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White Horse of Uffington

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White Horse of Uffington

This article is about the Bronze Age figure. For the folk rock band, see Uffington Horse (band).

Coordinates: 51°34′39″N 1°34′00″W / 51.57750°N 1.56667°W / 51.57750; -1.56667

Whitehorse Hill
Aerial view of the White Horse
Elevation 261 m (856 ft)
Prominence 79 m (259 ft)
Listing County Top
Location
Location Oxfordshire, England
OS grid Topo map OS Landranger 174

The Uffington White Horse is a highly stylized prehistoric hill figure, 110 m long (374 feet), formed from deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk. The figure is situated on the upper slopes of White Horse Hill in the English civil parish of Uffington (in the county of Oxfordshire, historically Berkshire), some 8 km (5 mi) south of the town of Faringdon and a similar distance west of the town of Wantage. The hill forms a part of the scarp of the Berkshire Downs and overlooks the Vale of White Horse to the north. Best views of the figure are obtained from the air, or from directly across the Vale, particularly around the villages of Great Coxwell, Longcot and Fernham. The site is owned and managed by the National Trust.

History

The figure presumably dates to "the later prehistory", i.e. the Iron Age (800 BC–AD 100) or the late Bronze Age (1000–700 BC). This view was generally held by scholars even before the 1990s, based on the similarity of the horse's design to comparable figures in Celtic art, and it was confirmed following a 1990 excavation led by Simon Palmer and David Miles of the Oxford Archaeological Unit, following which deposits of fine silt removed from the horse's 'beak' were scientifically dated to the late Bronze Age.[2]

Iron Age coins that bear a representation comparable to the Uffington White Horse have been found, supporting the early dating of this artifact; it has also been suggested that the horse had been fashioned in the Anglo-Saxon period, more particularly during Alfred's reign, but there is no positive evidence to support this and the view is classified as "folklore" by Darvill (1996).

Numerous other prominent prehistoric sites are located nearby, notably Wayland's Smithy, a long barrow less than 2 kilometres (1 mi) to the west. The Uffington is by far the oldest of the white horse figures in Britain, and is of an entirely different design from the others.[3]

It has long been debated whether the chalk figure was intended to represent a horse or some other animal. However, it has been called a horse since the 11th century at least. A cartulary of Abingdon Abbey, compiled between 1072 and 1084, refers to "mons albi equi" at Uffington ("the White Horse Hill").[1]


The horse is thought to represent a tribal symbol perhaps connected with the builders of Uffington Castle. It is quite similar to horses depicted on Celtic coinage, the currency of the indigenous, pre-Roman-British population, and the Marlborough, Wiltshire bucket.

Until the late 19th century the horse was scoured every seven years as part of a more general local fair held on the hill. When regular cleaning is halted the figure quickly becomes obscured; it has always needed frequent work for the figure to remain visible.

In August 2002 the figure was defaced with the addition of a rider and three dogs by members of the "Real Countryside Alliance" (Real CA). The act was denounced by the Countryside Alliance.[4]

In March 2012, as part of a pre-Cheltenham Festival publicity stunt, a bookmaker added a large jockey to the figure.[5]

The Folkestone White Horse, Kent, is based on this horse.

Nearby features and recent events


The most significant nearby feature is the Iron Age Uffington Castle, located on higher ground atop a knoll above the White Horse.[6] This hillfort comprises an area of approximately 3 hectares (7.4 acres) enclosed by a single, well-preserved bank and ditch. Dragon Hill is a natural chalk hill with an artificial flat top, associated in legend with St George.[7]


To the west are ice-cut terraces known as the "Giant's Stair".[8]

Some believe these terraces at the bottom of this valley are the result of medieval farming, or alternatively were used for early farming after being formed by natural processes. The steep sided dry valley below the horse is known as the Manger and legend says that the horse grazes there at night.


Template:J a perforated sarsen stone, which lies in a garden in Kingston Lisle, two kilometres away and which produces a musical tone when blown through, is thought possibly to have been moved from the White Horse site, in 1750.

The hill is also used by the local Paragliding and Hang Gliding Club.

In popular culture

  • G. K. Chesterton's poem The Ballad of the White Horse gives a Christian interpretation to the continual scouring needed to maintain the impression in the chalk over the intervening millennia. This is achieved in the context of a romantic retro-medieval depiction of the exploits of King Alfred the Great.
  • Rosemary Sutcliff's book Sun Horse, Moon Horse, a book for children, tells the story of the creator of the figure.
  • Richard Doyle, a cartoonist and illustrator of Punch satirical magazine fame, illustrated the 1859 book The Scouring of the White Horse by Thomas Hughes, the author of Tom Brown's Schooldays. The book mentions both the horse and the Blowing Stone.
  • The Uffington Horse is the symbol of Wessex Hall at the University of Reading, adopted in 1920 and still in use today.
  • The Uffington White horse is often presented as an image of Epona in popular works on Neopaganism.
  • Faringdon Community College and Faringdon Infant School in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, use the White Horse as their logo.
  • The horse is the emblem of the Berkshire Yeomanry, a Territorial Army unit based in Windsor, Reading and Chertsey.
  • Clive Cussler refers to the Uffington Horse in his novel Trojan Odyssey, where it is the symbol of the cult presided over by Epona Eliade.
  • The 1978 BBC television children's series The Moon Stallion uses the chalk horse as one of its principal locations and a major plot element, and includes footage of it in the title sequence.

See also

Notes

Sources and further reading

External links

  • The National Trust - White Horse Hill
  • Ancient Britain - The White Horse
  • Uffington Whitehorse and Dragon Hill (Mysterious Britain & Ireland)
  • Aerial photos and information
  • Wiltshire and Oxfordshire chalk horses
  • Royal Berkshire History: The Uffington White Horse
  • The White Horse of Uffington
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