Hob-Nob and the Salisbury Giant

on Friday, 10 November 2017. Posted in Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Places, Wiltshire Tales

Now in The Salisbury Museum, the Salisbury Giant and Hob-Nob were first mentioned in 1570 and 1572 respectively, in records from the Salisbury Guild of Tailors but it is probable he existed by the 1400s. Originally used by the Salisbury Guild of Tailors on the eve of the feast of St John (Midsummer’s Day), they have been a part of processions and festivals in Salisbury, originally to mark the eve of St John the Baptist’s Day (June 23rd) and the eve of the feast of St Osmund’s translation (July 15th), but later to be paraded for special occasions, such as royal weddings and jubilees.

WSHC P56697 – early 20th century postcard marking the arrival of the Giant and HobNob at Salisbury Museum

The Salisbury Giant is a tall (now 12ft) figure made from a wooden frame; the oldest part of which is the head. Hob-Nob’s purpose in celebrations and parades was to clear the way for the Giant – he is smaller, and horse-like, with jaws fitted with hob-nails to snap at members of the crowd if they were in the way. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries there were reports of the hobby horse chasing people and ripping their clothes with his teeth as a result of people throwing things at him. The Giant and Hob-Nob could each be supported by one man holding the frame. This resulted in the Salisbury Giant having a very life-like sway and movement.

The physical appearance of the Giant has changed frequently since the sixteenth century. Most depictions of him in the nineteenth century show a tricorn hat and tobacco pope, but in the twentieth century he was garbed in fifteenth century style robes. One of the biggest changes to his appearance was also in the twentieth century, when his face was painted over with shellac to preserve it, but had the side effect of making him look as if he was from African descent. A restoration later on discovered around 6 layers of pink-ish paint underneath.

Some say that the Salisbury Giant represents St Christopher, the biblical giant, and that he was detached of his religious significance during the Reformation and the Puritan era. However, it has also been pointed out that other than his bearing, the Salisbury giant has no other similarities to the saint.

P27589 – 18th century print depicting the Giant held in the Historic Photograph & Print Collection at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

Similarly, it has been argued that Hob-Nob has links with the spring festival of St George. Indeed, there were records of the dragon being fought by St George in the company of St Christopher in 1455. Thus Hob-Nob may have earlier belonged to the Guild of St George in Salisbury (a merchant’s guild).

G23/1/251 Tailors’ Guild: Assembly Minute Book 1517-1575

A unique survival in this country, the Salisbury Museum purchased the Giant and Hob-Nob from the Tailor’s Guild in 1873 for 30 shillings (£1.50). The original Giant and Hob Nob sadly performed for the last time on Salisbury’s streets back in 1977. More recently the Milford Street Project have recorded their presence in the city in their Queen’s Silver Jubilee mural, artist Fred Fieber. Replicas have been made to continue the tradition.

Julie Davis, County Local Studies Librarian


Accredited Archive Service