Percy Maylam's The Kent Hooden Horse
Article type: Book Reviews
Edited by Richard Maylam, Mick Lynn and Geoff Doel
Stroud, The History Press, 2009, 128pp., ISBN 9780752449975, Price £12.99
After the usual preliminaries this book consists of (1) an introductory article on the subject by Doel, (2) an edited reprint of Maylam's The Hooden Horse: an East Kent Christmas Custom, (3) an article on the revival of the custom by Doel, and (4) The Custom of Gavelkind in Kent by Percy Maylam.
This book will be seen in different ways by several groups of readers, notably by those who like to read about old customs and see them revived, those who study traditional customs, and those who would like to study them. For the first group the introduction by Doel (pp.11-17) provides a reasonable introduction, though some readers, including the present one, would reduce the influence of religion and magic. The account of the survival of the custom describes the numerous surviving hooden horses, and sets out some of the modifications which have been made at one place or another in recent times. The photographs of Percy Maylam and his family, and some more hooden horses, are welcome, as is an account of Maylam written by his great-nephew.
A version of Maylam's original text occupies most of the book, and will be enjoyed by those who do not know the original, but there are problems. The original text runs from page 1 to 120, the corresponding pages here are 19 to 106, with another three pages for the footnotes which have become end notes, so there can be no correlation between the pages of the two books. The Editor writes of his revisions (p.9) 'I have striven to use an extremely light touch to ensure that as much of the original as possible shines through. [...] there were a few errors in the original book [...] you can rest assured that you are as near to the original texts written by Percy Maylam as modern methods allow’. This is odd. Facsimile reprints are not new. There is no indication in the text of what has been altered, or why, and it would have helped a modern reader to know what mistakes Maylam made, if nothing else.
Members of the Traditional Drama Research Group will spot these problems, and others, for themselves. The worry is that some people, not used to studying this kind of material, may take these editors at their word, and try to use this book as if it contained the original text. They may, even, trip over Maylam's 'mistakes'. While this book is readable and interesting, the last problem may give rise to concerns.
Gavelkind was a system of customary land tenure in parts of Kent by which, on the owner's death, his land was divided equally between his sons, whatever the number. In 1913 it was proposed that the system should be abolished, and Maylam wrote this detailed argument against the proposal. His subject was at that time the bread and butter of local solicitors, of whom he was one. He deals with such things as Dower, Free Socage, and Copyhold Tenure, as was natural at the time, but all these matters, including gavelkind, were abolished in 1925 [Note 1]. It is not easy to understand the relevance of this topic to the Hooden Horse, or to the present day.