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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 July, 2003, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Hobby horse-lovers celebrate
Hobby Horse Festival
Festival-goers dress as hobby horses, dragons, stags and rams
Dozens of revellers dressed as hobby horses have converged on a medieval landmark to celebrate a well-loved nursery rhyme.

The stone cross in Banbury, Oxfordshire, was immortalised in the ditty sung by generations of children, which began: "Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross, to see a fine lady upon a white horse."

Saturday's events included a fancy dress parade, Morris dancing and a mummers show, while Sunday saw the World Cock Horse Racing Championship.

Enthusiasts have travelled to Banbury for the Hobby Horse Festival since 2000, although local historians and councillors are split over exactly where in the town the ancient cross stood.

The hobby horses make small kids cry and terrify dogs
Simon Pipe, festival organiser

Puritans destroyed the original in July 1600 and a replacement was erected until 1859.

Festival founder Simon Pipe says the new cross is in the wrong place and has put up another in Market Square, after research by a Southampton academic.

The mayor of Banbury, councillor Rosemarie Higham, said: "There is some confusion as to where people are saying the original cross was and when it was put up.

"I think we would need to sit down with some proper proof and some notes and quite seriously make our minds about which is correct.

Snapping jaws

"We are the only town in England or even the world that has a marvellous rhyme written about it and we can't really have two crosses."

The festival attracted various kinds of hobby horses - a horse's head on a wooden pole, held between the legs - and other similar animals, such as dragons, stags and rams.

Some of the creatures still play a part in little-known rituals in other parts of the country, like the Mari Lwyd skull horse of Llantrisant, Wales, and the wooden horses of east Kent, which have long snapping jaws.

Mr Pipe said: "People yearn for stuff of the past and families love it - even though the hobby horses make small kids cry and terrify dogs."

Dancers urged to make the leap
18 Feb 03  |  Scotland
Horsing about in Banbury
28 Jun 02  |  UK News
Confessions of a morris dancer
05 Jun 02  |  UK News

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