White Horses of England

A look at these unusual hill figures


Hill figures are pictures inscribed in mountains and hills that are viewable at a distance, as opposed to crop circles, which are meant to be seen from above.  In England, some of these figures go back to prehistoric times, and are associated with ancient horse worship, battles, as well as political statements.  The horses are usually made by digging trenches into hills, then filling with chalk.  Maintaining the figures takes constant work, and without it, they slowly fade away.  This is why England, while boasting 16 white horse figures, has lost 13 to encroaching vegetation.

Uffington Horse

Uffington White Horse Hill Figure.  Copyright David Price.
Uffington White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by David Price.
This horse, located in Uffington, is undoubtedly the most famous and oldest of the white horse figures.  It was trenched in the late Bronze Age (approximately 4100 years ago), and is stylistically different from the other remaining horse figures, baring a similar look to the horses shown on Celtic coinage.  It may be connected to the founders of Uffington castle, which was constructed in the Iron Age.

Westbury Horse

Westbury White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Ron Dobree-Carey and Mel Morris Jones
This horse resides on Westbury hill, in an excellent viewing spot on the side of a steep slope.  The current horse at this spot dates back to 1778, though an older version stood at this spot previously, possibly as far back as the late 1600s.  The horse was recut into its current shape by Lord Abingdon in 1778, who was not happy with its original shape.  This horse differs from the Uffington horse in that it is now covered in painted concrete, with a chalk underlayment.  This has the benefit of increasing longevity, but lacks the same stark whiteness as raw chalk.

Cherhill Horse

Cherhill White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
At the edge of the Cherhill Down, just east of the village Cherhill, this horse was cut in 1780, two years after the Westbury horse above.  It's unknown if this horse was inspired by the Westbury horse, but it was designed and carried out by Dr Christopher Alsop of Calne, in the style of his friend, the artist George Stubbs, who was noted for his paintings of animals.  This horse originally had a glass eye, made of wine bottles, that reflected the sun and was visible from a long distance away.  Over time, the wine bottles were lost, and in their place a stone and concrete.  This horse is also sometimes called the Oldbury White Horse.

Mormond Horse

Mormond White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
Mormond White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
This horse was cut in the late 1790s by a Captain Fraser of Strichen, on Mormond Hill, in memory of his horse, which was killed in a battle with the Dutch in 1794.  This figure shares the hill with a figure of a stag, which was trenched in 1870, and both figures are filled with local white quartz.  It is also sometimes called the Strichen horse.

Marlborough Horse

Marlborough White Horse Hill Figure. Copyright Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
Marlborough White Horse Hill Figure. Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
This horse is also called the Preshute White Horse, because it is most near the village of the same name, and its local attraction, the Preshute House.  Cut in 1804 by the pupils of a local school, which had a yearly fair to recut it up until 1830.  After this, the horse has been in various states of repair, and is generally cared for by Marlborough College, which features the horse in its school song.

Osmington Horse

Osmington White Horse Hill Figure.  Copyright Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
Osmington White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
This horse is unique in that it is the only one to boast a rider, namely King George III, as well as being one of the few to face right.  The horse was trenched around 1808, in recognition of the royal visits to the area and the wealth it brought.  The horse is situated on a limestone slope, and shows both the naturally occurring limestone, as well as chalk infill.

Alton Barnes Horse
Alton Barnes White Horse Hill Figure, photo by Aliak via Flickr
Alton Barnes White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Aliak via Flickr

This horse is very close to the village of Alton Barnes, on a slope of Milk Hill.  The most interesting part of this horse is its origination story; in 1812, the land owner paid a Jack Thorne, known as Jack the Painter, to design and see to the trenching.  Thorne designed the horse, but subcontracted the labor portion; just before the horse was finished, Thorne disappeared with all the money, leaving the land owner in a lurch.  This Jack Thorne was eventually hanged, but oddly enough, another Jack Thorne, also known as Jack the Painter, was hanged in 1776:  With 36 years difference, it's possible that the two Jacks were related, or perhaps they are even one and the same.

Hackpen Horse

Hackpen White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
Hackpen White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
Cut in 1838, by a local parish clerk, it commemorates the coronation of Queen Victoria.  This horse seems to be one of the few that is maintained yearly in order to keep the lines crisp, with a local gentlemen and his friends, after which they add temporary lighting to the horse.  It is also known as the Broad Hinton horse, due to its proximity to the town.

