Canterburys Hop Hoodening, KentThis 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.
More British Folk Customs?