With Christmas fast approaching, the IHR Library team have been delving into the collection holdings for a suitably festive insight into the history and traditions of Christmas. Thus, we uncovered The Hooden Horse: an East Kent Christmas Tradition, written by Percy Maylam and published in 1909. The Library contains one of only 303 copies of the book to be printed and so we are delighted to share the story of a rather unusual Christmas pastime.
In the text, the ‘hooden horse’ custom is described in vivid detail and worth repeating verbatim at length: “When seated round the fire, one hears the banging of gates and trampling of feet on the gravel paths outside (or, if the weather be seasonable, the more cheerful crunching of crisp snow), and the sound of loud clapping. Everyone springs up, saying, “The hoodeners have come, let us go and see the fun.” The front door is flung open, and there they all are outside, the ‘Waggoner’ cracking his whip and leading the Horse (the man who plays this part is called the ‘Hoodener’), which assumes a most restive manner, champing his teeth, and rearing and plunging, and doing his best to unseat the ‘Rider’, who tries to mount him, while the ‘Waggoner’ shouts “whoa!” and snatches at the bridle.
‘Mollie’ is there also! She is a lad dressed up in woman’s clothes and vigorously sweeps the ground behind the horse with a birch broom. There are generally two or three other performers besides, who play the concertina, tambourine or instruments of that kind. This performance goes on for some time, and such of the spectators as wish to do so, try to mount and ride the horse, but with poor success. All sorts of antics take place, Mollie has been known to stand on her head, exhibiting nothing more alarming in the way of lingerie than a pair of hobnail boots with the appropriate setting of corduroy trousers.”
“In a house which possesses a large hall, the performers are often invited inside, at times the horse uses little ceremony, and opening the door, walks in uninvited. In the bright light indoors, the performance, though the cause of much amusement, is deprived of all the illusions, the crude make-up of the horse is glaringly apparent and we recognise the performers plainly, as the Bill or Tom of everyday life, who look after the horses.” The ‘horse’ it is noted, was crudely carved from a block of wood then painted and a head fixed to the end of a ‘stout wooden staff about four feet in length.’
In addition, reception of the custom in towns across Kent is recorded within the text. Maylam remarks that in Walmer, ‘I found the practice was that the ‘gratuity’ had to be placed in the horse’s jaws, and on this particular occasion the horse put his head on the counter of the bar while the landlord’s little daughter was lifted up from the other side in order to carry out the proper form of giving the money, after conquering her fright.’
Elsewhere however, he states that reception to the ‘hooden horse’ was not always friendly, even with Christmas a time of goodwill! He regales the story of how, ‘the horse gambolled into all the crowded shops, and everyone was pleased except a collie dog which worked himself into a fearful rage but feared to try his teeth against the wooden jaws of the horse.’
The earliest description of the custom appears to date to a letter to the editor of the European Magazine from May 1807, of which the IHR also has holdings. The first original description from local newspapers, however, dates from 1864 when the Thanet Advertiser printed a description of the custom among the festivities for Christmas that were held in the town that year.
The article provides a reminder that whilst some customs of Christmas, such as that of the ‘hooden horse’ may be confined to history, others still bear remarkable resonance today! The article comments that,
“The great festival of Christmas has been kept here as heretofore. On Christmas Eve we had the merry old Church bells pealing forth the glad tidings. The band enlivened the streets; hooded horses not hooded quite up to the old style, perambulated the streets, and the carol singers, some in tune and others out of tune, were very numerous.”
Professor Lawrence Goldman, the Director of the Institute of Historical Research, discusses the film ‘Glory’ about the first black regiment in the American Civil War, the 54th Massachusetts, raised in 1862. ‘Glory’, released in 1989, won 3 Oscars including the award for best supporting actor which went to a young Denzel Washington.
The film is based on the letters of the Colonel of the 54th, Robert Gould Shaw. We shall examine the history of the African-American contribution to the American Civil War and the historical accuracy of the film. Hollywood can sometimes surprise us.
Hello, my name is Laura Jäger and I am an undergraduate student from Germany, studying library science at the Technical University of Cologne. As a part of my course I was given the opportunity to do my 16 week combined internship at the IHR (Institute of Historical Research) and the BHO (British History Online). This internship has given me the incredible opportunity to work with amazing people in two quite different departments.
