From a local paper July 1956
Unique Name For Kent Pub The "Hooden Horse"
PAGAN CUSTOM PERPETUATED
After 1,500 years in Kent, the pagan custom of the Hooden Horse has
found a new and permanent home at Wickhambreaux, a few miles from
Canterbury, the cradle of Christianity which overcame the form of
worship it symbolised.
On Saturday this unspoiled village was thronged with people, and some had
come many miles to see the old style of country dancing and
entertainment by the Ravensbourne and East Kent Morris Men with their
squires, fools and hooden horses performed by the quiet green. All were
amused by the antics of the East Kent hooden horse, which went round
collecting for charity, led by 8-year-old John Field, of Hythe.
They followed the dancers along the narrow street, to the Swan Inn of
Messrs. Whitbread to watch the ceremony of renaming it the "Hooden
Horse" - the only one in Britain.
There to see Sir Stephen Tallents, one of
Kent's foremost authorities on
folk-law, unveil this unique inn sign, were the Mayor and Mayoress of
Sandwich (Ald. and Mrs. J. J. Thomas), the Mayor and Mayoress of Hythe
(Cr. and Mrs. C. T. Sandford), Cmdr. N. C. M. Findlay, managing director
of Mackeson's brewery, and Lady Mary Findlay. Mr. J. Marchant, chairman of
the Kent Brewers' Union, and Mrs. Marchant, Miss Anne Roper, the
historian who has written the most informative pamphlet on the origin of
the custom and Mr. A. Gosby, the artist and Mrs. Gosby.
After handbell ringing of old English airs outside the inn by the women
of the Folkestone National Folk Dance Group, Cmdr. Findlay said that The
Swan was in no danger of extinction and that was one of the reasons why
it had been decided that the name should be changed. They had for many
years made their signs vehicles for expressing local traditions of the
village in which the inn was situated.
Mr. John Marchant had been to many libraries,
museums and Government
institutions where old customs were to be found, but inspiration had
come from the Morris Men they had seen on the green. So in the
geographical centre of the country in which the ancient custom was
perpetuated they were making certain it was not entirely forgotten.
Sir Stephen said he readily accepted to unveil the sign because he liked
collecting new experiences and did not particularly like swans. The word
horse also brought an unpleasant thought to mind - the careering of the
length of Wellington barracks during a parade hanging on to an animal -
but he wished this one long life, and prosperity to the tenants and
Later villagers enjoyed an evening of country dancing in the school
Original document found click here.
From "The Westminster Review" journal of the Westminster Chamber of
Commerce) December 1956.
A DIP INTO HISTORY by Sir Stephen Tallents, K.C.M.G.
I have taken part in two ceremonies in recent months - both in Kent,
both novel and each likely to remain a unique experience for me. One was
the unveiling of a sign outside a village inn, the other a lecture in
aid of a windmill.
The inn at Wickhambreaux near Canterbury had hitherto borne the name and
sign, not uncommon among hostelries, of The Swan. But its fastidious
owners evidently felt that it merited a more distinctive and
distinguished title. They decided, therefore, to promote it from the
sponsorship of a bird to the patronage of a god. Steeped, much to their
credit, in the local history of its surroundings, they were aware that
the neighbourhood had been successfully invaded in the year 449 A.D. by
Hengist and Horsa. Those conquerors attributed their success to the
support of the god Odin, alias Wooden, and his eight-footed steed,
Sleipner; and their followers thereafter, once a year at the winter
solstice, killed and ceremoniously devoured their favourite horses. In
later centuries this unappetising feast came to be recalled by the
inclusion in carol parties on Christmas Eve of a man wearing the effigy
of a horse's head, with hinged jaws and the bottoms of black bottles for
eyes. So the sign which I unveiled that evening to a chorus of handbells
ringers from Folkestone and a lively performance by Morris Dancers from
Ravensbourne, bore the portrait and the name of The Hooden horse. The
proceedings, let me add, were applauded by an enthusiastic clacking of
their wooden jaws by more than one hooden horseman in the capering
company. I wished the inn then, I renew my wishes here, good custom
under its new colours.
Original document found click here.
The Hooden Horse of East Kent
by ANNE ROPER, M.B.E., J.P., F.S.A.
The HOODEN HORSE is one of the oldest, the most interesting and most
remarkable survivals of the pagan past in Kent. Although its origin
seems lost in antiquity, the custom is one associated with our
Scandinavian ancestors and their worship of Odin - the Saxon form is "Woden"
- the chief god of northern mythology.
