Page Updated:- Monday, 06 May, 2019.


Earliest July 1956

Hooden Horse

Closed Aug 1979

The Street


Hooden Horse

Above photo kindly sent by Andrew Campbell who says this picture was taken by Colin Bennett.

Hooden Horse renaming 1956

Showing the renaming of the Hooden Horse at Wickhambreaux on 21st July 1956.

Left to right:- Mr. A. Gosby, Lady Mary Findlay, the Mayor and Mayores of Sandwich, the Mayoress and Mayor of Hythe, lady handbell ringers, John Field and the Hooden Horse, Sir Stephen Tallents and Cmdr. N. C. M. Findlay, with the Ravensbourne Morris Men standing, with black hats and trousers, and kneeling, the East Kent Morris Men.

Hooden Horse business card frontHooden Horse business card back

Pictures above show the front and back of a black and white photo business card from the public house. This recently was placed on Ebay and eventually sold for 174. (30 November 2009).

Hooden Horse sign

Hooden Horse sign date unknown.

Above with thanks from Brian Curtis


Originally known as the "Swan," this pub changed to the "Hooden Horse" on 21st July 1956 and continued under that name until it's closure some time in 1979.

Application was requested for the land of the pub to be developed and the change of use from a public house to residential was granted on 20th June, 1979.

And so another one bites the dust.


Hooden Horse 2019

Above photo April 2019, kindly taken and sent by Rory Kehoe.

From a local paper July 1956

Unique Name For Kent Pub The "Hooden Horse"


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.


Hooden Horse sign 1956Sir 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 customers.

Later villagers enjoyed an evening of country dancing in the school playground.


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.


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 fiddle.

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 money.

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.





VERNON-BETTS Major R J after 1956+


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