My special thanks has to go to Kate Wilcox (IHR) and Sarah Milligan (BHO) which gave me a very warm welcome in both the IHR and the BHO, as well as to everyone else working in both departments. Each and every one of them taught and challenged me to learn many new things in the past weeks and were always open to try new ideas, but also never got tired of providing me with their new and interesting views of things.
Throughout my time here, I have worked on different smaller and bigger projects. My main project at BHO was to construct a new annotation feature for the website, which I was allowed to manage mostly myself. It was amazing to be able to build a part for a website from scratch and to figure out in a lot of meetings how it should work and what features might be more useful for what we want to achieve or what the user will need. Another big project I have worked on included auditing work on the London and the British Local collections of the IHR. It gave me a good overview of the wide spectrum of the library. I also discovered some old books which included autographs of the author, bookplates, added pictures or newspaper articles, letters and annotations of previous owners of the book. Sadly a lot of the older books are in need of repair, which is why we set up a conservation fund where you can donate money to help preserve the extraordinary collections of the IHR.
Book plates, letters and rubbings of previous owners, found in History of Brasted
Smaller projects included learning how to catalogue maps, books and special collection items, how to use a microfilm reader, reclassify a part of the north American collection, write a guide about the 20th century American collection for the website and to sort out and label the map drawer.
Being under the same roof with not just the IHR and BHO, but also the Victoria County History (VCH), the Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH) and Reviews in History made it possible, to talk with the people behind those great websites and learn more about their work and the changes they went through especially in the last few years. I was also able to visit the Senate house book repair workshop and look into how this branch of the job is evolving as it goes along and that not every book can be treated the same way.
Working at the IHR opened a lot of doors for me. I was lucky enough to visit not just the British library, but also the Wellcome library, Senate House, the Warburg Institute, the British Film Institute, one of the Idea Stores, The Guardian and the German Historical Institute. Even though all of them are considered libraries, they all have their own unique character and are fascinating to study. Some of us also went to Oxford for a day to represent the library at the Oxford Graduate Research Fair for Historians, which was a lot of fun and an amazing event to represent the library. At the end of November we had our own History day in Senate House, which gave me the opportunity to meet and talk with a lot of different librarians from all over London.
Over the last weeks I learned so much more then I had ever hoped for. A lot more than would ever fit in this blog post. A big thank you to everyone who made this amazing experience possible.
This article examines a common petition presented in the English parliament of 1425 requesting that those imprisoned for long periods for the crimes of treason, felony and Lollardy might be brought to trial. On the basis of palaeographical and orthographical evidence, this petition is demonstrated to be written by Richard Osbarn, clerk of the chamber of the London Guildhall between 1400 and 1437. The implications of this discovery throw new light on the way petitions were formulated, suggesting that the scribes of petitions played a greater role than previously thought, and in some cases identified with the complaint itself.
Famed across Europe during Bede’s time and the heyday of Wearmouth monastery, Sunderland found a less celebrated renown in the twentieth century with the distress of its heavy industries between the wars, and their final extinction in the 1980s. Between those very contrasting eras, its story is one of re-invention and of a growing industrial and commercial might. The coal trade transformed the town during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; shipbuilding came to the fore in the nineteenth, and Wearside became the nation’s, and the world’s, greatest shipbuilder. Though it lacked formal local government before 1835, this was a wealthy and relatively sophisticated town, with a great and spectacular early iron bridge (1796).
This volume, edited by Gillian Cookson, covers the history of Sunderland from the earliest times and into the twenty-first century, including its landscape and buildings, government, trade and industry, politics and social institutions.
The guide encompasses general historical works on
the history of enslavement, the slave trade in Britain, the United States and Latin America, and highlighted themes within the collection such as personal correspondence and diaries written by both slave-holders and those who were formerly enslaved.
The guide is designed to provide help to researchers new to the IHR’s collections, but it is hoped it will also benefit those familiar with the library’s holdings by documenting a subject which overlaps many collections and locations within the library.
We begin this week with Recasting the Region: Language, Culture and Islam in Colonial Bengal by Neilesh Bose. Markus Daechsel and the author discuss an encyclopedic and important study (no. 1871, with response here).
