At 6am on May Day, the drums can be heard across Minehead… The Sailor’s Hobby Horse will dance around town for three days .
Here is the official story:
It is an old May Day custom from The Quay, Minehead, which has continued for hundreds of years. The custom is so old that there is no accurate record of its commencement. In fact, the origin is lost in the mists of time.
The Sailor’s Hobby Horse comes out on the eve of May Day, and for the first three days of the month dances and frolics freely around the streets.
The Horse’s frame is made from withy sticks lashed together with tarred cord into the shape of a boat with a dome shaped head and a tin painted face. A mast is made fast to the head, and spliced to the after end is a length of rope with a cow’s tail made fast. The whole frame, head and rope tail is covered with brightly coloured ribbons, and attached and draped to the ground from the frame are sacks brightly painted with different coloured rings. This is the so-called “Horse”.
The “Horse” weighs about one-hundred weight. It is carried by one man dances to the sound of melodions and drums, and if folks fail to give the “Horse” a coin, the “Horse” aims it tail at them.
The Sailor’s Horse is accompanied by a drum which has dates back to the 17th century. It is legend that the original intention of the “Horse” was to scare away Danes and other invaders from the coast.
It is an important custom that the “horse” proceeds from The Quay over the hill through Old Minehead Town, knows as Higher Town, to arrive at White Cross at 6am on May 1st.
It has been known for one of the Bratton Maids to be crowned Queen of the May at this time; and it is legend that on that day and at that time a Dane was killed there. Also on this day it is a custom for the ‘Horse to proceed to Dunster Castle’.
On the third night there is a booting at Cher Steep, on the outskirts of Minehead, when victims are caught in the street and are booted ten times by the heavy fore bow of the “horse” while being held by the arms and legs by two members of the crew. There is then a further penalty for the victim to dance with the “Horse” while avoiding being lashed by its tail.
The booting is then repeated in Wellington Square, in the centre of town. and it is here that the old “horse” take his final bow of the festive season and after a light refreshment returns to his stable at The Quay until the following May Day Eve.
By invitation the “Horse” and its attendants have appeared twice at The Royal Albert Hall, London, The Commonwealth Institute London, The Universities of London and Exeter, two of the World Trade Fairs, at Brussels in Belgium and Olympia in London, the television programme “Pebble Mill at One” from Birmingham and The Assembly Rooms, Derby. The spectacle has been filmed for television and other purposes on numerous occasions.
THose connected with the “Horse” give their services freely. Money collected and donations received are disbursed to Minehead Mencap and the Minehead branch of the RNLI.
You can follow the Minehead Hobby Horse on Facebook. Here are some photos from the Official Minehead Sailor’s Hobby Horse FB page: