We asked Ewen Moore, who works in our Learning Department, about his favourite objects in the Horniman - the hobby horse.
“Why is this your favourite object?”
I like the hobby horse, as I have a very strong interest in folk lore and folk lore traditions, particularly British ones. I am also particularly interested in Christmas traditions too. There are a lot of things at Christmas time that we do without thinking about which go back hundreds of years. They are variations on themes that keep recurring and the Hobby Horse is a Christmas and New Year object.
I think it is incredibly beautiful.
I like the way the fabric is quite faded, I don’t know if that’s how it’s always looked or if it’s like that because it’s old, but it has a beautiful faded look. It looks like the kind of thing that you’d hope to find if you were looking through somebody’s attic - you’d open a chest and pull this out.
“What traditions are associated with it?”
The tradition is that the Mari group, with the horse, would travel around the town going from house to house at Christmas or New Year. The group bestowed good luck on the inhabitants of house. All the people in the group, like musicians and people doing Punch and Judy, would be in costumes. They be raucous, banging on the doors, rattling the windows and trying to get the attention of the people inside. Then they’d have something like a rhyming contest where the people outside would rhyme or sing something, and the people in the house would answer with something else. It was improvised and if the people outside won, they would get to come into the house and bless it by running around the house. The horse will be capering all over, Punch will be like trying to kiss the girls and the women, and Judy will be trying to stop him and there’ll be lots of singing and merry making. It would have been quite a raucous, but good natured event.
It’s part of similar traditions all over the UK particularly in Cornwall, Somerset, Kent, and Northamptonshire. Probably along the border of Wales and England there would have been a standoff by the Welsh and Mari Lwyd and the English mummers with their hobby horses including mock battle or contest between them.
“These traditions sound like a lot of fun.”
I like that whole idea of marking the seasons and these traditions bring everybody together in a sense of revelry and joy. I think a lot of those kinds of activities, which have been forgotten for a large part of the 20th century, are on the increase again and a lot of theses traditions are being
Young people want to do these things again and maybe when people look back in a few hundred years time it will be a blip in the 20th century when folk traditions didn’t happen much. We will see them as living, breathing traditions revived.