Then we turn to Benjamin Pohl’s Dudo of St Quentin’s Historia Normannorum: History, Tradition and Memory. Elisabeth van Houts recommends an impressive debut from a medievalist of considerable talent (no. 1870).
Next up is The Oxford Handbook of the French Revolution, edited by Dave Andress, as Anne Byrne praises a convenient and scholarly starting-point for many different aspects of this turbulent epoch (no. 1869).
Finally Jess Prestidge reviews an original, thoroughly researched and highly readable addition to studies of Thatcher and Thatcherism, as she takes on God and Mrs Thatcher: The Battle for Britain’s Soul by Eliza Filby (no. 1868).
Using newspapers, plans, London guides and parish records, this article describes the arguments concerning improvement of the street environment in Chancery Lane, from around 1760 to 1815. This area of London was marginal to the great centres of Westminster and the City and, therefore, analysing its development challenges the standard binary model of the metropolis, generally used by historians of the late eighteenth century. The importance of local political conditions to the success of street improvement is examined, including the fragmented jurisdictions of local parishes and the popular association of Chancery Lane with the legal profession.
On 21 November, we held two simultaneous Wikipedia edit-a-thons in London and Leicester as part of the Being Human Festival. We did a lot of promotion of these events beforehand so we thought we should tell you how they went. An edit-a-thon is an event where editors get together to write or improve articles centred on a specific topic. These particular edit-a-thons were centred on local history and you can read about how we connected our theme with the overall Being Human Festival theme of “Hidden and Revealed” here. You can also read the story of the day via social media.
My colleagues Jessica Davies and Rebecca Read from Victoria County History (VCH), Jordan Landes from Senate House Library and I were all at the London event. Our Wikimedia UK accredited trainer was Edward Hands, and fellow trainer Jonathan Cardy was also there to lend a hand. The wonderful thing about Wikimedia trainers is that they are volunteers, so we are very grateful to Edward and Jonathan for coming along and teaching our attendees to edit Wikipedia. Overall, we were twenty-one people at the London event. We had a great mix of experienced Wikipedia editors and complete novices. The experienced editors were able to help the novices throughout the day.
The first half of the day was devoted to learning how to edit Wikipedia, especially how to make edits that will last—the secret is to provide references for all the additions you make to Wikipedia. Once they’d been trained, our attendees tried their hands at making some edits.
After lunch, VCH editor and training co-ordinator Adam Chapman gave attendees a quick introduction to the VCH, explaining the historical context of the project and how the volumes are organised. I followed by showing attendees how they could use British History Online (BHO) to search and read VCH, along with many other sources of local history. Since providing references is such a vital part to creating strong Wikipedia edits, we wanted our attendees to know about the rich resources that they can rely on when writing and improving Wikipedia articles, especially those resources that are freely accessible on BHO.
Here’s a list of the articles worked on just by the London attendees:
As for the Leicester event, they had ten people in total, including Pam Fisher from the Leicestershire VCH Trust, who helped us organise the Leicester branch. From the feedback we’ve received, it sounds like the Leicester event was just as much fun and just as productive as the London event. Their trainers were Doug Taylor and Roger Bamkin, who both did an excellent job. The only negative feedback we received is that the day should have been longer!
Overall, we all had a productive day, learned lots of new things and met some wonderful people. Thanks to everyone who helped with organisation, promotion and training. And thanks to all our attendees for making it such a great day.
We start with the aforementioned History of Drinking: The Scottish Pub Since 1700 by Anthony Cooke, as Callum Brown and the author discuss a well-written account of the commerce, sociability and drinking communities of the country (no. 1867, with response here).
Next up is John Van Atta’s Wolf by the Ears: The Missouri Crisis, 1819-1821. Matthew Mason recommends an outstanding one-volume introduction to the Missouri Crisis and Compromises (no. 1866).
Then we turn to The Logic of Political Conflict in Medieval Cities: Italy and the Southern Low Countries, 1370-1440 by Patrick Lantschner, as Laura Crombie praises a book which offers a new political account of the later Middle Ages (no. 1865).
Finally Thomas Colville reviews an engaging but flawed longue durée history of science, Steven Weinberg’s To Explain the World: the Discovery of Modern Science (no. 1864).