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.
We were recently called to investigate the old Spiritualist Church in Melksham which had closed. The building was originally a Quaker Meeting House until that closed in 1959 and it was sold to the Spiritualists. Investigating the twists and turns of its history was part of our remit, and we were grateful to Harold Fassnidge who had trod this path before us.
Born of the Puritanism of the English Civil War, Quakerism was a reaction against what was perceived as a decline in the religious and moral standards of the clergy of the established church. The term ‘Quaker’ originated as a slightly mocking reference to a rebuke made by their leader, George Fox, to Gervaise Bennet, J.P. that he ought to ‘tremble at the name of the Lord’.
The Melksham branch of the ‘Society of Friends’ began to meet originally at Shaw Hill, in the home of Robert and Hester Marshman at some time before 1669, in which year eighty members were recorded as having met there. At two miles from Melksham, their house was evidently considered to be sufficiently safe from any authorities who might disapprove of, and choose to interfere with, their activities.