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.
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.
An intriguing enquiry regarding the origins of the road ‘Sally in the Wood’, which can be found just over the border in the parish of Bathford, Somerset, has led us to take a look at the origins of the name. The road forms a section of the A363 as it journeys through Home Wood towards Bathford. Explanations of the road name are many and varied, and they are also closely related to the parish of Monkton Farleigh in Wiltshire.
Over the past thirty years or so there have been more and more reported sightings of large cats in Wiltshire and its neighbouring counties. What has triggered my personal interest in this subject is an encounter experienced by my husband during autumn last year. As he was driving up Lyneham banks between Dauntsey Lock and Lyneham he saw an unusual animal crossing the road before him. He described it as being the size of a small Labrador dog, black in colour but with the gait of a cat. It resembled a small Black Panther which is actually a Leopard in species. He was certain that it was not a domestic cat as it was way too big and certainly not a dog, badger or fox. This animal may have been the same one that has been sighted in the area over the last two decades including one in Grittenham in 1994.
It is widely believed that when the government brought in the Exotic Pets Act in 1976, some owners of exotic species set their animals free. The main reason for this was to avoid new legislation regarding mainly health and safety issues. It is more likely that over the years a very small handful of fauna not native to Britain, have escaped and reproduced in our countryside. With some species this has certainly been the case. The American Mink and the Signal Crayfish have had a significant damaging impact to our wildlife.
I’ve been delving in our archives, on the hunt for some notable animals in Wiltshire’s History, and I’ve got a couple vying for that top spot. First, and being a fan of the good old British moggy, I was pleased to have the Marlborough church cat brought to my attention. Yes, it is commemorated in stone, but it seems that it really did exist. Visitors to St Mary’s Church in Marlborough will be able to pick out the outline of a cat on the south porch. This corbel, dating to the fifteenth century, commemorates a church cat that saved her kittens from a fire. Perhaps the cat was originally employed to catch the church mice, but it goes into our top ten as our most heroic animal in Wiltshire’s history.