The White Horses
THE WHITE HORSES
“As from the Dorset shore I travell’d home, I saw the charger of the Wiltshire wold; A far-seen figure, stately to behold, Whose groom the shepherd is, the hoe his comb.”
CHARLES TENNYSON TURNER (1808-1879)
Wiltshire is without doubt the county of counties when it comes to white horses, with no less than nine laying within its boundaries, although only seven of these are now visible. The vast expanse of chalk downs, with their smooth, steep sides provide a number of ideal sites to exercise the art of turf cutting.
Five of the horses lay close to one another within a five mile radius of Avebury which lies in the very centre of the Wiltshire Downs; three further horses lie a short distance further away. All may be visited by road or via track-ways, the old lines of communication in this area.
Westbury White Horse
The history of the white horses is an issue of some debate, in particular with regard to Westbury which is the oldest of Wiltshire’s horses. The site is known to have been restored in 1778 but the date of the original work remains largely a matter of conjecture. Many believe the initial carving was made to commemorate Alfred’s victory over the Danes at the battle of Ethandune in 878. However, historians can not even agree whether this battle took place in the immediate vicinity; although some associate Ethandune with the nearby village of Edington.
The white horses to be found in Wiltshire are:
Westbury – 1778
Oldbury or Cherhill – 1780
Pewsey – 1785
Marlbourough or Preshute – 1804 (renovated 1873)
Alton Barnes – 1812
Broad Hinton or Hackpen – 1838
Devizes – 1845
Broad Town – 1863
Ham Hill or Inkpen – 1860s
Pewsey – 1937
There is discussion within the county of a new horse being carved as part of the millennium celebrations. This has caused ‘healthy’ debate with some strongly opposed to the idea and others welcoming the potential addition to Wiltshire’s very special family of white horses.
The Other Hill Figures In Wiltshire
Bulford Kiwi – Salisbury 1918
Codford Rising Sun – Warminster 1916
Compton Chamberlayne ‘Australia’ – Salisbury 1960
Laverstock Panda – Salisbury 1969 (now barely visible)
Fovant Regimental Badges – Salisbury 1916 (originally 20 badges of which 12 remain)
The badges are:- (following East to West)
* Map of Australia; The Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry
* The Young Men’s Christian Association
* The 6th City of London Regiment
* The Australian Commonwealth Military Forces Badge
* The Royal Signals Corps; The Wiltshire Regiment
* The London Rifle Brigade
* The Post Office Rifles; The Devonshire Regiment
* The 7th City of London Regiment
* The Royal Warwickshire Regiment
The majority of these were dug by military forces during their stay in the area, however the panda just appeared overnight and was said to represent the Union for Conservation of Nature and Wildlife and the initials UNCW appear below the figure although it is now believed to have been constructed by students from Bangor University Wales whose symbol is a panda.
The Rest of England
Wiltshire isn`t the only place to exhibit chalk figures. In all there are seventeen chalk horses, and many other giants crosses and figures. In total there are nearly fifty figures including the horses and regimental badges of Wiltshire, although there are only two chalk figures in Scotland.
The term used for cutting the chalk horses is leucippotomy and the term for that of the giant figures is gigantotomy.
Of the giants only two of these survive, the Cerne giant and the Long Man of Wilmington. Originally there were others at Oxford, Cambridge, and two on Plymouth Hoe. It is one of the Plymouth men that is the earliest documented figure with reports dating from around 1486. It is not just men and horses there are several giant beasts as well, The Mormond Stag, the Whipsnade Lion as well as the Bulford Kiwi mentioned above.