July 4th: Banbury Hobby Horse Fair

'Ride a cock horse
To Banbury Cross
To see a fine Lady
On a white horse'

Traditional Nursery Rhyme

Banbury holds a Hobby Horse Festival ! Isn’t that wonderful? What little child hasn’t been jigged up and down on a knee to someone reciting the favourite nursery rhyme, or run around with a broomstick between their legs shouting the rhyme?

The traditional explanation of the story is that when Queen Elizabeth the First came to Banbury her carriage broke down outside the town so she rode in on the leading (cock) carriage horse. It could well have been so, almost all nursery rhymes have some origin in reality - usually in politics or popular culture. On the other hand the Fiennes family were land owners nearby and maybe the ‘fine’ lady was a Fiennes, and the rhyme doesn’t appear in print until nearly 200 years after the Virgin Queen. The word ‘hobby’ means ‘horse’ so ‘hobby horse’ is actually tautological. The OED says ‘a small or middle-sized horse; an ambling or pacing horse; a pony.’

The Banbury Cross referred to in the rhyme was torn down by Puritans in 1600. Banbury was a town ‘far gone in Puritanism.’ In her ‘History of Banbury’, Eunice Harradine tells us Just after dawn on the morning of 26th July 1600 two masons began demolishing the High Cross, with a crowd of at least one hundred men looking on. When the spire fell to the ground Henry Shewell cried out jubilantly, ‘God be thanked, their god Dagon is fallen down to the ground.’

The Bread Cross and the White Cross were destroyed in the same year.

This will be the eleventh Banbury Hobby Horse Festival. Every year about 40 hobbies (and other animals) take part. People ride hobby horses, and even hobby chickens through the streets, and there are Mummers, Morris Men, Jacks in the Green and lots of merriment. There are some smashing pictures on their website - its at http://www.hobbyhorsefestival.co.uk/

Banbury has lots of food associations - there’s Banbury Cakes of course, but also Banbury was built on an ancient salt trading route, was famous for its cheese and is home to the biggest coffee processing factory in the world. Banbury Cakes were first made in the sixteenth century by Edward Welchman, whose shop was on Parsons Street, they are a currant filled pastry similar to an Eccles cake, but oval in shape. The earliest recipe is from Gervase Markham's 'The English Hus-Wife' published in 1615.

"To make a very good Banbury Cake, take foure pounds of Currants, & wash and pick them very cleane, and drie them in a cloth: then take three egges and put away one yelke, and beate them, and strayne them with barme, putting thereto Cloves, Mace, Cinamon and Nutmegges, then take a pint of Creame, and as much mornings milke and set it on the fire till the cold be taken away: then take flower and put in a good store of cold butter and sugar, then put in your egges, barme, and meale and worke them all together an houre or more: then save a part of the paste, & the rest breake in peeces and worke in your Currants: which done, mold your Cake of what quantity you please: and then with what that paste which hath not any Currants cover it very thinne both underneath and a loft. And so bake it according to the bignesse.

The production of Banbury Cakes also lead to an associated industry in the making of little willow chip baskets in which the cakes were sold - their fragile pastry cases needing the protection of a special carrier. How lovely.

Banbury Cakes

8 oz pastry (I made pate brisee - it worked well)

1 oz butter

1/2 tsp flour

1 tbsp rum or sherry

4oz currants

1 oz mixed peel

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

Milk and sugar to decorate.

Grease a large baking sheet or line with baking parchment. Roll out the pastry thinly and cut out 3' circles, then roll them into ovals. Melt the butter over a low heat and stir in the sherry and the flour, mix to a smooth paste and leave to cool a little. Stir in the fruit and spices. Mix well, then put a spoonful on each oval. Milk the edges then fold over so the seam is at the bottom and flatten very gently. Make three slits in the top of each pastry and brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 180c for about 20 minutes. This made 16 delicious little barques of frailty.

'...We had sold our horses in our fathers' time

To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us

As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield

Or illustrations in a book of knights'

From 'The Horses' by Edwin Muir (1887-1959)


Brownieville Girl said...

"Bake it according to the bignesse" love that!!!

Very interesting post Liz, thanks.

Jo said...

Other misc Hobby Horse info - there is also the Hooden Horse of Kent,the Minehead Soulers' Horse (only recorded from 1830ish), and the Old Hoss of Padstow (although only recorded from 1803). There is also reference to a hobby horse in the Cornish play Beunas Meriasek (1504) - although the mention is in English. The earliest reference in England is 1460/1, in St Andrew Hubbard, London Churchwarden's accounts: ‘To Mayers child for dawnsyng wt ye hobye hors.’ Apparently the hobby horse was used for raising money for the church - church hobby horses tended to appear at New Year, municipal ones at Midsummer in pageants and parades. I could go on (!) – there may be a link with the name Robin – which leads us to Dobbin for a horse, and Robin Goodfellow (or Puck, Hobgoblin) – but apparently there is a whole book on Hobby Horses by E. C. Cawte (1978) so I won’t go on – BUT interestingly, when the Spanish raided Mount's Bay in 1595, when they burnt Paul church - or 'mosque' as they referred to it - they mentioned a wooden carved horse, greatly embellished, which they assumed was an idol worshipped by the people - but it would seem that it was actually a Hobby Horse.

Liz said...

Oh wow ! I knew you'd be able to add loads - sounds like there's a PhD in there somewhere...

Jo said...

What, another one...!! Think that is sectioning talk!! XXXX

Charlie said...

I love this post - and what a great phrase 'barques of frailty' is.

Liz said...

haha! 'barques of frailty' were kept women in Georgian England ...it's a great phrase and l wish I'd made it up, it just seemed to suit these fragile little tarts...(pun intended)