Getting The Horn

Great Britain, London

What’s going on here then?

This is Cuckold’s Point, Rotherhithe, at a sharp bend on the Thames near the church of St Mary and the Angel pub. The name came from a post with a paid of horns on it that marked the starting point of the riotous Horn Fair, a carnival that end from here to Greenwich. Carnivalesque events are still held pin the nearby green.

But there’s confusion about the name – traditionally a cuckold is a cheated-upon husband, but it also referred to the god of winter being cuckolded by the incoming season. The story gets more complex when we consider that the Green Man, or Horned God (about whom I’ve written in ‘Bryant & May on the Loose’) is strongly associated with the area.

According to tradition, the fair was started after King John seduced the wife of a local miller, cuckolding him. King John gave the miller all the land from Rotherhithe to Charlton as recompense. Cuckolding is also connected to the rutting of stags, so it may be that this was simply a good place to catch deer. There is still a cave at the edge of Blackheath Common (‘The Point’) on the carnival route which supposedly has a carving of the Horned God at its entrance. It was sealed up in 1905, and remains unopened.

Horns are still a symbol of sexual power, and the English expression ‘getting the horn’ is still very much in use!

8 comments on “Getting The Horn”

  1. Gretta says:

    Fasinating history lesson yet again. You sounded for all the world like Arthur in places there, admin. 🙂

    What is she actually doing, though? Does that wheel she’s turning do anything, or is it purely decoration?

  2. Lostintown says:

    I know that in Scotland that stag horns were the sign of a cuckold, In “The Merry Muses”, (Robert Burns’ x rated collection of ditties often written as parodies of his more famous works) the last lines of “John Anderson my jo” go…

    “Or ye shall hae the horns, John,
    Upon your head to grow;
    An’ that’s the cuckold’s malison (curse),
    John Anderson, my jo.

    These things must all tie together somehow.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    One thing leads to another they say and that sounds like what has happened here. That doesn’t explain the wheel thing, though. Explain, please.

  4. I.A.M. says:

    There’s oodles of stag / horn imagery in The Merry Wives of Windsor, especially after Falstaff [sigh] runs into the forest (as opposed to any of the other 88% of Shakespeare when people run off into the forest at the end of the story).

  5. admin says:

    Not sure I can help you out about the wheel, chaps, but there are plenty more images from the New Carnival on Flickr.

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    I believe the wheel decorated in ivy and flowers, turned by two young women crowned in flowers (life), wearing gold (riches)and wearing a white scarf at the waist(a sign of purity)represent the female counterpart.(A bride has flowers, a bridal bed – at least in Shakespeare – is decorated with flowers, there’s the very feminine language of flowers, etc.) The wheel, the circle, the cave and more are very ancient symbols for life, creation and the female. The horn, post, spear, etc. represent the male element and the Green Man is often shown “circled” by ivy, peeking through the green leaves. Female and male symbols are usually found near each other, if quite separate, like most animals who live apart, but join in spring, fall… So why not have a turning wheel at a Horn Festival. And there’s that Green Man outside the cave on Blackheath Common.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    You see? If you pose the question & just wait, a perfectly satisfying answer magically appears. Makes perfect sense, Dan, thank-you.

  8. Gretta says:

    Another mystery solved! Thank you, Dan.

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