Below is the history of I.M.E. Then followed by a more general history of the Hooden Horse, which was not written by me, but I did edit it where I felt it needed. If you feel the yearning for more information there is plenty on line and in books, that appears to have been written by people who know what they are talking about.
A History of I.M.E
In the beginning two of us caused mischief by joining the fun at Broadstairs Folk Week, on the Isle of Thanet. The symbol for the Festival is the Hooden Horse, it being a unique traditional figure synonymous with the area. So this seemed an ideal home for our antics. Over the years the rest of us joined the fun, now there is 11 of us. You will notice that most of our names have a horse theme (we love a pun)
Originally we had a bit of a sinister sneaky reputation but today we are full of fun and are very much loved by the crowd, especially at the Hobby Horse Club held each morning at the Bandstand.
We don’t just stay in Broadstairs, we have also been seen at: The Jack in The Green parade in Hastings & The Banbury Hobby Horse Festival in Oxfordshire. We are looking forward to visiting other events in the future once events can be resumed post-pandemic.
How do we look – A black wooden head, white eyes, black leather ears, a snappy mouth and a black hessian body. While wearing a black breeches, black socks and black footwear.
And just incase your wondering “Invictus Mugistis Equinus” is latin-ish for “Undefeated horses neigh”
A General History of the Hooden Horse
Hoodening as it became known, is believed to be the Isle of Thanet’s take on the custom of ‘Guising’ (or disguising), performed in and around Derbyshire and Lancashire. Guising itself has been traced back to 690 AD, although guising in its modern form appears to have been recorded from the mid–18th Century.
Confused? Please read on, and hopefully all will become clear.
The Hooden Horse could be confused with the similar sounding ‘hobby horse’, yet it isn’t anything like it. In fact, it is an East Kent tradition occurring east of a line drawn from Whitstable to Folkestone, but appears to be restricted to the Isle of Thanet and its immediate environs, from where it has spread since being revived.
It was associated with farm field workers around the Christmas period, notably ploughmen and carters. It is believed they would carve a crude wooden representation of a horse’s head, possibly using discarded nails for eyes and a scrap of leather for ears. The head would be supported on a pole. An old hop sack would be attached at the base of the head to hide the person operating it. Also connected to the head was a wooden, hinged lower jaw that had a string attached to open and close the jaws. The pole would enable the head to be manipulated and swiveled, often in a slightly malicious fashion, to coax people to part with money.
The Hooden Horse, in past times, would be guided by a carter, attached by reins, who was meant to control this unruly and often malevolent beast. There may also be a rider and a Betsy (or Betty) still seen in many Morris sides today, which was a man dressed as a woman. The troupe would often be surrounded by children. It appears to have been traditional around the Christmas period for the Hooden Horse and troupe to go around the large houses of the Parish giving performances of short plays, in the hope of getting food, drink and/or money. The idea behind the ‘guise’ was to hide the identity of the players, as begging was frowned upon (if not actually illegal), often being linked with vagrancy. However, work would be in short supply during the winter months and so anything to tide the workers over the lean period had to be grabbed. Unfortunately, maybe through a reduction of farm workers due to mechanisation, combined with the conscription of horses to the army during the First World War, or just changes in modern society, Hoodening died out during the early 20th Century. The custom was only revived in the 1950s when a Hooden Horse was found in Walmer, and a copy made. East Kent Morris adopted this as their mascot, and gradually other Morris sides followed suit.
While Hoodening, and the Hooden Horse, has roots in earlier practices of Guising, as stated earlier, it became more known to people outside of Kent in the 18th and 19th Centuries, with reports of the practice to be found in magazines of the time. The first written record of a Hooden Horse and Hoodening occurs in 1736, but is not apparently recorded again until featuring in the May edition of European Magazine in 1807. Another mention of the Hoodening custom occurs in Walcott, published by Edward Stanford in 1859 –
(In Ramsgate)… a curious custom used to prevail called ‘going a hodening’, which consisted in singing carols, while a horse’s head (hoden) carved in wood was carried in procession; to the songs were added the ringing of hand–bells, and the snapping of the jaws of the hobby.
And again, a publication in 1861 reports of;
“young men, grotesquely habited, on Christmas Eve, at Ramsgate and in the Isle of Thanet … ‘hodening’, carrying a dead horse’s head upon a pole four feet long, snapping the jaws of the hoden together by pulling a string, while their mates ring hand-bells and sing carols.”