Minehead Hobby Horse Parade

Minehead Hobby Horse Parade

April 30-May 1
In England and Wales, hobby horses have been a part of celebrations welcoming spring as far back as anyone can remember. In the waterfront town of Minehead, Somerset, the "sailors' horse" has a boat-shaped frame 7-10 feet long, which is carried on the shoulders of a man whose body is concealed by a canvas curtain that hangs to the ground. His head is covered by a painted tin mask and a tall dunce cap. Through a slit in the canvas, he can reach out his hand for contributions from spectators. Hundreds of rainbow-colored ribbons stream from the top of the horse, fluttering in the wind as he cavorts about town to the accompaniment of a drum and an accordion. Most of the money that is collected by the hobby horse and his companions is spent in the local pub afterwards, although some of it is supposed to go to charitable causes.
On May Day Eve the horse sets out promptly at midnight, ending up at Whitecross (a crossroads to the west of town, the former site of a maypole) on May Day morning. Later in the afternoon the group goes to the nearby village of Dunster and pays its respects to the lord of the local castle. The hobby horse performs again in the square at Dunster that evening.
A similar ceremony is held in Padstow, Cornwall, where "Old 'Obby 'Oss" is a ferocious-looking monster with snapping jaws and sharp teeth. During the dance that represents the culmination of the Padstow ceremony, the horse goes through a ritualistic death and rebirth—an indication, perhaps, of the ceremony's roots in ancient fertility rites driving out winter and welcoming spring.
CONTACTS:
Minehead Tourist Information Centre
17 Friday St.
Minehead, Somerset TA24 5DJ United Kingdom
44-84-5345-2465; fax: 44-16-4370-7166
Padstow Tourist Information Centre
North Quay
Padstow, Cornwall PL28 8AF United Kingdom
44-18-4153-3449; fax: 44-18-4153-2356
home.freeuk.net
SOURCES:
BkHolWrld-1986, May 2
OxYear-1999, p. 188
YrbookEngFest-1954, pp. 48, 51