Animal Guising and the Kentish Hooden Horse

James Frost

with contributions from Geoff Doel and Ben Jones ("George")

Book cover

Hoodening is an ancient calendar custom unique to East Kent, involving a wooden horse’s head on a pole, carried by a man concealed by a sack. The earliest reliable record is from 1735, but little serious research had gone into the tradition between Percy Maylam’s seminal work “The Hooden Horse”, published in 1909 (and reissued by Ozaru Books in 2021), and George Frampton's 2018 update, "Discordant Comicals". The current book, published to accompany a four-month exhibition at Maidstone Museum (8 February — 17 June 2023), further expands the field.

The text, accompanied by over 60 full colour illustrations — many never seen before in print — describes what hoodening was, what the hooden horse is, and how it can be seen in the national context of animal guising. It covers historical records and artifacts, revival groups, "Autohoodening" performances which reimagine the old tradition in a modern context, and related practices such as the Mari Lwyd, Obby Osses, various northern beasts, and stag guising. Appendices contain the text of numerous contemporary verses and plays.

The author, James Frost, is a Lecturer in Performing Arts at Canterbury Christ Church University, as well as a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He has also made numerous hooden horses and similar beasts, and performed with the Canterbury Hoodeners.


Tykes' Stirrings (May 2023) wrote:

"Five years ago I favourably reviewed George Frampton’s Discordant Comicals […] this book […] is an equally essential purchase […] generously and informatively illustrated […] a fascinating volume that at once informs, intrigues and entertains"

Paul Cowdell wrote in Morris Matters (July 2023):

"handsome book […] merits attention […] brings together some wonderful artefacts and images, with a sensible historical and folkloric discussion to provide context and explanation […] useful observations […] pleasingly honest […] refreshing to read […] places hoodening within broader understandings of ceremonial customs and their relationship with changing social contexts […] an informative summary […] presentation and layout are admirably clear […] some very sound comments on revivalist tendencies to romanticisation and nostalgia […] comfortably accommodates some innovative creations […] As there are so few books on hoodening, it is always a pleasure to see a new one. It is all the more pleasing to find it brings something valuable, helpful and visually appealing to the party."

Here is the full review:

Stephen Rowley wrote in Folk Music Journal (2024):

"James Frost has to be congratulated on this achievement […] the book is very well illustrated and each item is accompanied by a comprehensive description. This is of real value to the folklorist, providing context and history. There is more […] Its real strengths are in the assemblage of visual and other materials which provide insight into the historical hoodening tradition and the twentieth-century revivals […] James Frost’s book provides an accessible introduction to the custom"

Folk London (April-May 2023) wrote:

"stands alone as a scholarly re-examination of the Kentish ritual … a detailed account … beautifully and extensively illustrated … right up to date … fascinating and absorbing … a comprehensive bibliography and an extensive appendix [with] a beautifully evocative first-hand account of what it is like to be a hoodener"

Here is the full review:

Format Royal Octavo colour hardback
Published 1 January 2023
ISBN 978-1-915174-06-2
Length 186 pages
Available All good booksellers, including Amazon. For other options see our contact page.

Note: long after publication we realized there is an error on page 37: Bert Miles was Ethel's father-in-law, not grandfather as stated. For more details see the corrections to Discordant Comicals.