Hoodening and pubs

Any speculation that there might be a link between hoodening and pubs is... well, unavoidable. It's not that we're all alcoholics (not all of us, anyway) — some don't even drink beer (unless it's forced into our hands, by a host who would like us to come again) — it's more that we earnestly believe we need to visit these establishments to keep up the ancient traditions of earlier times.

Partly due to the misconception that we're seldom seen away from public houses, various pubs have been named after our hooden horses over the years, so this page is an attempt to record them, in approximate chronological order. A good resource to research this area is Paul Skelton's historical Kent pubs list, which features in many of the links below. Likewise the CAMRA Hertfordshire archives were most helpful. Corrections, further information, and pictures etc. of any of the pubs shown here — or any we've missed — would be most welcome.

Map showing locations

The Hooden Horse, Wickhambreaux

Formerly "The Swan". Commander NCM Findlay, MD of Mackesons Brewery (part of Whitbread, based in Hythe), decided to rename it "as swans were in no danger of extinction" and they had a policy of naming pubs after local traditions; inspiration seems to have come from Barnett Field in Folkestone. A new sign was painted by Whitbread artist Tony Gosby (1928-2019), based on Field's 'Brown Horse'; the sign is reproduced in Animal Guising. A reopening ceremony was conducted on 21 July 1956 — see details on the Hoodening History 1945-1965 page. The landlord was Major Richard John Vernon-Betts (1914-1997). A photo of the pub can be seen at the Kent Pub Archives. It closed and was converted to a private house in around August 1979. There was allegedly a wooden horse's head behind or on the bar, which rumours say migrated to another local pub — probably the Rose — but this also closed in 2023.

Pub sign — the Brown Horse

The Hooden Horse chain

Hooden Horse Inns Ltd was incorporated on 25 March 1992, with Alex Bensley as the driving force behind it. He eventually sold it on in 1997, primarily to Inn Business plc (who were bought themselves by Punch Taverns in 1999 and so on to Heineken); although a 2010 Freedom of Information request finds a perplexing reference to "Linton Inns Ltd (In Liquidation) 2279 Of 2001" having some interest in the Great Chart pub. We've not been able to find any other reference elsewhere to Linton Inns. At that stage it had six pubs (according to a Hertfordshire CAMRA newsletter), plans for 15 and an aim for 30. Looking at the locations below, one has to wonder whether the new owners deliberately aimed at opening Hooden Horse pubs in towns beginning with H, even doubled: Hemel Hempstead, Harpenden, Hertford, all in quick succession... They also seem to have focused on offering Mexican food, which was at one stage believed to be the 'next big trend' in the UK. Bensley went on to earn millions developing other pubs and restaurants around the area, but stayed on as director at Hooden Horse Inns for another two years. The company itself was only formally dissolved on 22 September 2020. In several areas, it seems the pubs were initially called simply 'The Hooden Horse' before gaining a more individual variant on that, often reflecting the locality — but simultaneously raising the hackles of local people resistant to change, meaning that many of the individual names have gradually changed back. In passing, it's interesting to note that Bensley had a loan agreement with Greene King almost from the outset.

  1. Grand Old Hooden Horse, Cranbrook

    Formerly the "Duke of York". Probably the first in the chain: noted in financial documents in November 1992. Kent Pub Archives. After a big fire in 2001, it reopened as Tiffins in 2004, then closed in 2005 and was converted to housing.

    Pub signs

  2. Hooden on the Hill, Willesborough Lees

    Formerly the "Rose". Probably the second in the chain: noted in June 1993, open by 1996. Kent Pub Archives. Largely destroyed in a fire in November 2016; reopened as the "Hooden Smokehouse & Cellar" in March 2018. Kent Pub Archives. Now known as The Hooden Bar & Grill.

    Numerous pub signs

  3. Hooden Horse, Great Chart

    Probably the third in the chain: noted in December 1993 (already with the "Hooden Horse" name); open by 1995. Kent Pub Archives. Changed its name slightly to The Hoodeners Horse from around 2008-2012; then became the Little Black Dog in June 2017.

    Pub signs

  4. Another Hooden Horse, Rolvenden Layne

    Formerly the "Ewe and Lamb". Probably the fourth in the chain: noted in February 1994 (also with the "Hooden Horse" name, as is); but some records indicate already open in period 1992-1996. Kent Pub Archives. Later reverted to the "Ewe and Lamb" name.

    Pub signs

  5. Hooden on the Water, Ashford

    Formerly the "Smiths Arms". Part of the Hooden chain around 1992-1997? At one stage also temporarily renamed Hooden in the Water, perhaps due to some floods? Kent Pub Archives. Renamed the Riverside Inn in around 2000.

    Pub signs and exterior

  6. Wonderful Hooden Horse, Tonbridge

    Formerly the "Somerhill Arms". Renamed in the early 1990s? Known for Mexican food, as with some others below, but post-2000 its kitchen was closed by Environmental Health. Still around in 2009, but now open as The Somerhill again. Kent Pub Archives.

  7. Hopping Hooden Horse (JBVC), Paddock Wood

    Formerly the "John Brunt VC". Sold by Whitbread to Inn Business plc in August 1997 and renamed, on the basis of local hop cultivation, despite local protests. Sold again in June 2001 and name reverted. Kent Pub Archives.

  8. Hooden in the Box, Hemel Hempstead

    Formerly the "Princes Arms". Renamed (from the area, 'Boxmoor') around February 1998 (initially just 'the Hooden Horse'?). Known for Mexican food. Changed to an Indian restaurant in mid-2003, and was later demolished.

    Pub signs Sign on exterior wall of pub

  9. Hooden off the Rails, Harpenden

    Formerly the "Rose & Crown". Renamed around February 1998, changed back 2008.

  10. Hooden Horse Too, Hertford

    Formerly the "Reindeer". Renamed around February 1998, closed in 2007.

  11. Hooden on the Green, Mitcham

    Formerly the "White Hart". Bass Taverns renamed it the Hooden on the Green in November 2000, as a "licensed restaurant specialising in Mexican and traditional feasting, with probably the finest Jazz, Blues and Salsa Bar Cafe in Town". It reverted to the name White Hart in November 2010, then closed in April 2016.

    Pub name plate Pub sign

The Poor 'Ole Hooden Horse, Westwood Cross

Formerly "Star Inn". Renamed in 1997, making the most of the Broadstairs Folk Week connection — see details on the Hoodening History 1966-2016 page. "Poor 'ole" is a pun on the adjacent road "Poor Hole Lane". Renamed Grog Wench c.2016, Falcon Inn for a few months in 2017, then Westwood Manor House (a 'boutique bar'). Kent Pub Archives.

Pub signs

Black Horse & Hoodens, Borough Green

Formerly just the "Black Horse"; renamed from around 2011 to 2014, but reverted to its original name by 2019. Kent Pub Archives.

Hooden Horse, Westwood Cross

A new development in 2015 by Greene King's 'Hungry Horse' chain, it was named by ourselves. Kent Pub Archives.

Head at pub entrance