Uffington White Horse
Aerial view of the White Horse
|Elevation||261 m (856 ft)|
|Prominence||79 m (259 ft)|
|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.
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.
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 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. At Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, there is a larger replica of the Uffington horse.citation needed There are two more replicas of the horse known, one in Cockington Green, Australia, and one in Georgia, United States.
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.
The Blowing Stone, 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 the year 1750.
The hill is also used by the local Paragliding and Hang Gliding Club.
- 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 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 Swindon.
- 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).
- 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.
- The White Horse is mentioned throughout the book This Is All by Aidan Chambers.
- A drawing of the horse appears, along with several other 'occult' symbols, on the cover artwork of the US rock band Nirvana's final album In Utero designed by Kurt Cobain in 1993.
- 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,9 in which artists were filmed talking about their favourite artwork or destination. Vine described it as mysterious, atmospheric, pagan and inspiring.10
- Caroline and Charles Todd's book A Pale Horse (2008) takes place in and around Uffington and centres around the White Horse. Wayland's Smithy is also mentioned.
- 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 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.
- The Uffington Horse is used as a location in the 1993 film Map of the Human Heart.
- The Uffington White Horse is featured in the Jonathan Hare story 'Ignorant Armies' by Sam Wharton.
- A chalk carving very much like the Uffington White Horse is featured extensively in A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett, and the author discusses the Uffington White Horse specifically in an afterword.
- An animated version in the music video for "Sonnet" by The Verve in 1998.
- The Song of the White Horse, a 1977 composition for Orchestra and Chorus by David Bedford.
- The Uffington White Horse features prominently in the Summer of Magic Quartet, a book series centered around Celtic mythology. The first book in the series is titled The White Horse Talisman.
- Plenderleath, Rev. W. C., The White Horses of the West of England (London: Allen & Storr, 1892), page 8
- Darvill, Prehistoric Britain from the Air (1996), p. 223.
- "Wiltshire Uffington". Wiltshirewhitehorses.org.uk. 2010-03-21. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
- "White horses defaced by activists". BBC News. 2002-08-28. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
- "Bookmaker adds jockey to Uffington Horse" BBC News 8 March 2012
- British Archaeology, Editor: Simon Denison, Issue no 33, April 1998 ISSN 1357-4442
- "Uffington Castle - White Horse and Dragon Hill". English Heritage. 2011-04-16. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
- "Royal Berkshire History: The Uffington White Horse". Berkshirehistory.com. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
- Artangel's The Big Pix website, 2007. Retrieved 4th January 2009.
- Stella Vine chooses her favourite artwork for ArtAngel's The Big Pix project, Retrieved 4 January 2009.
- Darvill, Timothy (1996). Prehistoric Britain from the Air: A study of space, time and society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-55132-1 Check
- Dyer, J (2001). Discovering Prehistoric England. Oxford: Shire Books. ISBN 0-7478-0507-5.
- Miles, David; Palmer, Simon; Lock, Gary; Gosden, Chris; Cromarty, Anne Marie (2003). Uffington White Horse and its Landscape: Investigations at White Horse Hill, Uffington, 1989–95 and Tower Hill, Ashbury, 1993–4. Thames Valley Landscape Series 18. Oxford: Oxford University School of Archaeology. ISBN 0-947816-77-1.
- Plenderleath, Rev. W.C (1892). The White Horses of the West of England. London: Allen & Storr.
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