The Hooden Horse

At least six original (i.e. pre-war) Hooden Horses remain, of which two are with the St Nicholas Hoodeners and still in use. Note that some of the information below has been superseded by the research included in Discordant Comicals (and will be updated in due course).
Dobbin Dobbin

This is the main horse of the St Nicholas Hoodeners, which was used at the turn of the century and 'rediscovered' in 1965. The style of a repair to the main pole indicates that it might be around 200 years old, although the tip of the pole does seem to be a different colour (indicating new wood?) in photographs from 1919. It has also been said that it was given to the Hoodeners by Arthur ('Chip' or 'Chuck') Bolton, groom to old Mr William Broadley (owner of St Nicholas Court), and might have been made by him — this is backed up by a note from Tristan Jones dated 9 April 1972, stating 'Edmund Trice gave me his Hooden Horse today & said that it was made for him by a man called Bolton who lived in St Nicholas. He paid 4d for the brass.' The tacks holding the brass decorations on the reins kept on catching on the clothes of the bearer, so a second leather layer was added by Ted Lawrence shortly after it came back into use in 1966. At one stage a bone was also attached to the top of the head. A copy was used in 1994 as 'The Third Horse' (apologies to Horse'n'Wells).

Satan Black Beauty / Young Dobbin / Scarlet / Satan etc.

This horse is much heavier than Dobbin, and was found in a Canterbury antique shop in 1976. It was labelled '18th century Italian hatsnatcher', but the proprietor subsequently agreed that it was English. It had been bought from Post Boy Galleries in Flimwell two years before.


Wingham horse Two horses from Wingham are held (regrettably not on display) at the County Museum in Maidstone. They probably date from around 1870-1900, and were rediscovered & donated by Wye College. Wingham horse


Walmer horse & colt Folkestone Public Library used to contain an original horse, used in Walmer in 1906 and rediscovered in 1955. It also contained a later 'colt', probably made by Jack Laming (photographed by Maylam). Both are now in Deal Museum (see also below).


Chislet horse The Chislet Horse

The Gate Inn, Marshside used to have a horse which was found hanging in a barn in Hoath in 1974. Apparently it was made in the village around 1900 (so this is not the one which is known to have 'terrified' local inhabitants in around 1840). It is very similar to the St Nicholas horse but was apparently not made by Arthur Bolton; more likely as a copy thereof by Herbert Miles. It is possible that it also physically 'inherited' part of the St Nicholas horse (the disc on top) as a way of imbuing it with life. It was borrowed by Whitstable Hoodeners for a performance at Banbury in 2000.


Maybe the old Birchington horse? The old Birchington Horse… maybe!

This horse attracted some attention when it turned up in 2001, due to the possibility that it might be the old Birchington / Acol Horse. The Birchington imprint on the sack appears to back up this theory, but the fact that it was found in Lincolnshire, and the fact that the daughter of the owner (now deceased) said she thought she remembered him making it some 15 years ago, do not. Research is still in progress…

Maybe the old Birchington horse?


Maybe the old Acol horse? The old Acol Horse… maybe!

This photo was apparently taken at VJ Day celebrations in 1945 at Acol.


Maybe the old Acol horse?
Maybe the old Acol horse?
Maybe the old Acol horse? The old Acol Horse… maybe!

These photos were apparently taken at the Jubilee celebrations in 1953 at Acol. The head is beautifully shaped, rather like a merry-go-round horse: whether it came from a fairground, or was copied from one there, or was simply made by an excellent carver, we do not know. The nose in the 1945 photo does not look quite as ornate, but the discs and ears do look similar so I would assume that it is the same horse (maybe it was even 'improved' in the period 1945-1953).

Modern horses


Morris horse The East Kent Morris Men and Handbell Ringers have two horses (a dark copy of the Walmer horse, and white 'Invicta': see left) which were made in Folkestone at the time of the Queen's Coronation in 1953. They seem to be used upright, rather than 'stooped' as in Hoodening; this is possible because they are quite light.

Various other Kentish Morris groups have made their own horses (see below). Most tend to be cruder (e.g. squarer shapes) than the old horses, and they generally have much thinner lower jaws (designed for gently accepting coins in the Morris style, rather than snapping fiercely as Hoodeners do?).

The namesake of the Hooden Horse pub in Wickhambreaux (now a private house) was bought in around 1977, having been made for 'a teacher of folk dancing in Dover' (Barnett Field?). It is not old. I believe the photo to the right shows this horse, which is now used in Ravensbourne. The pub itself apparently used to have a modern wooden horse's head (only), mounted next to the bar; it is now in another village pub.

The Maritime and Local History Museum in Deal did have a modern horse, made from driftwood (and some nylon!) and copying features of the older horses, but this has apparently 'disappeared', possibly to Northumberland (see also above).

The Birchington horse below was made in 1954. One report says it is a 'faithful reproduction of the original [Hooden Horse] which toured Birchington […] designed […] by an elderly man who was one of the Hoodeners', but another says it was made by the 'husband of one of the members of the Birchington Evening Townswomen's Guild who toured with the horse' (possibly Ron Farebrother). Unfortunately it is not (yet?) known for sure which is correct. The rope to snap the jaw passes through the back of the head.

Ravensbourne horse

The 21st century herd

The Herd
The Hooden Herd assembled in 2000 at the Boyden Gate. SN1/2/3 = St Nicholas, CH = Chislet, DH1/2 = Deal Hoodeners [modern; with a unique mini-horse], IV = Invicta, SG = Sandgate, TN = Tonbridge, LE = Lenham, WP = West Peckham, WH = Whitstable.

A few more views…
Deal Whitstable Sandgate Invicta Sandgate, Tonbridge, West Peckham, Lenham, Chislet Whitstable Foal The Goudhurst horse (a bit of a loner)

Diverse horses have continued to assemble on a quasi-annual basis at various hoodening meets/moots in Canterbury, Marshside and Whitstable. Several gathered at Wantsum Brewery in St Nicholas-at-Wade for the launch of Discordant Comicals: The Hooden Horse of East Kent in December 2018, as shown below.

Hooden Herd 2018

The Hooden 'Herd' in 2018: back row (standing) = Albinus, Deal, Farnborough Mummers, Green Lad, Satan; front row (stooped) Whitfoal, Canterbury, Rabble, Red Lad, Dobbin, Edwina. N.B. the collective noun for Hooden Horses is still in flux: suggestions other than herd have included an abs-herd, a clatter, a disgrace, a disturbance, a hoodie, a rumbust, a snap, an un-stable...

Unhooden horses

As hoodeners, we tend to distinguish between the most common types of 'folk' or 'wooden' horses as shown below.

Horse types

Some people seem to use the word 'hobby horse' to refer to any such creatures, but it's also (more commonly) used to denote the children's toy (and national pastime in Finland), as well as an old type of velocipede (bicycle) - which is unnecessarily confusing. Don't even start us on the 'hoodening is a way of life not a hobby' debate, or the bird of prey! We've never used 'hobby' in connection with hooden horses. Looking at the various creatures used in hoodening-like customs, one can see both similarities and differences, and clearer terminology & nomenclature would help. Some folklore researchers have started this taxonomical task, although it will probably take a long time to reach agreement. A few examples for reference:


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