Hobby Horses of the Apocalypse


If an unsuspecting tourist was to find themselves in Banbury Town this July they may fear the human race had fallen off its rocker in spectacular style. Or worse – that they’d stepped on to the set of The Wicker Man. Sonic booms and tintinnabulation, men dressed as hobby horses clip-clopping the streets in animated celebration. What on Earth…?

But if that wide-eyed tourist was to swat up in their guidebook, they’d fear not and realise they’d just gatecrashed Banbury’s annual Hobby Horse Festival. Yup, a Hobby Horse Festival! Because if there’s one thing a tourist should know, it’s that us Brits love love LOVE an excuse to go crackers in a costume and get very very drunk.

hobbyhorse_vintageWith origins as a pagan ritual to welcome in the summer, British hobby horse festivals were all but killed off by the pesky Puritans 400 years ago. Such ungodly festivities became frowned upon, thus the penchant for horsing around retreated to rural communities where they could be considered to be out of sight and out of mind. But at the turn of this century, Banbury decided it was high time they resurrected the ritual, bringing the famed ‘Ride a Cock Horse’ nursery rhyme back to life. “Hurray for horse-play!” we hear you cry. Oh yes indeed.

Recent visitors to the festival were the Four Hobby Horses of the Apocalypse, a surreal group of characters created by artist Matthew Cowan, who’s interest in playing with our kooky folklore resulted in this self-titled art film:

Does this vid make anyone else feel a teensy bit wistful for Renta-a-ghost? Ah, we digress. Back to the festival….

Not everyone is so joyous at the return of the hobby horse celebrations, but the recurring appearance of a local preacher at the Banbury bandstand only adds to the scene. Preaching against the excesses of the festival, his warnings of revellers “following those jingling bells to hell!” captured the attention of the Four Hobby Horses of the Apocalypse who trotted over with a brief note concurring. It read “The end is neigh”. ∎

The Hobby Horse Festival
Every July, Banbury Town.

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady ride on a white horse
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes.

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