Why the Hooden Horse? – Broadstairs Folk Week

Folk Week is often asked what the significance is of the strange black horses which we use for our logo.

The logo represents a hooden horse and we thought people may like to know a little about its history. It has been part of our festival logo since the beginning 50 years ago.


The history of Hoodening seems lost in the depths of time. It is an ancient custom that was probably brought to England in the early part of the first millennium, and survived in areas like Kent and particularly Thanet, whose inhabitants clung to their Anglo Saxon roots and chose potent images such as the Invicta White Horse, to symbolize their county.


The custom was that poor labourers paraded a hideous horse around the town during or near Christmas or the mid-winter festival. Those townsfolk who met the horse would give its attendants money or gifts to ensure good health, luck and happiness.


In early times the ‘horse’ was made of the skull of a recently dead animal, either a stag or a horse, which had candle lights put in its eye sockets and a jaw operated by string. According to the more macabre, the rotting flesh of the dead horse still hung on the bone with only a sacking sheet to cover the men who were carrying it. Can you imagine walking around with that on your head, or even being part of the accompanying band?


Those accompanying the Hooden Horse sang songs and danced around, and to make their dancing more effective and visual, they carried hand bells and had bells on their hands and feet. Eventually, when real horses became too precious to sacrifice, the skull was replaced by a wooden version, probably similar to those you see today.


The history of the Hooden Horse in Kent is intertwined with many familiar Kentish folk characters and was quite well publicised from the start of the 19th Century. Further afield, Hooden became Hood, as in Robin Hood and most Morris sides dance with a Mollie which is now a man dressed as a woman – Mollie is a diminutive of Marian. Is there a connection?


Why do we make use of it in Broadstairs, then? Well, it is said that in 1839, the hoodeners went to a house and knocked on the door. The lady of the house opened it, was so frightened by what she saw that she collapsed and died. The local Magistrates and council made a law that the likeness of the Hooden Horse should not be seen again in Broadstairs. There are now 12 at Folk Week!


Find out more about Broadstairs Folk Week and the Hooden Horse at www.broadstairsfolkweek.org.uk.

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