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The Uffington White Horse is a highly stylised prehistoric hill figure, 374 feet (110 m) long, formed from deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk. The figure occurs on the upper slopes of White Horse Hill in the Englishmarker civil parish of Uffingtonmarker (in the county of Oxfordshire, historically Berkshire), some five miles south of the town of Faringdonmarker and a similar distance west of the town of Wantagemarker. The hill forms a part of the scarp of the Berkshire Downsmarker and overlooks the Vale of White Horsemarker to the north. Best views of the Horse are obtained from the air, or from directly across the Vale, particularly around the villages of Great Coxwellmarker, Longcotmarker and Fernham. The site is owned and managed by the National Trust.

History of the figure

The figure has been shown to date back some 3,000 years, to the Bronze Age, by means of optically stimulated luminescence dating carried out following archaeological investigations in 1994. These studies produced three dates ranging between 1400 and 600 BC. Iron Age coins that bear a representation of the Uffington White Horse have been found, supporting the early dating of this artifact; suggestions that the figure was fashioned in the Anglo-Saxon period now seem untenable. Numerous other prominent prehistoric sites are located nearby, notably Wayland's Smithymarker, a long barrow less than two kilometres to the west. The Uffington is by far the oldest of the white horse figures in Britain, and is of an entirely different design than the others.

Layout of the Uffington White Horse as seen from above
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 eleventh century at least. An Abingdon cartulary, written by monks on vellum, between 1072 and 1084, refers to "mons albi equi" at Uffington ("the White Horse Hill").

The horse is thought to represent a tribal symbol perhaps connected with the builders of Uffington Castlemarker.
It is quite similar to horses depicted on pre-Roman British coinage and the Marlboroughmarker 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.

Nearby features and recent events

The most significant nearby feature is the Iron Age Uffington Castlemarker, located on higher ground atop a knoll above the White Horse. This hillfort comprises an area of approximately 3 hectares enclosed by a single, well-preserved bank and ditch.

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

The Blowing Stonemarker, a perforated sarsen stone, which lies in a garden in Kingston Lislemarker, 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 the year 1750.

The Uffington Horse 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.
  • 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 Stonemarker.
  • The design of the Uffington Horse was used as the album cover of the 1982 album English Settlement by English rock group XTC, who come from the nearby town of Swindonmarker.
  • The White Horse appears in the top right hand corner of the back of the Nirvana CD In Utero.
  • It also featured in the 1992 Vincent Ward-directed film Map of the Human Heart.
  • Kate Bush slides down White Horse Hill in the promo video for her 1985 hit, "Cloudbusting".
  • It appears as a hill figure and as a silver necklace worn by Tiffany Aching in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel A Hat Full of Sky. In this book, Granny Aching is reported (by Tiffany) to have said "Taint what a horse looks like, it's what a horse be"
  • 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, based on stylistic similarity with horses depicted on Iron Age British and Gaulish coinage, although the dating makes this very unlikely. There may also be an assumption that Epona statues depicted a white horse (the colour is unknown and this seems to be a confusion with Rhiannon).
  • Uffington Horse is also the name of a folk-rock group led by Heather Alexander, as well as the title of one of the songs on their first album, Enchantment.
  • The now defunct computer games developer Mythos Games used the horse as their company logo.
  • Faringdon Community College and Faringdon Infant School in Faringdonmarker, 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.
  • The White Horse is mentioned throughout the book This Is All by Aidan Chambers.
  • British artist Stella Vine chose the White Horse as her favourite artwork in a video filmed in May 2008 as part of Artangel's The Big Pix project where artists film a video talking about their favourite artwork or destination. Vine described it as mysterious, atmospheric, pagan and inspiring.
  • The White Horse is mentioned in the book What Time Devours (2009) by A.J. Hartley.
  • White Horse Hill appears under the name of Red Horse Hill in the novel "Runemarks" by Joanne Harris
  • Clive Cussler references the Uffington Horse in his novel Trojan Odyssey where it is the symbol of the cult presided over by Epona Eliade

See also

In line references

  1. Uffington White Horse General Information National: Grid Ref SU SU 302 866
  2. Wiltshire Uffington
  3. Plenderleath, Rev. W. C., The White Horses of the West of England (London: Allen & Storr, 1892)
  4. BBC News report from 2002 on the White Horse
  5. British Archaeology, Editor: Simon Denison, Issue no 33, April 1998 ISSN 1357-4442
  6. Royal Berkshire History: The Uffington White Horse
  7. Artangel's The Big Pix website, 2007. Retrieved 4th January 2009.
  8. Stella Vine chooses her favourite artwork for ArtAngel's The Big Pix project, Retrieved 4 January 2009.

General reference

  • Dyer, J, Discovering Prehistoric England, Shire, 2001, ISBN 0-7478-0507-5
  • Miles, D. et al., Uffington White Horse and its Landscape: Investigations at White Horse Hill, Uffington, 1989-95 and Tower Hill, Ashbury, 1993-4, Oxford Archaeology, 2003, ISBN 0-947816-77-1
  • Plenderleath, Rev. W. C., The White Horses of the West of England (London: Allen & Storr, 1892)

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