Hop Hoodening: An East Kent Tradition Continues

Hop Hoodening, Canterbury's celebration of the hop harvest, will take place on Saturday 8th September. Kent’s original hop festival began in 1953 and has taken place in Canterbury and the surrounding area on the second Saturday in September each year, making this the 66th annual Hop Hoodening. Organised by the Wantsum Morris Men this colourful and lively event is closely linked to Canterbury Cathedral where the hops are ceremonially blessed.

The term ‘hoodening’ refers to an ancient East Kent tradition, usually performed around Christmas, whereby local farm workers dressed as various characters accompanied a ‘Hooden Horse’ which consisted of a man bent double to resemble a horse, covered by a black cape and holding a wooden horse's head on a pole. The horses jaw was hinged to make a clapping sound and help create its character. They would tour the local big houses and perform a play in return for refreshments or money. The tradition more or less died out between the wars but was started up again in the 1950s and 60s. Hop Hoodening made use of the term because of its Kentish origins and to denote the celebratory theme of the day.

The earliest record anywhere of a rural Morris tour is found in the Canterbury Cathedral Library. In 1589 a team from Herne danced in Reculver, Hothe, Bridge and in Canterbury itself, where they were then summoned to appear before the Mayor for performing without a licence.

This year the celebrations will begin at 10.50am with a procession within the Cathedral precincts and into the Cathedral. The procession will be led by the Hop Queen in her hop bower accompanied by her Princesses. At 11am there will be a service in the Cathedral Nave attended by the Lord Mayor of Canterbury. During the service the Blessing of the Hops will be conducted and this year Long Man Morris Men, our guests from Eastbourne who celebrate their 40th anniversary, will dance. Following this at 11.45 there will be a display of dancing by all the attendant sides in the precincts: Wantsum Morris Men’s guests for the day include Offcumduns, Dead Horse Morris, Broom dashers, Long man Morris men, Oyster Morris, Ravensbourne Morris Men and Rabble.

The dancers will be fortified by samples of the delicious Cathedral Ale, donated by Goody Ales, the local brewers who supply the Cathedral Shop.

From 12.15pm the various Morris sides may be seen dancing around the city while the Hop Queen and her Princesses distribute blessed hops to the good people of Canterbury. They then meet up at Best Lane at 2.45 to process up the High Street to Rose Square for a final mass display of dancing. Everyone is welcome to attend the Cathedral service and to enjoy the skilful presentations of dancing around the city.

For more information: hophoodening@gmail.com