 that the first full-length book researching this field appeared: Percy Maylam's The Hooden Horse (reissued by Ozaru Books in 2021). Hoodeners continued performing, somewhat sporadically, and folklorists and historians such as Alford, Cawte, Hutton and Doel continued researching. Then in 2018 George Frampton's acclaimed tome Discordant Comicals stimulated much greater interest in this unique area, laying the groundwork for further work by others.

The baton was taken up by James Frost, a local puppeteer, theatre designer, and lecturer in performing arts. Having already made numerous hooden horses and similar beasts, and performed with Canterbury Hoodeners, he decided the time was right for a full-scale exhibition, and won funding from the Arts Council Project Grants and National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The plans have borne fruit, and the exhibition "Animal Guising and the Kentish Hooden Horse" will be held at Maidstone Museum from 8 February to 17 June 2023. The catalogue accompanying the exhibition has already been published, also by Ozaru Books, and is now available worldwide.

The text, accompanied by over 60 full colour illustrations — many never seen before in print — describes what hoodening was, what the hooden horse is, and how it can be seen in the national context of animal guising. It covers historical records and artifacts, revival groups, "Autohoodening" performances which reimagine the old tradition in a modern context, and related practices such as the Mari Lwyd, Obby Osses, northern beasts, and stag guising. Appendices contain the text of numerous contemporary verses and plays, demonstrating the huge variety that exists even within such a highly localized form of drama.

There are only a handful of original hooden horses still in existence, and visitors to the exhibition will be able to see them up close, as well as observe performances on special event days. Other beasts from morris dancing, mumming or related traditions will also be on show. The book will provide lots of background information for visitors, and also serve as a valuable reference work for those unable to make their way to Kent.

Format  Royal Octavo colour hardback
Published  1 January 2023
ISBN  978-1-915174-06-2
Length  186 pages
Available  All good booksellers, online and "bricks and mortar".
Further info

Note for Editors

Photographs of the book, author, and hooden horses are available; many can also be found on the website. The author and members of local hoodening teams are available for interview.

Ben Jones
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