At least six original (i.e. pre-WW1) 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 Note that some of the information below has been superseded by the research included in Discordant Comicals and Animal Guising and the Kentish Hooden Horse (and will be updated in due course).
This is the main horse of the St Nicholas Hoodeners, which was used at the turn of the century and 'rediscovered' in 1966. 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 facsimile was used in 1994 as 'The Third Horse' (apologies to Horse'n'Wells).
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. A scaled-down replica was later made for Aaron Janes. It seems likely that it originally had hollow eyes, and a frame to support a candle inside, which ties in with a description from Hoath in the 1880s.
Two horses from Wingham are held at the County Museum in Maidstone. They probably date from around 1870-1900, and were rediscovered & donated by Wye College. Sadly, they are not normally on display, but one did emerge briefly at Tenterden Museum in 2012, and both then formed part of the major 2023 exhibition in Maidstone itself.
Folkestone Public Library used to contain an original horse, used in Walmer in 1906 (photographed by Maylam) and rediscovered in 1955. It also contained a later 'colt', made by Jack Laming (see below). Both are now in Deal Museum (see also Hengist, below).
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.
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…
This photo was taken at VJ Day celebrations in 1945 at Acol.
These photos were taken at 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). The horse has since been lost or destroyed. See Hoodening history 1945-65 for more details.
Note that some of the horses shown below are not truly hooden horses, in our view. Trying to define the term is a complex task — see "unhooden horses" below — but the more of these boxes a horse ticks, the less likely it is to be hooden: ☑ forms part of a Morris side, and/or dances, ☑ forms part of a Mummers group with St George, Father Christmas, a Doctor, and the like, ☑ stands rather than stoops, ☑ is based outside East Kent, ☑ has a skull not a wooden head, ☑ appears in all seasons, and the crucial one: ☑ is not used as an integral part of an annual local winter hoodening house-visiting custom.
One was made in 1939 at Balgowan school, Beckenham, then inherited by Ravensbourne Morris, renamed Harold, and used from 1947. However, the horse shown below appears to be a more modern creation than that shown in the 1939 photograph.
Made by a teacher at Sir William Nottidge School for Edward Coomber in around 1951. Known for its oyster shells, commemorating the time it was swept out to sea in Whitstable, and its green colour... because there was lots of camouflage paint left after the war.
The East Kent Morris Men and Handbell Ringers has had four horses: the first was a dark copy of the Walmer horse, created by Barnett Field in Folkestone at the time of the Queen's Coronation in 1953, but no longer 'alive'. The second, Laming's colt, was made in 1956 but similarly now sleeps, together with the Walmer horse in Deal Museum. The third, white 'Invicta', was born in 1959, and has a unique two-stage hinge. As one would expect of a Morris beast, it is lighter and generally used upright, rather than 'stooped' as in Hoodening. The fourth was a giant horse, shown in 1961 in the videos below; it has vanished without trace.
Various other Morris sides in Kent and beyond have chosen horses (occasionally unicorns or even a zebra) as their beasts, e.g. Hartley, Weald of Kent, Headcorn ('Jason'), Oyster ('Jim'), Woodchurch ('Hengist'). Most tend to be cruder (e.g. squarer shapes) than hooden horses, and they generally have much thinner lower jaws (designed for light-footed dancing, and gently accepting coins in the Morris style, rather than snapping fiercely as Hoodeners do?).
This Birchington horse 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 known for sure which is correct. The rope to snap the jaw passes through the back of the head. It was later donated to us, given a name (actually, two), and has been used in performance.
Some records say that the namesake of the Hooden Horse pub in Wickhambreaux (now a private house) was "not old; bought in around 1977, having been made for 'a teacher of folk dancing in Dover'" (presumably Barnett Field) "although the pub itself used to have a modern wooden horse's head (only), mounted next to the bar, which later moved to another village pub. This horse is now used in Ravensbourne." However, evidence is lacking, and the account above may be conflating things with Barnett Field's EKMM 'brown horse' and/or the pre-WW2 Ravensbourne horse (which attended when the pub was renamed).
The Maritime and Local History Museum in Deal did have a modern horse, 'Hengist', made from driftwood (and some nylon!) in around 1974, copying features of the older horses. He 'disappeared' for many years but has now returned.
Made by Mark Lawson for use in Whitstable, probably in the 1990s, replacing the first Swale horse made by Phil Bleazey (which wandered up into the northern wilds).
Aaron Janes was a talented maker (as well as musician, performer, and collector). His numerous beasts included a Mari Lwyd ('Stinky'), a unicorn ('Phoebe'), a replica of Dobbin, a stag, and more — following his untimely demise, several of these were incorporated into a 'petting area' at the 2023 Maidstone exhibition.
Another talented maker is James Frost, who refurbished this Oyster Morris (Whitstable Mayday) horse, then went on to make a very beautiful (albeit rather camel-like) red horse for Canterbury Hoodeners — shown below — and a scaled-down replica of Satan for Aaron Janes, as well as the Autohoodening characters. He also sometimes runs workshops to allow children to make their own horses out of card.
A character from Autohoodening, made by James Frost.
Definitely not a hooden horse, nor indeed anything to do with hoodening or East Kent, despite its being billed as such at the "Making Mischief: Folk Costume in Britain" exhibition at Compton Verney in 2023 (and this error being perpetuated ever since in Alamy stock photos and the like). Nor is it a unicorn: it's actually a goat, made in 1990 by Phil Underwood based on the Thames Valley Morris Men beast, as seen in 1984 [side note: TVMM originally used a tourney horse in the 1950s and 1960s]. This 1990 goat featured in a Mayday episode of Eastenders (see also EastEnders Wiki), where it bit Ian Beale's finger.
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…
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.
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…
The exhibition at Maidstone Museum in 2023 provided a unique opportunity to examine numerous horses, ancient and modern, hooden and unhooden, to compare how they had been constructed. Now the exhibition is over, the accompanying book probably provides the easiest way to examine each type visually. The main variations, which can be used to identify an individual horse, can perhaps be summarized as follows:
As hoodeners, we tend to distinguish between the most common types of 'folk' or 'wooden' horses as shown below.
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 (we've offered our own definition of hoodening here in the hope it helps). A few examples for reference: