Whit-horn

Contributed by Pitt Rivers Museum

A nineteenth century Whit-horn, made from coiled willow bark. 1895.21.1. Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum

A Whit-horn can be seen as a highly simplified Oboe.In the first half of the nineteenth century it was traditional for the Oxfordshire villages of Hailey, Crawley and Witney to celebrate Whit Monday (50 days after Easter) with a hunt at Wychwood Forest. Whit-horns were made of softened willow bark before the celebrations, and played at dawn to wake the village for the hunt.

Formed from strips of willow bark wound into a funnel, the horns were secured with hawthorn or blackthorn spines, the whole measuring around 18" in length and 4" across the bell. Bark was inserted into the narrow end to form a reed, with the mouthpiece pinched together around it, leading to it being described as a 'primitive oboe'.

The whit-horns in the Pitt Rivers collection were made in the 1890s - half a century after the last Whit hunt (at the enclosure of the forests). They are a link to traditional rural festivals and celebrations only some of which, such as Morris Dancing, are continued today.

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