Woolbury Horse

Woolbury White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by David Johnson.
Woolbury White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by David Johnson.
Located two miles East of Stockbridge, this horse is constructed not of chalk, but of flint that has been painted white.  The Woolbury horse is very small, just 27 feet long, and was built sometime before 1846.  Stories vary regarding the reason this horse was built, but there also was a cross built in the same way near it, which has since been lost to time.

Kilburn Horse
Kilburn White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
Kilburn White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.

Britain's largest horse by surface area, the Kilburn horse was cut in 1857.  This horse has a limestone base, which slowly turns the chalk infill gray.  In 1896, the horse was damaged by hail, and was left to the elements after WWI; later, in 1925, it was recut and filled, and there stands a memorial stone at the car park near the figure.  It is now maintained by the Kilburn White Horse Association, which will ensure that the horse is not left to the elements again.

Broad Town Horse

Broad Town White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo via The Hillfigure Homepage.
There are a two theories as to the origin of this horse; one story goes that the farmer who owned the land cut it in 1864, and had plans to enlarge the figure as time went on; however, these plans were dashed when the farmer was forced to give up the land.  The other theory is that the horse is much older; a man was interviewed in 1919 stating that, as a boy, he had helped scour the horse in 1963, and at that time, was told the horse was at least 50 years old.  Like many of the horses here, it has gone through periods of disrepair, but is currently well kept.

Litlington Horse

Litlington White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo via Megalithic Portal.
Litlington White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo via Megalithic Portal.
This horse is again one that replaces an older horse at the same site; the older figure dates back to 1838, and possibly commemorated the coronation of Queen Victoria.  The current horse was cut in 1924, presumably after the old horse had been lost to the elements.  The design of the horse has been changed a few times during its life; most recently, in 1983, one of the front legs was raised to add more definition to each individual leg.  The horse is in fair condition, with rabbit burrows undermining parts of the figure, and many aging wooden boards keeping the chalk in place.

Pewsey Horse

Pewsey White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
Pewsey White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
While Pewsey has one horse that was cut in 1937, there was a horse very close to this site that dates back to 1785.  Unfortunately, the old horse was cut just once, then left in poor repair, because the landowner objected to the festivities involved in the upkeep.  By the time the second horse was cut, the only thing that remained of the old Pewsey horse was a vague outline.  The new horse was designed by George Marples, and cut by the local fire brigade, in commemoration of the coronation of King George IV.

Devizes Horse

Devizes White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
Devizes White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
This is another horse that exists both in old and new versions; the old Devizes horse was cut in 1845 by the local shoemakers' apprentices.  The horse slowly fell to neglect, and by the mid the 20th century a vague outline was all the remained.  The new horse was cut in 1999 to commemorate the new millennium.  Oddly enough, the idea was suggested by a newcomer to the area who had no idea that a horse had previous been there, nor that numerous attempts had been made to renew the old Devizes horse.

Heeley Horse

Heeley White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo via The Hillfigure Homepage.
This horse stems from an arson attack of the Heeley City Farm, which killed one horse, Barney.  The Heeley horse was built in memory of Barney, and of other horses elsewhere.  It was designed in 1999, and unveiled in 2000; it is constructed of a hard packed core, topped with concrete.  Each year, the concrete is repainted, and so every year the horse varies a bit.  The locals have even gotten creative, sometimes painting the horse as a zebra, in rainbow colors, and so on.

Folkestone Horse

Folkestone White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
Folkestone White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo by Dae Sasitorn and Adrian Warren.
The Folkestone Horse is unusual in that the horse is an outline, rather than the solid figure as shown in the other horses.  This horse was proposed in 1998 as a celebration for the new millennium, but the plan was met with controversy; English Natures (a government watchdog) opposed the plan due to the location's designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  The proposed horse was larger than what was eventually constructed in 2003; the horse now stands at 100 meters long, as opposed to the original 150 meters planned.  The horse is constructed of limestone slabs that were pinned together and to the ground; the team of volunteers doing this included a large number of locally-based Gurkha soldiers.

Cleadon Horse

Cleadon White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo via The Hillfigure Homepage.
Cleadon White Horse Hill Figure.  Photo via The Hillfigure Homepage.
Bonus!  Not a true white horse, but a figure painted on a rock face, this horse is one of the few to face rightward.  The origin of this horse is unknown, with at least 5 conflicting stories, one of which dates the horse back to the 1840s; the first reference to the horse dates it back to 1887.  The Cleadon horse is now well covered in graffiti.


Sources:
Hows, M. (2013).  The Hillfigure Homepage.

Wiltshire White Horses (2013).

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting collection of images and facts. Ta for he effort.

    ReplyDelete