Woden was the ruler of heaven and earth, and in far-off winters, rode
fast through the night sky over the cold plains of Northern Europe, on
his famous horse, Sleipner, which was eight-footed.
At the annual festival of Jul, which celebrated the returning light and
warmth of the sun, at the winter solstice, the old Teutonic tribes
sacrificed their horses as offerings to Odin, and round their fires they
consumed the animals' flesh.
After the Roman occupation of Britain, hordes of Jutes under Hengist and
Horsa invaded the shores of Thanet in 449 A.D. and overran that corner
of Kent. Hey were worshippers of Woden and the traditions of the pagan
customs survive to the present day. To them we owe the Kentish name
Woodnesborough, and our midweek day, Wednesday.
In successive centuries, with the gradual spread of Christianity,
animal sacrifices and the eating of horse flesh were condemned,
specifically by Archbishop Theodore, but it is to these pagan practices
that we trace the Hooden Horse that has persisted even until today, in
the place where in England it probably began, this corner of East Kent.
On Christmas Eve, it was the custom, in almost every village and hamlet
in the Isle of Thanet, and a great deal of the district around, to go
"a-hoodening". The party consisted usually of farm hands, those who were
engaged with horses, Waggoner's and their mates, and originally the
farmer would send his best horse, but as time went on, a full-sized
horse's head, fashioned of wood, was substituted. The Hoodeners were
fantastically dressed, and among them was often one dressed in female
clothes, who carried a birch broom, and was called "The Old Woman" or
just "Mollie". Details of the horse's head differed in various
neighbourhoods. Occasionally large holes were hollowed out for eyes, and
black glass bottoms of bottles were inserted. In Thanet, great hobnails
were driven into the jaws to form teeth, the lower jaw was hung on
hinges, and made to open and shut by means of a string, and it could be
made to snap quite ferociously. The head was fixed to a pole about four
feet in length, and carried by the stoutest "hand", who was called the
Horse. He walked with a stooping gait to make as good a "back" as
possible and was covered with a large horse cloth or sacking. Reins,
ribbons and a bridle were attached to the head and at times one of the
smallest "hands" mounted the Horse to ride like a jockey. The men
carried sheep-bells or handbells, and perhaps one was able to play the
The assembled party set out and visited the various farms and houses,
making plenty of noise to announce their arrival, accompanied by the
"clap clapping" of the Horse's jaws. As soon as the door was flung open,
the Waggoner cracked his whip, and led in the Horse prancing, snorting,
gnashing his teeth, kicking, and rearing very spirited, while Mollie
began energetically to sweep the feet of the first person to appear.
When the faun and laughter had subsided, the Hoodeners rang their
handbells, and sang some carols, and were regales with home brewed ale,
cider and cakes, or on more fortunate occasions with contributions of
But countrymen in their enthusiasm do not always deal kindly with
ancient customs. "Hob Nob" at Salisbury had to be locked in the City
Museum. At Broadstairs, after a woman was alleged to have been
frightened to death in meeting a party of Hoodeners, the Magistrate
suppressed the custom in that town, but it continued further down the
coast as far as Deal, and as far inland as Canterbury. One Hooden Horse
at Lower Hardres in 1859 caused a crippled woman to jump from her chair
and run. This Horse was so respected by her German husband that he
bought it and took it with him to Germany.
With te coming of the petrol engine, there are fewer horses, fewer
Waggoner's; stables, alas, have become tractor sheds, and the old Hooden
Horse has been taken down from the walls and burned in the stackyard.
Yet the tradition remained, and the Hooden Horse, modelled on the one
formerly at Deal, re-appeared at Folkestone at the Coronation festivals
of Queen Elizabeth II, resurrected appropriately by the Folkestone
National Folk Dance Group. Each successive Christmas, while cold winds
streak across Kent from Scandinavia, the party may be seen, with their
handbells, and the gallant Horse prancing as grotesquely as ever, making
the rounds to give pleasure and to collect and swallow money, now, for
some thoroughly deserving cause.
At Whitsuntide, the Hoodeners set out from Charing, with the Horse and
the East Kent Morris Men, bringing tidings of Spring fertility to the
countryside and coast.
In this modern mechanical age, there is still room for these curious old
customs, and how immeasurably poorer we should be without them. They are
not simply cherished fancies of the "good old days", for future
generations. The Hooden Horse is now depicted on the sign of an inn at
Wickhambreaux, and as long as it hangs there, in the heart of the Hooden
Horse country, this popular Kentish custom, though pagan in origin, will
be perpetuated in the minds and memory of all who pass that way.
Original document found click here.