If you haven’t seen this fellow then it is because you haven’t been into the museum recently! He is hard to miss.
This is the latest of our Wessex Museum Partnership loans, from Dorset County Museum, Dorchester. The Dorset Ooser.
It is, in fact, a pottery representation of an eighteenth or nineteenth century version which would have been made from wood, with a semi-human face and bull’s horns. They appear to have been quite widely used, worn on someone’s head, body covered with a cow’s hide. There was no doubt much cavorting and crying out with children suitably thrilled and frightened – all part of those mysterious mid-winter festivals we hear about. It is also associated with mumming, and with ceremonies that were intended to shame locals who weren’t living up to everyone else’s idea of appropriate behaviour. This was known as ‘Skimity Riding’, with unfaithful wives, for example, made to sit facing backwards on a donkey while those on the moral high ground pranced about singing and dancing and generally making a racket. One of them would be wearing the mask. The name ‘Ooser’ may be a version of ‘Devil’.
The wikipedia entry for our friend is quite fun.
This particular pottery version was made by a Poole man, Guy Sydenham (1916 – 2005), who worked for Poole Pottery and had his own workshops on Green Island and Long Island in Poole Harbour.