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Canterburys Hop Hoodening, Kent

This annual hop hoodening event links two Kentish traditions: the hooden horse; and hop growing.
Hooden horses are actually specific to East Kent; how far back the tradition goes is not clear, but it was seemingly on its last legs at the end of the Victorian era , before a revival between the wars that was taken up with vigour again in the 1950s. Hooden Horses are not a million miles away from hobby horses: a man (or woman in these enlightened times) bears a wooden facsimile of a horse’s head, complete with hinged jaw, on a pole that can rest on the ground while the carrier is bent in representation of the beast. Pole and carrier are covered by a cloth to help the equine illusion. Originally the custom was for these creatures, accompanied by a man dressed as a woman, and a carter to drive the creature on, to tour the big houses in the lead up to Christmas, providing some knockabout entertainment in exchange for a drink and a small fee.
Hops were once vital to Kent’s economy, and are still a familiar part of the landscape along with the Oast Houses to dry them. Not for nothing does the county have the oldest brewery – and one of the very best – in England, Shepherd Neame .
On the first Saturday in September a ceremony and procession in Canterbury bring the two elements together, generally at the ancient Cathedral . There is a hop queen whose progress is accompanied by a hop bower held over her head; and local Morris sides dance before the altar during a special service to celebrate the hops and the beer they enhance, some of which has on occasion been donated by Shepherd Neame to lubricate and refresh those involved.

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